The Father of Spin Edward L. Bernays and The Birth of Public Relations

Larry Tye




Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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The Father of Spin is the first full-length biography of the legendary Edward L. Bernays, who, beginning in the 1920s, was one of the first and most successful practitioners of the art of public relations. This book tells of Bernays's great campaigns, including: His precedent-setting work for the American Tobacco Company, climaxed by a parade of cigarette-smoking debutantes down Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday that recast smoking as an act of liberation for women, helped convince a generation of women to light up, and made headlines from coast to coast. He transformed the color green into an American favorite to blend in with the green of the Lucky Strike package, and he convinced weight-conscious women that a cigarette was just the thing to substitute for a sweet. And he did it all without anyone knowing his client was behind it. He and his client the United Fruit Company helped engineer the overthrow of the socialist regime in Guatemala in the 1950s. He borrowed ideas from his uncle Sigmund Freud to push people to buy products they didn't need and to shape the way they perceived issues and the very way they believed. And what Bernays did for tobacco and fruit peddlers, he also did for politicians, including Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

In The Father of Spin, Boston Globe reporter Larry Tye, drawing on interviews with primary sources and voluminous private papers, presents a revealing portrait of the man who, more than any other, defined and personified public relations, a profession that today helps shape our political discourse and define our commercial choices.


Praise for The Father of Spin

"A remarkable look at the spinmeister who helped to invent public relations. Cynical Americans who assume mass manipulation is a relatively new phenomenon will be shocked by the depth of deception exposed here. Meticulously researched by Boston Globe reporter Tye, this biography traces the beginnings of spin early in this century and authoritatively shows Bernays to be the person responsible for most of the tenets governing it today."—Kirkus Reviews

"[Mr. Tye] succeeds wonderfully in illustrating the often creepy power of our opinion makers."—The New York Times

"Opens much new biographical territory and offers memorable vignettes of this little whirlwind of energy."—Ron Chernow, The New York Times Book Review

"An explainer, not an accuser, Tye's astute analyses of Bernays' cases and strategies are important to anyone working in, or skeptical of, PR."—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

"Edward L. Bernays spent his life discovering what made us tick and what would influence our behavior. Larry Tye examined Edward L. Bernays and lets us in on the answers he found. This is a book that helps us understand ourselves better."—Bill Kovach, curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University

"Raises important issues about the presentation of information to the American public by the media."—The Boston Sunday Globe

"The Father of Spin is an important contribution to the early history of public relations in the United States. Larry Tye gives his readers an insightful account of Eddie Bernays's place in the shaping of that history as well as the man's immense capacity for self-aggrandizement."—Loet A. Velmans, former chairman of Hill and Knowlton

"This book probes the ethics of public relations at a time when there is no more important question."—William D. Novelli, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

"For the vast punditocracy who think they created spin and the chattering classes who disdain what they think is a modern phenomenon, Larry Tye provides the un-spun history of the father of it all. A must-read for the aforementioned and wannabe spinmasters."—Mary Matalin

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Larry Tye was a long-time journalist for The Boston Globe, where he won numerous awards for his work. He has been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and is the author of Home Lands.
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  • Larry Tye

  • Larry Tye was a long-time journalist for The Boston Globe, where he won numerous awards for his work. He has been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and is the author of Home Lands. Tye can be reached online at