Michael Turney's Public Relations Bookshelf:
PR book Recent Reads
This is a selective and reflective resource, not a comprehensive bibliography of public relations. It reflects my personal interests, experiences, and teaching biases. I hope readers find my comments useful and/or thought-provoking in choosing books to read for themselves. Some of the books cited here are clearly public relations books; others are not. But, each has implications and lessons for thoughtful public relations practitioners.
Master bibliographic index About the annotator Practicing Public Relations home page © 2005-15 Michael Turney


Fighting over the Founders: How We Remember the American Revolution

Like several of my other recent reads, this book wasn't meant to be about public relations. -- It addresses history, ideology, and contemporary political discourse. -- However, it can offer public relations practitioners marvellous insights into how politicians, jurists, legal scholars, and angry citizens "spin" the American Revolution and the alleged statements of its key players to justify their own current thinking and behavior. Many of them may not recognize it as such, or be willing to admit what they're doing, but it is clearly image-making and branding. And, it's an ongoing process.

Thus, the author cautions us to "be mindful when we see the Revolution and its many figures in so many facets of our lives because each time we encounter it, we are encountering a bid for political and cultural legitimacy." (p. 206) And, such appeals can exert a very powerful pull on many Americans.

The critical questions are: who's doing the pulling and to where are they trying to pull us when they talk about the Founding Fathers or the American Revolution. "Republicans use it one way in speeches, Democrats another... To show where they stand on pressing political issues, entire social movements (e.g., the Tea Party) name themselves after particular groups of Revolutionaries or Revolutionary-era events." (pp. 2-3)

The author admits his book "is not meant to be the definitive statement on our contested memory of the American Revolution but rather a call for more explicit, conscious understanding ... of the ways that we use those memories and the stakes involved." (p. 201) His goal is to ensure that we are "informed rather than manipulated by those who use the Revolution for their own purposes." (p. 206)

The bulk of the book walks readers through varying interpretations of, not only the Revolution, but history generally as they range along a continuum from essentialist views to organicist views. Essentialists look at history as if "there is a definitive past, a real past, an unchanging past we can study for guidance, wisdom, and understanding." (p. 25) In contrast, organicists look at history as "more ambiguous, more open to interpretation, and something to improve upon." (p. 33) When it comes to the Revolution, organicists try "to discern the broader promises of the American Revolution and find ways to realize those promises for Americans" of today even when it entails technology, social issues, or rights that weren't conceived at the time of the Revolution. (p. 33) It's a fascinating book, and its ramifications are staggering.

On the other hand, I was appalled by the poor copy-editing and deplorable number of typos, missing words, and grammar errors in a book published by a university press. Shame on you, New York University.


by Andrew M. Schocket
       New York University Press
       New York; 2015

Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism

book cover photo

Coca-Cola is not only one of America's best-known icons, it's one of the most-profitable brands in the world. Now operating in more than 200 hundred countries, it sells more than 1.8 billion drinks per day and its distinctively shaped bottles, bright red cans, and white, cursive logo are immediately recognized worldwide. It is one of the great marketing and advertising successes of all time and has been widely studied and praised in numerous books.

This book presents a different and less favorable view. It looks at "the demands Coke placed on provider communities that served its needs for the last 128 years, to examine Citizen Coke as a consumer rather than as a producer." And, it found that "Over time, Coke placed heavy demands on ecologies around the world... (Its) perpetual growth was contingent upon the extraction of abundant supplies of natural, fiscal, and social capital in the places where it operated." (p. 5) Coke grew and thrived, but the same cannot be said of every place it did business.

The economic strategy behind Coke's success is very interesting and, as the author points out, worked for other mass marketing companies selling inexpensive products as well. It wasn't just a Coke strategy. But, he calls it "Coca-Cola capitalism because Coke deployed it so effectively." (p. 10) Others, including Pepsi and McDonald's, used similar strategies to earn huge profits during the 20th century. "These companies channeled natural resources through global production and distribution networks they did not own or directly manage. Often, this meant relying on public infrastructure to extract raw materials and transport finished products," (p. 10)

From a public relations perspective, the most fascinating aspect of the Coke story is Coke's uncanny ability to get other organizations - businesses, unions, special interest groups, and governments - to bear the burden and costs of providing the natural resources and agricultural products Coke needed to make Coca-Cola.

Water was the first and most dramatic. After all, Coca-Cola is over 90 percent water with just a few added ingredients. It requires an abundant supply of clean-tasting, fresh, sanitary, and inexpensive water. And, it was always meant to be produced locally, near where it would be consumed, so freight charges wouldn't jack up its otherwise low price. But, when Coke began expanding beyond its Atlanta home, few communities had existing water treatment plants that could guarantee a safe, consistent water supply, and Coke wouldn't build a syrup plant or allow bottling anywhere that didn't meet Coke's stringent water-quality standards. As a result, dozens of communities used tax money to build water treatment plants that would meet Coke's demands. Admittedly, citizens in those communities benefitted from having reliable and sanitary water, but Coke got an even better deal. Read the book to learn how Coke got other communities and government agencies to do its bidding with respect to sugar, caffeine, cocaine, corn, and other ingredients that Coke needed.

Even more impressive than getting others to pay the up-front costs for its ingredients was Coke's ability to side-step virtually all responsibility for the possibly negative effects of its products and packaging that first emerged in the late-20th century. By wrapping itself in a mantle of "consumer rights" Coke was able to deflect concerns, including proposed legislation, about obesity caused by over-consumption of soft drinks, caffeine addiction, depleted water sheds, and a mass of cans littering the highways and clogging landfills. According to the company, these problems weren't Coke's fault. It wasn't Coke's job to police consumers' diets or their littering or to pay for container recycling programs. Nor was it Coke's fault if nature couldn't keep up with and restore the water that Coke withdrew from watersheds. By using aggressive and persistent arguments along with slick "astro-turfing" campaigns, Coke managed to get a majority of the public and numerous government agencies to agree.

In fact, Coke was massively successful in "astro-turfing" before that term was even coined in the 1980s. Don't feel bad if you don't know what it means. It's a fairly pejorative term that casts a negative light on certain public relations practices by sarcastically contrasting them with the positive and laudable term "grass roots." A grass roots. issue, campaign, organization, or political candidate is one that spontaneously emerges from average citizens and popular opinion rather than one put forward by a political party or special interest group. According to long-standing American political traditions, grass roots. efforts are good and positive. "Astro-turfing," on the other hand, is an artificial or false effort to look like a grass roots. movement that is actually secretly sponsored by corporate or special interests groups seeking their own selfish ends.

One of the first and still most notable astro-turfing campaigns of all time was the decades-long Keep America Beautiful (KAB) campaign launched in the 1950s. As the first nationwide anti-littering campaign, "KAB's greatest strength was its ability to appear as if it were merely a third-party organization interested in public service rather than a corporate lobbying agency with a specific agenda to protect big business... KAB's central objective was to deflect accusations that corporations were to blame for the country's growing litter problem... (and) to persuade consumers that private citizens, not corporate citizens, should be responsible for waste disposal." (p. 234) But, it wasn't driven by environmental concerns or a desire to beautify the nation. It was driven by a coalition of canning, packaging, and beverage companies, including Coke, to fight Congressional and state legislative efforts to make them responsible for cleaning up the glut of disposable containers they had unleashed on the country.

Over all, the book tells a fascinating story that every consumer and voter should know. Whether you approach it from a public relations perspective, a finance and economics perspective, or simply as a Coke drinker, it's definitely worth reading. What's a bit surprising is its origin. Unless you note its academically-stylized structure or its 90 pages of footnotes and bibliography, you might not realize it was written as a doctoral dissertation. - It is undoubtedly the most readable Ph.D. dissertation I have encountered. - I highly recommend it.


by Bartow J. Elmore
       W. W. Norton & Company
       New York; 2015

The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & the Birth of Public Relations

book cover photo

I latched onto and read this book -- at least twice, perhaps trice -- when it came out in 1998 because I was then teaching public relations and thought it might offer useful additions to my lectures. Its advance promotional materials touted it as a revisionist and critical look at the then recently-deceased "father of public relations," and it certainly lived up to that hype. Almost two decades later, it is still a good read filled with insight into Edward Bernays and the evolution of public relations. It is also, as the author claimed, "a book about America. It is about how public thought is routinely shaped or, some might say, manipulated by singular powers in our culture." (p. xi)

To traditionalists who abhorred any use of the term "spin" to describe public relations, the book's title told them everything they needed to know whether they bothered to read it or not: it was clearly an attempt to tear down and discredit "the grand old man" of public relations. (Bernays, who had lived to be 103, had died only three years earlier in 1995.)

But, the book is definitely not a one-sided hatchet job. It's true that it doesn't paint a glorious and saintly portrait of Bernays; it points out a number of unflattering foibles and shortcomings in his personal life as well as his professional life, but it's a fair and balanced presentation. In fact, re-reading it now, on the 20th anniversary of Bernays' death and 17 years after it was first published, I am even more appreciative of the balance Tye struck between praising and criticizing Bernays. He neither lionized him nor demonized him but cited the views of those who did, and there were plenty of people on each side.

Perhaps this is because, as Tye asserts, "Bernays was a bundle of contradictions." Among the examples he cited to support this, Tye said Bernays "rode roughshod over young staffers even as he ballyhooed the virtues of tolerance and democracy. He promoted cigarettes, which he suspected were deadly, at the same time he was promoting national health insurance. He espoused women's rights but often treated his female employees, and even his wife, like indentured servants." (p. x)

Whether it was in spite of or because of these contradictions, "Bernays was the man who, more than any other, got women to smoke and put bacon and eggs on breakfast tables, Ivory in soap dishes, books in bookshelves, and Calvin Coolidge back in the White House. Although most Americans had never heard of Edward L. Bernays, he nevertheless had a profound impact on everything from the products they purchased to the places they visited to the foods they ate for breakfast." (p. viii)

For seven decades Bernays "repeatedly proved that he could reshape reality. He also took clients to places they had never dreamed of going... Hired to sell a product or service, he instead sold whole new ways of behaving, which appeared obscure but over time reaped huge rewards for his clients and refined the very texture of American life. ..." (p. 52)

Placing him in the context of 20th century history, "Bernays clearly wasn't the first modern PR practitioner." According to Tye: "Ivy Lee deserves that title, or maybe George Michaelis. But, Bernays was the profession's first philosopher and intellectual. He saw the big picture when few others did, and he was the first to appreciate the nexus between theory and practice, or as he would have said between the art of PR and the science." (p. 264)

That's hard to dispute since Bernays wrote what became the de facto first public relations textbook, Crystallizing Public Opinion, and taught the first college-level course in public relations. He also wrote 14 other books and hundreds of articles on public relations. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, he was credited with these publications. Tye asserts that Bernays' young staffers and researchers often wrote and/or edited reports, speeches, and articles that bore Bernays' by-line, and still other items were written by Bernays' wife, Doris Fleischman.

What really lay behind this mass of contradictions? -- Even after reading and re-reading Tye's book, it's hard to tell, and I don't think even he is entirely sure what to think of Edward Bernays. He concludes, "in his relentless bid to shape his own legacy, he (Bernays) offered a perfect portrayal of the full array of PR tactics and strategies, of manipulations and embellishments, and how they could be used to redefine reality." (pp. 264-65)

So it could be that Bernays did such a good job of redefining his reality that neither we nor Tye will ever know who or what he really was. Over all, I think Tye did a pretty good job of trying, but he may have missed one important comparison. In my mind, the closest parallel to Edward L. Bernays may just be P.T. Barnum.


by Larry Tye
       Crown Publishers
       New York; 1998

The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security

hagedorn book photo

I didn't pick up this book looking for public relations insights. I further admit to being initially surprised when I learned how effectively public relations has been used by private military contractors trying to increase their role in maintaining America's national security and get rich in the process.

