Book reviews / History / Non fiction

Book review: The People’s Car

The People’s Car: A global history of the Volkswagon Beetle – Bernhard Riegar

A few months ago @psythor and I went to the German exhibition at the British Museum. Of course, going through the bookshop, I couldn’t help but pick up this book.

It is what it says on the tin – a global history of the Beetle from its roots in Nazi Germany to the revival of the New Bettle in the 21st century.

We had 2 Beetles at one point in my childhood, I don’t think they ran much but I certainly went for a drive in one. My family had a series of VWs though from rabbits to a golf and the 1981 cabriolet that my dad still owns. So I had an idea of the history already. However, this was still a very interesting and detailed look at how Beetle’s spread across the world.

There were lots of interesting points that make it worth a read:

  • the snippets of transport history were fascinating (like the back and forth on freedom and speed limits in German)
  • the origins of the car itself and basically the forced subsidisation of the development by the rest of the German auto industry
  • the crisis that moved VW on from producing only the Beetle
  • all the interesting labour relations stuff from Germany to Mexico
  • the ethical quandary of wages of global companies and wage disparity

It was a fantastic read. There’s probably lots of stuff that could have been done in more details but there’s probably almost so much corporate history people will take. There was even a wonderful chapter exploring sexism and vehicle ownership. Amazing.

Pick it up if you’re at all interested in industrial or automotive history. 5/5 stars.

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