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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Living In Spin: How Media Gurus and PR Czars Open our Wallets and Scramble our Logic is a non-fiction sociology and history of marketing work written by Neal Larson with Rebecca H. Adams, M.D. The author introduces his topic with an analysis of his own behavior in buying bottled water from the local convenience store. He's quite aware of the fact that he can have water from his tap for free, and there's probably not much difference between that water and the expensive stuff in the fancy bottle, if any at all. Larson wanted to get to the root of such "irrational" or unthinking behavior and found his research led him to explore what he terms "mass messaging." While propaganda and persuasion have been used as tools for centuries, he asserts that the techniques have been "fine-tuned" over the last century or so. He begins his story with a look at Edward Bernays, a Viennese Austrian born in 1891 and a relative of Sigmund Freud, who used his relative's research and writings to understand behavior in an attempt to find ways to influence the public’s perception of and demand for products.
Neal Larson's non-fiction sociological treatise, Living In Spin, offers the reader a fascinating look at the history of persuasion and manipulation, or what the author refers to as spin. I was fascinated by the biographical account of Edward Bernays, considered the Father of Spin, and amazed at the influence this man had on marketing in the United States, including the use of focus groups, jingles, and indirect persuasion. Likewise, the stories about Henry Ford and the development of the Model T and later the Model A, and the incorrect public perception that Ford had invented the assembly line, kept me intrigued and wanting to learn more. The high point for me was found in the third chapter entitled What's in a Name? In it, Larson discusses Edward Sapir, a linguistic icon and polyglot who, while known for his work integrating linguistics and anthropology, also pioneered research into phonemes and how certain letters and sound combinations can evoke feelings in the listener. I recommend Living In Spin to anyone who’s interested in sociology and the use of spin in our culture.