Fighters once romantically called "soldiers of fortune" or more crassly "mercenaries" were primarily characters in escapist novels or historical anachronisms such as the Hessians who fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War. Now called "private military contractors," they have suddenly become front page news and a mainstay of U.S. military operations abroad. -- Examples include Blackwater, Executive Outcomes, Aegis Defense Services, DynCorp, the Blue Mountain Group, Halliburton, and dozens of other companies. -- The extent of the involvement of such companies in Iraq and Afghanistan was cited in a Congressional report as "outnumbering traditional troops in a ratio of 10-to-1, outnumbering State Department personnel 18-to-1, ... (furthermore) casualty totals for private contractors in both nations surpassed military losses." (p. 10)

The roots of this reach back decades, maybe even centuries, but the real boom in contractors going into combat and fighting in lieu of uniformed armed forces began in the 1990s and accelerated when the war on terror was launched after 9/11. As Hagedorn explains, much of it is a result of a good-old-boy system and the machinations of the "military-industrial complex" that President Eisenhower warned the nation about when he left office. It was fueled by the billions of dollars contractors earned by supplying guns for hire.

But, that image of hired guns was an obstacle that had to be overcome, and a new vocabulary would help. "No more `soldiers of fortune' or `hired guns.' ... They (former American and British soldiers now establishing themselves as contractors) were going to transform a decades-old mercenary image into a crisp new reputable look... The new term 'private military company' took a lot of emotion out of the situation." (pp. 37-38) It produced a smooth and rapid "trajectory from covert and infamous to acceptable and indispensable." (p. 87).

One of the most interesting -- some critics and moralists might say "frightening" or even "deplorable" -- aspects of this emergence of private military companies is the ability it gives governments which hire such contractors to distance themselves from unpleasant consequences. It's become a way for governments to keep from "getting their hands dirty." Even when U.S. tax money underwrites a contract with a private military company, the people on the ground using the weapons are not U.S. troops. Nor are they, technically, government employees, or even "workers" directly supervised by government employees. Thus, the government cannot be held legally accountable for what they do or don't do. "Like the sixteenth-century pirates, if they are caught in an embarrassing crime, or are killed, the U.S. government can deny responsibility for their actions." (p. 110) -- Personally, that's not necessarily something that makes me proud to be an American.

But, I think it's something all Americans need to know about. So, even though this book won't help you be a better public relations person, I think it's something you and every concerned, thoughtful American ought to read.

[revd: 11/17/2014]    

by Ann Hagedorn
       Simon & Schuster
       New York; 2014

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions

Enchantment book

Guy Kawasaki has written close to a dozen books, -- possibly more by the time you're reading this -- all of which are meant to help readers change their worlds. On the dust jacket of Enchantment, Kawasaki claims: If you want to transform the world and change caterpillars into butterflies, "you need to convince people to dream the same dream that you do. That's a big goal," he admits, "but one that's possible for all of us." Enchantment is intended to help us do that.

But, don't expect step-by-step directions or handy checklists; it's not that kind of self-help book. It's more of a philosophy book than a workbook, and that's very appropriate. After all, as the subtitle proclaims, enchantment is an art, and true art is not achieved by following a set of prescribed instructions. It has to emerge naturally from the artist's fundamental beliefs, values, and life experiences. These elements can, however, be highlighted, guided, and encouraged, and that's what Enchantment does very well.

According to Kawasaki, your goal in enchanting someone should never be limited to getting what you want at the moment. Whether you're engaged in a one-time transaction or a continuing relationship, you should always try "to bring about a voluntary, enduring, and delightful change in other people. By enlisting their own goals and desires, by being likable and trustworthy, and by framing a cause that others can embrace, you can change hearts, minds, and actions." And, when you can do that, you're enchanting.

In many ways, Enchantment is all about attitude adjustment. It might initially seem that the attitudes most in need of adjusting would be those of the people with whom you interact, but that's not how Kawasaki sees it.

