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Larry Tye tells the fascinating story of Eddy Bernays, one of the major figures in the development of modern Public Relations.   Bernays was a nephew of Sigmund Freud and much of his business was based on appealing to peoples psychology.  He made the following analogy:  Public relations isn't like pool, you're not trying to put the ball into the pocket, it's like billiards, you're trying to bank the ball off of a couple rails.

When tobacco companies realized that the social taboo against women smoking in public was costing them half their business they turned to Bernays.  He had a parade of women march down a New York City avenue bearing their "torches of freedom" & soon the taboo was gone.  When the changing pace of life started to cut into bacon consumption, folks weren't taking the time to eat breakfast, Bernays got doctors & public health groups to make public pronouncements about the importance of breakfast & soon bacon & eggs were back in force.  And when Ivory soap couldn't appeal to kids, bernays started soap carving contests & soon millions of kids were carving millions of bars of ivory soap.

All of these stories and gimmicks make for interesting reading, but even Tye seems to be ambivalent about their effectiveness.  Was it parades or massive social forces that broke the cigarette taboo for women?  Did kids actually use Ivory or just carve a bar of it & lose interest?

The interesting question he raises is, what was Bernays social responsibilty for his campaigns & methods?  Doesn't he bear some moral culpability for encouraging smoking, cholestorol, etc?  & what of Joseph Goebbels praise for Bernays methods?  What does it say that the Nazis approved of his methods? Tye asks all of these questions, but he doesn't really take a strong stand in answering them.

A more important problem with the book is it's narrative structure.  Each chapter basically consists of Tye's reporting on a discreet topic, so it reads like a series of stories on Bernays & Tobacco, Bernays & Freud, etc..  It makes the book pretty choppy.

All in all though, Tye's story of Bernays' career casts an interesting light on many episodes and issues of the past century and it's amazing how pertinent Bernays' methods are in this Age of Spin.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -FIRST CHAPTER: The Father of SPIN

    -REVIEW: of  THE FATHER OF SPIN: Edward Bernays & the Birth of Public Relations. By Larry Tye Under the spindaddy's spell  Life of public relations' father is a cynical tale of cultural change (PAT ARNOW, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: Stunt Man: Edward Bernays loved nothing better than influencing public opinion -- especially when it came to his role in history (Nicholas Patterson, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW : of Home Lands: Portraits of the New Jewish Diaspora by Larry Tye (Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY )