cover image Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle

Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle

Andrea Hiott. Ballantine, $26 (512p) ISBN 978-0-345-52142-2

Hiott, editor-in-chief of a cultural journal called Pulse, presents the history of the whimsical German automobile, unveiling an intricate saga that spans nearly 90 years and includes some of the most monumental shifts in politics, economics, and creativity in the past century. The story begins with Ferdinand Porsche, the Austrian car designer, who was unable to find a backer for his “small car” design until Adolf Hitler “got his idea for giving Germany a People’s Car,” or Volkswagen. Given Hitler’s involvement, the story of Volkswagen is a tangle that interweaves combat, Nazis, war crimes, British occupation, the Marshall Plan, the division of the German state and mid-century economic reforms, but Hiott is able tie all the story lines into a compelling and revealing tale of inspiration, tragedy and triumph thanks to her in-depth research. Hiott, an American-born journalist who lives in Berlin, also illuminates the cultural significance of the Beetle, focusing heavily on how the Madison Avenue firm DDB created a revolutionary advertising strategy for Volkswagen that helped the car become not only a symbol of the ’60s counterculture movement but also a representation of American individuality and freedom. Woven together with a prose that is both serious and conversational, this thorough history of Volkswagen is a surprisingly substantial and far-reaching chronicle of “a car that belongs to the world.” (Jan.)