You don't have to read very far into the book to realize that the primary and most-significant attitude adjustments Kawasaki urges are of your own attitudes because, as he persuasively demonstrates, it's by behaving in likeable, trustworthy, and engaging ways that you can enchant others. To illustrate this, he offers dozens of delightful anecdotes and examples of enchanting behavior by individuals, small businesses, and even large corporations. Some of the best feature Apple, the computer giant so enchantingly led by Steve Jobs and which Kawasaki, himself, served as "chief evangelist" for many years.

One of Kawasaki's most insightful Apple stories centers on the company's in ability to crack the business market in the early days of Macintosh computers. He explains: "The fundamental flaw of our approach was that we did not understand what potential customers were thinking. Indeed, we believed they should leave the thinking to us. We were so enchanted by our own product that we could not understand why everyone else did not feel the same way.

"That's when I learned that one must understand what people are thinking, feeling, and believing in order to enchant them," he concludes. "The fix is to imagine yourself as the person you want to enchant and ask questions. If you can't come up with reasonable answers, don't expect your enchantment to work." (p. 3)

Right now you may be thinking, I'm not Apple Computer, does any of this apply to me? Is Enchantment a realistic approach for an average business or person to use, or is it overly idealistic or only suited for a few, select users?

Actually, neither the term "enchantment" as it's commonly used nor Kawasaki's approach to it is alien to public relations. In fact, most public relations practitioners would consider achieving enchantment a grand accomplishment. And, few would see anything radical in Kawasaki's suggestions. They would agree that Enchantment reflects essentially the same mindset advocated by practitioners who successfully help their clients create mutually beneficial, symmetrical relationships with their publics instead of trying to manipulate or spin those publics with half-truths or chicanery.

Enchantment is not only a practical approach to relationship-building, it's a highly ethical approach that emphasizes valuing and caring for other people.

Kawasaki insists that enchanting people does not involve conning them or manipulating them. It isn't about playing games with them or their emotions. It's about carefully and thoughtfully approaching the people you interact with and thinking about them as high-value, sensitive individuals who deserve your full attention and concern. As such, Enchantment is a totally appropriate and very appealing motivational reader for public relations practitioners. I highly recommend it.


by Guy Kawasaki
       New York; 2011

Who Owns the Future?

Lanier book

Although it offers marvellous insights into social media and other networked phenomenon, this book won't help you become a better public relations practitioner. -- It doesn't even address public relations, but it's a book everyone concerned about quality of life in our increasingly high-tech and networked world ought to read. -- It focuses on the well-known and little-known but very substantial ways computer networking is impacting our privacy, personal identity, human dignity, economic survival, financial stability, security, and other rights and privileges.

Jaron Lanier's credentials as a techno-geek, futurist, and humanist are impeccable. Wired magazine said he was "the first technology figure to cross over to pop-culture stardom," and Time listed him in the "Time 100" as one of the most influential people in the world in 2010. He's built and experimented with networked computers and virtual reality for at least three decades, launched and sold mega-million-dollar start-up companies that are now parts of Adobe, Oracle, and Google, and currently does special projects as a consultant for Microsoft Research.

Given this background and his unabashed enthusiasm technology, it behooves us to pay attention when he says: "the particular way we're reorganizing our world around digital networks is not sustainable." (p. 9) And, it's producing serious, negative consequences. Two of the many problems he cites are: "Network-empowered finance has amplified corruption and illusion, and the Internet has destroyed more jobs than it has created." (p. 19)

"If we go on as we are," Lanier warns, "we will probably enter into a period of hyper-unemployment, and the attendant political and social chaos." (p. 8) It's not quite doomsday he's describing, but it won't be pleasant for average working-class people.

Lanier may or may not be right, but I don't think we should not blithely proceed down what may become an increasingly steep, treacherous, and de-humanizing path without carefully considering what we may be getting ourselves into. We need to become more aware of, and begin to discuss the consequences of how we use technology. Otherwise, we won't look at alternatives.

Such alternatives are what this book is about. As Lanier said, "The choices we make in the architecture of our digital networks might tip the balance between the opposing waves of invention and calamity." (p. 19)

Essentially, Lanier is advocating the development of a more humanistic online economy that truly respects the average consumer/user, offers opportunities for lots more people to make a little money for the information they now freely "share," and lets hard-working online wage-earners make enough to be self-supporting. It would financially and informationally benefit average people and strengthen and support the middle class while making the system more ope, more transparent, less "Big Brotherish," and less dominated by a few mega-billionaires and huge, secretive corporations. The details and explanations, however, are too extensive to recap here.

