Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Small Wonder - Book Review & more

I finally finished the book Small Wonder, by Walter Henry Nelson. I'm odd about my books in that I like to experience them the way they were originally printed, so it took some time to track down an affordable, decent first edition (by affordable, I mean less than $15). So take into account that there are revised editions out there, with more pictures updated info. The original stops in the early 60s (revised editions will take you into the 70s).

That aside, the book was a fascinating story of the early years of VW's development. I wasn't too informed on the history of VW before purchasing the bus, as I was more concerned with the "camping" aspects on the bus, not the VW community. So this was a lesson in the early beginnings of, what is now, a major player in the world's car market. Along with some history lessons and, in later parts of the book, some details into the evolution of the VW community.

The book sets some of the rumors straight. Was it Hitler's design, or Dr Porsche's design (Porsche's)? Did Henry Ford get offered the company but turn it down, saying it had no future (yes and no, he was offered the company, but was advised it had no future)?

The book focuses on the sedan (the bug) specifically, as the company owes it's existence to that model, and only veers occasionally into the bus, or the 1500. And, from the pre-war design of Porsche's to the post-war hurdles and successes of Heinz Nordoff, the story is not a typical story of a company's birth. If anything, for many years, it was as if no company existed (legally, this was a battle for quite some time) yet cars continued to be made.

The company not only survived, it flourished. And with it, the culture of the VW grew. The second half of the book deals with this history. It discusses Volkswagen of America's involvement in the community as well as the bug's influence on culture.

It's a well-written and easy to follow book. Aside from the glowing chapter on the personal life and leadership style of Heinz Nordoff (the company's early president), it moves along at a good pace. If you are into VWs and haven't read it, I suggest tracking down a copy. It will give you a bit of the history about what's under the seat of your pants. And just how close you would be to never owning a VW at all...

Walter Henry Nelson from jacket cover.

In the Spring, 1963 issue of Small Word, Walter Henry Nelson wrote an article, below to promote the book.
Fold out card to send away and get a copy of the book.


Ludwig's Drivers

Part of the book that struck me was an excellent illustration about the contingency of history. When Nelson is describing the wartime damage to the Wolfsburg factory, he says an Allied bomb landed right between two big generators, but failed to detonate. He said that if it had, they would've been destroyed and no VWs would ever have been made, since the generators were, in Postwar Germany, absolutely irreplaceable.
It's weird to think about how different things would be--including my own life--if that bomb had went off like it was supposed to.

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