Kirkus Reviews

A remarkable look at the spinmeister who helped to invent public relations.

Cynical Americans who assume mass manipulation is a relatively new phenomenon will be shocked by the depth of deception exposed here. Meticulously researched by Boston Globe reporter Tye, this biography traces the beginnings of spin early in this century and authoritatively shows Bernays to be the person responsible for most of the tenets governing it today. A nephew of Freuds, Bernays influenced the nascent public relations field so that rather than adapt products to fit clients, firms worked to mold clients to buy an existing product. Example: When Lucky Strikes cigarettes, a Bernays client, realized women werent buying any because the signature green-and-red packaging tended to clash with clothing, Bernays decided to change not the packaging but rather the fashion world until green became the color of choice. He started by sponsoring a charity ball devoted to the color and worked his way through accessory retailers to fashion designers to so-called “unbiased” front groups of his own devising to planted newspaper stories until green did indeed enjoy a vogue in womens fashions. That willingness to look at the psychology of influence permeated all Bernays’s campaigns, from the United Fruit campaign in Guatemala to the push for more federal highway funding to enable his client Mack Truck to better compete with the burgeoning railroad industry. Still, Tye is no slave to spin himself. He openly and honestly questions Bernays’s role in many of his public relations campaigns and doesn’t hesitate to note where the hype falls short of reality.

A candid and enlightening look at a subject in which smoke and mirrors are primary props.