So are all the insights and explanations he offers about how our current system is operating and how it got to be that way. Even if you don't buy into his view of a better future, you'll come away with a much better understanding of some of the tools and systems you're now using.

I'll end with a personal challenge. Lanier presented it as a suggestion, but I dare you to do it. "Experiment with yourself. Resign from all the free online services you use for six months to see what happens. You don't need to renounce them forever, make value judgments, or be dramatic. Just be experimental. You will probably learn more about yourself, your friends, the world, and the Internet than you would have if you never performed the experiment." (p. 366)

by Jaron Lanier
       Simon & Schuster
       New York; 2013

A History of the World in 100 Objects

100 objects book cover

This is another book that doesn't purport to deal with public relations but nonetheless offers interesting public relations insights. Particularly fascinating are the author's observations about an Egyptian Pharaoh, the first modern hundredth anniversary celebration, tea's emergence as England's "national drink," and suffragettes defacing coins.

As its title ambitiously asserts, this book describes 100 objects from the British Museum highlighting key points in history. The object representing Pharaoh Ramesses II is a massive sculpture of his head and torso that the Museum brought from Egypt to London in 1816. MacGregor claims the statue "inspired many later imitations, not least the vast faces of American presidents carved into Mount Rushmore." (p. 126) Its acquisition and that of other objects brought to London during the glory days of the British Empire are interesting stories in their own right. So is the psychology behind this book which offers inadvertent insights, which I suspect would be strongly-denied by the author, into the remains of England's imperial mindset.

Given the book's premise, you might think the importance of the 100 objects would be inherent in the objects themselves or in how they were used and, in some cases, the book reflects this. In other cases, the object's importance seems to relate more to its presence in the British Museum than to its innate existence or its original use. The Ramesses sculpture, for instance, was created 3200 years ago and probably awed and inspired the Egyptians who saw it at that time. But, by 1800, it was a point of contention between the British and the French whom MacGregor said "vied to acquire the image." Ultimately, it went "finally to London. On arrival, it astounded everybody who saw it and began a revolution in how we Europeans view the history of our culture." (p. 128) MacGregor's inference is that this impact, like the impact of many other objects he discusses, would have never happened without the British Museum which opened in 1753 to take up "the Enlightenment enterprise of gathering together all the world's knowledge." (p. 562)

As for public relations insights, MacGregor describes Ramesses II, the ruler not the statue, as "a consummate self-publicist ... (who) would not only convince his own people of his greatness; he would also fix the image of imperial Egypt for the whole world." (p. 126; 128) -- Quite an accomplishment three millennia before public relations emerged as a profession. -- Of course, MacGregor doesn't say Ramesses engaged in formal public relations, only that he was one of the "supreme masters of propaganda." (p. 127)

"The first of all modern centenary celebrations seems to have been organized in Germany, in Saxony in 1617; ... a hundred years earlier ... Martin Luther picked up a hammer and nailed what was effectively his religious manifesto -- his ninety-five theses -- to a church door." (p. 552) The museum object representing this is a broadsheet poster of Luther nailing up his statement. But, according to MacGregor, it wasn't a celebration; it was a Protestant call to arms to rally opposition to the Pope. "All the familiar razzmatazz was there: ceremonies and processions, souvenirs, medals, paintings, printed sermons, and the broadsheet -- a woodblock print which illustrated the critical day the Protestants now saw as the beginning of the first step on their radical religious journey." (p. 553)

MacGregor says, "It is one of the ironies of British national identity that the drink which has become the worldwide caricature of Britishness has nothing indigenous about it, but is the result of centuries of global trade and a complex imperial history... By the middle of the nineteenth century in Britain some luxuries came to be seen as not only desirable but essential. The most ubiquitous of all was tea, a vital ingredient of life for every part of the British population." (p. 601)

