Publisher’s Weekly

Dubbed the “Prince of Puff” and the “Baron of Ballyhoo,” Edward L. Bernays, who died in 1995 at the age of 103, was arguably the most influential publicist of the 20th century. The nephew of Sig-mund Freud, Bernays brought an astute grasp of human behavior to the nascent field of public relations, opening his own PR firm in 1919 and launching celebrated publicity campaigns for American Tobacco, Ivory Soap, United Fruit, book publishers, manufacturers of eggs and bacon and the platforms of presidents from Coolidge to Eisenhower. In this comprehensive biography, Tye, a Boston Globe reporter, attributes Bernay’s success to a marketing philosophy that he terms “Big Think,” which combined high-concept publicity stunts, endorsements from doctors, national surveys and other forms of publicity whose actual product endorsement was cleverly veiled. To promote Lucky Strike cigarettes among women in an age in which smoking in public was still outre, for example, he arranged for a parade of smoking debutantes to march down Fifth Avenue. To market Ivory soap, he created a hugely popular national soap-sculpting contest. A domineering and self-absorbed man who never missed a chance to promote himself (“in an era of mass communication,” he often remarked, “modesty is a private virtue and a public fault”), Bernays eventually became a pariah in the industry that he helped to create. At times, Tye too blithely credits Bernays for shaping events and product success, rather than seeing his work as only one part of the welter of mass media manipulations that have long since transformed American life. But Tye succeeds in piercing the rapidly spinning mythology that perpetually surrounded the man who, he convincingly argues, pioneered the modern science of spin. (Sept.)