Cover: The People’s Car: A Global History of the Volkswagen Beetle, from Harvard University PressCover: The People’s Car in HARDCOVER

The People’s Car

A Global History of the Volkswagen Beetle

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$30.00 • £26.95 • €27.95

ISBN 9780674050914

Publication Date: 04/16/2013


416 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

28 halftones


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[An] illuminating and elegantly written history… Rieger is particularly good on the gendered nature of Beetle ownership. At a time when fewer than 20 percent of driving licenses in West Germany were held by women, the Beetle became a vehicle for what he calls ‘automotive misogyny.’ …He is very good…on its appeal in the United States, where it became a popular second car for many families in the expanding suburbs of the 1950s and 1960s… It even became an icon of the counterculture.—Richard J. Evans, London Review of Books

Bernhard Rieger’s The People’s Car conveys how inextricably 20th-century politics, culture and economics are linked… The story of ‘the people’s car’ is, of course, interesting in its own right—its commission, design, post-war production and worldwide success. But what is most intriguing is how a consumer commodity became an icon that, over decades, represented something different for a variety of countries and generations. Rieger shows this to informative and illuminating effect.—Ulrike Zitzlsperger, Times Higher Education

The People’s Car by Bernhard Rieger chronicles the life of the iconic Volkswagen Beetle, from its 1930s origin as a propaganda tool for Germany’s Third Reich through to the modern day, a run of popularity spanning a remarkable nine decades. Rieger’s research details the car maker’s obsessive pursuit for high-quality, low-maintenance and utterly dependable motoring, which were the treasured hallmarks of the Beetle through the middle part of the 20th century… While the meteoric postwar rise of the Beetle presents a chance to marvel at the model’s simple appeal and outstanding longevity, the years before its manufacture began present the most fascinating reading… The People’s Car is an exhaustive…and fascinating glimpse at a car that stood the test of time and of changing consumer tastes.—Steve Colquhoun, Sydney Morning Herald

Bernhard Rieger tells the story of the Beetle and he does so with wit and ease… A German chronicle that always keeps an eye on international entanglements. [Rieger’s] cultural history with a transnational reach is…the intelligent alternative to traditional national historiography.—Hedwig Richter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

The Beetle had a stupendous run, which…Bernhard Rieger traces in his absorbing account… Rieger has written a fascinating book that will inevitably find resonance among those who were themselves touched by the magic of an object made of steel, glass, and plastic that was designed in the heart of Hitler’s Reich.—Paul Hockenos, The National

An engaging history of how a failed Nazi prestige project became a national icon in three different countries… A provocative look at one product’s unlikely journey through authoritarianism and globalization.—Joshua Keating, Foreign Policy online

The People’s Car: A Global History of the Volkswagen Beetle is a thorough and compelling new chronicle of the distinctive Bug.—Jessica Grose, Fast Company online

The story of the Volkswagen Beetle is complex, interesting, international, unlikely, and utterly fascinating. Rieger does an excellent job of bringing together the history, events, and people that produced an iconic automobile that beat all the odds.—C. J. Myers, Choice

From its original design by Ferdinand Porsche, commissioned by Hitler in the 1930s, to its role as a symbol of a new, post–World War II Germany, the Beetle became second only to Ford’s Model T as a car for the masses and, eventually, a feature of the emergence of the middle class… This overview of the car’s journey from its Third Reich conception to lovable international representation of a renewed Germany is sure to interest die-hard Beetle lovers as well as automobile history buffs.—Maria Bagshaw, Library Journal (starred review)

Rieger has succeeded in presenting the first comprehensive account of the truly amazing story of the Volkswagen Beetle. Starting with Hitler’s plans to provide a mass-produced people’s car for his projected ‘Aryan’ society, he shows how this ‘ugly duckling’ became an icon of postwar mass motorization around the world. A compelling read.—V. R. Berghahn, Columbia University

Rieger extracts from the history of the Volkswagen not just the story of a product—iconic though it was—but also its significance for Germany’s national image since the 1930s. Deeply researched, this history makes a cracking good read.—Jane Caplan, co-editor of Concentration Camps in Germany: The New Histories

With great richness and imagination, Rieger joins economics and social desire, advertising and politics, technology and culture, to track a distinctive German history through a truly transnational arena.—Geoff Eley, author of Nazism as Fascism: Violence, Ideology, and the Ground of Consent in Germany, 1930–1945

A fascinating book! Rieger takes readers on the Volkswagen Beetle’s global journey, showing the many meanings of this iconic product in different times and places. His history illuminates the worldwide allure of commodity culture, the spread of socioeconomic inequalities, and the protean meanings of purchased goods.—Emily S. Rosenberg, editor of A World Connecting, 1870–1945

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