A 1903 coin is another intriguing public relations tool cited in the book. "It is a British penny with King Edward VII in elegant profile, but his image has been defaced... Stamped all over the king's head in crude capitals are the words VOTES FOR WOMEN." (p. 621) MacGregor called it "a stroke of genius" as a campaign tactic because these coins "were big enough to carry easily legible lettering, but too numerous and too low in value to make it practical for the banks to recall them, so the message on the coin was guaranteed to circulate widely and indefinitely." (p. 624)

The book has much more about these and the other 96 objects it features. It's loaded with interesting historical tidbits. Some are serious and deal with important events; others are more light-hearted. It's an interesting mix that could prompt long debates about the author's choice of these 100 objects. However, I suspect that the content was more effective in its original form as a radio series on the BBC. There, listeners heard the story of each object as an entity unto itself and that probably worked very well. In a book, however, readers tend to expect all of the chapters to hang together and mesh into a single comprehensive story, and that just doesn't happen here. The stories of the individual objects are fascinating, but they aren't effectively tied together in a meaningful way. While I enjoyed many of the individual chapters, the book as a whole left me feeling oddly unsatisfied as if I had spent too much time grazing on hors d'oeuvres instead of eating a balanced meal. And, I must also admit, by the time I was half-way through the book, I was more than a little put off by its not-so-subtle pretentiousness and tone of intellectual superiority about the British Museum.

by Neil MacGregor
     Director of the British Museum
       Viking Penguin Group
       London & New York; 2011
Further reflections on a previously discussed work:

Eliot Ness and the Untouchables: Historical Reality and the Film and Television Depictions
Considered in light of a more recent work:

              Get Capone: The Secret Plot that Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster

tucker book photo

After reading the Tucker book almost five years ago, my suspicions that Eliot Ness was a bit of a glory-hound whose image was based more on publicity than on reality were confirmed, but I still believed Ness had been significant in Al Capone's downfall and the "clean up" of Chicago in the 1930s. Eig's book (below), however, challenges that.

Eliot Ness is, as Tucker describes him, "an established icon in the American psyche" and our image of a dedicated law enforcement officer. Though most people today don't realize it, he was the inspiration for Chester Gould's cartoon character Dick Tracy, created in 1931 at the height of Ness's prominence. Less positively, Tucker described Ness as "a glory-grabber, seeking his own publicity - at times at the price of endangering the effectiveness of his raids by telling reporters when and where a strike would take place."

Personally, I've been trying to understand Ness from a public relations perspective since I found photographs from the 1930s that showed him standing with an axe in his hand and one foot resting on an overturned whiskey barrel. His pose was identical to prohibitionist Carrie Nation's pose that appeared in newspaper photos three decades earlier when she was smashing saloons in her anti-liquor crusade. The images were so alike I wondered if Ness intentionally copied Nation's stance. And, I found further irony, or perhaps truth, in the fact that this same pose was recreated by both Robert Stack and Kevin Costner in publicity photos for the 1959 Untouchables TV series and the 1987 movie.

Expecting this book to provide a detailed treatment of the real Eliot Ness with references to how he was portrayed on television and in the movies, I was deeply disappointed. The book is the exact opposite of what I expected. It focuses more on fiction than reality. Only one chapter, a scant 18 pages, discusses "The Real Eliot Ness," while 135 pages are devoted to an episode by episode treatment of the two TV series (which were almost entirely fictional except for the names of historic figures and a few headline events) and the movie (which, like the TV pilot, was only loosely based on actual events). While this book may be of interest in terms of television/movie history and the re-making of a classic TV series, it has little to offer students seeking an accurate biography or an understanding of public relations.

by Kenneth Tucker
       McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers:
       Jefferson, North Carolina; 2000
Eig's Capone book photo

Eig's book focuses on the overall efforts of city, state, and federal authorities to indict and convict Al Capone. Much to my surprise, it barely mentions Eliot Ness, other than citing his current image as a gang-buster. According to Eig, who is a well-respected reporter who had broad access to previously unknown and/or restricted files, Ness did listen to wire taps on Capone's phones and transcribed some interesting/incriminating conversations. He also led a few raids on boot-legging operations but, according to Eig, he actually had very little to do with Capone's conviction.

