Monday, 26 July 2010

Book reviews: Being Direct & Double Lives

I'm hip deep in a few books at the moment, trying to catch up with a vast pile of things I need to read. Mandelson's new book is somewhere near the top, although so far I've not found it has quite the hook I was hoping. But, for reasons too complicated to go into, I found myself going back to one of my favourite books recently.

Lester Wunderman is a name which really needs no introduction. He has changed the way in which advertising has worked in a fundamental way, essentially inventing direct marketing, and leading the charge on a range of other innovations.

Being Direct takes the form of a biographical tract, and it is surprisingly humble. The book also has a nod to those of us who are reading it to learn, with each chapter ending with a clear summary of what Wunderman and his team discovered in their work. I've found thats rare in this sort of book, most authors seem to prefer to retain the idea there is some sort of magical formula, which only they possess the key to.

Its also one of the most incredible life stories you could hope to read, made all the better for the fact it is incomplete. Its also something which is a real learning experience. If you're trying to get a handle on how advertising and messaging work its a brilliant book.

Another book I recently returned to is Double Lives by Stephen Koch. A fascinating book on the Russian spy networks during the early Cold War.

It focusses on a mecurial character named Willi Muzenberg, a consumate master of propaganda and messaging in all its forms. The book slices through his career, encompassing a host of other characters, who he manipulated and turned to his will.

Its a slow starting book, and extremely tough to get into, since it doesnt always deal with the easiest subject matter. It's also extremely dense, rammed full of facts and names which weave in and out of each other.

The sheer size, and scale of what was in essence, a grassroots campaign, is staggering. Muzenburg mobilised a cast of thousands, self sustaining and self motivating, in support of his cause.

I really recommend this book for anyone who wants to get a sense of a piece of history which has largely fallen by the wayside. For campaigners, it gives an interesting insight into how networks work, and how a grassroots movement can be created and sustained.

For the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party, its just a damn fine book.

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