Eig's book asserts that Capone and Ness probably never even actually met. He specifically poo-poos Ness's claim of a confrontation with Capone at the time Capone was being transported to prison, saying: "Later, Ness would dramatize his account ... giving the impression that he and Capone exchanged terse words, even though newspaper accounts made it clear that the two men traveled in separate cars. In all likelihood, they never met: not on that day, not ever." (p. 373) This certainly isn't consistent with the impression of face-to-face and gun muzzle-to-gun muzzle confrontations between an intrepid G-man and his criminal arch-enemy that were presented in The Untouchables.

Eig does admit that Ness was popular with reporters and that he frequently made the papers. But, he contends, it was because Ness courted the reporters, gave wide-ranging and colorful interviews, and provided great photo opportunities. Here's how Eig reported one of Ness's raid. "Ness and his men used a truck as a battering ram to smash through two sets of reinforced doors... There were no shots fired, no punches thrown, no dynamite blown. Ness and his men found twenty-three thousand gallons of beer in fourteen vats, and when they cracked them open with axes - as much for the cameramen on hand as for the disposing of the beer - a thick wave of foam several inches high spread across the floor... In the newspaper photos - with Ness, there always were newspaper photos - it looked as though the agents were clomping through snow." (p. 317)

But, fame is fleeting. Ness was somewhat known in the 1920s and `30s, but his greatest fame didn't come until three decades later. And, as Eig ironically and ruefully noted, Ness didn't live long enough to fully enjoy it. "When he was old, washed up, drinking heavily, and trying to cash in on the glories of his youth, he would sell his life story for $300 to a writer named Oscar Fraley. Ness typed twenty-one pages on onionskin paper and gave them to Fraley, and from those slender sheets Fraley spun a marvellous fable, with Ness as the lonely warrior battling against Al Capone, the most notorious criminal who ever lived. Fraley called his book The Untouchables... It was utter bull, but it was some of the most successful bull $300 ever bought... It would make Ness one of the most famous crime fighters in American history, a paragon of virtue, an archetype for the hard-nosed Prohibition agent... Unfortunately, almost nothing in Fraley's book checks out." (pp. 238-39)

by Jonathan Eig
       Simon & Schuster:
       New York; 2010

Lies Across America; What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

Lies book cover

If I hadn't read U.S. Grant by Joan Waugh (below), I probably wouldn't have read this book, nor would I have commented on it here. My initial interest in Grant was to learn how his reputation had changed so dramatically from great to God-awful in only a few decades after his death. Waugh's book presented a convincing explanation but left me wondering how many other important historic images were transformed, for better or for worse, during the early twentieth century and how many of these distorted images we accept at face value today.

This book surfaced in a sea of books challenging the currently dominant interpretations of history. Both it and Loewen's earlier, award-winning book, Lies My Teacher Told Me represent relatively recent scholarship but have been around more than a decade and have thus far stood the test of time and criticism. They were widely reviewed and primarily well-received, and they continue to be cited as reliable sources.

The first thing I wondered was whether Loewen agreed with Waugh about the transformation of the Confederacy's image between the 1870s and the 1920s to make the "Old South" appear more charming and its role in the Civil War more noble and heroic. And, indeed he did. In fact, Loewen appears to be much more emotional and angry about this and other conscious spinning of historical facts than Waugh. He is particularly critical of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) who aggressively re-shaped history with a multi-decade campaign that built monuments all across the the country to honor confederate soldiers, even in cities and states hundreds of miles north of the Confederacy that hadn't even been founded at the time of the Civil War and in places that were clearly pro-Union. "In the border states," Loewen wrote, "the UDC and SCV erected pro-Confederate monuments and markers that make Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri -- states that were predominantly Unionist -- look predominantly Confederate."

But what, you may be asking, does this or any of Loewen's book have to do with public relations?  How will reading this book make me a better public relations practitioner? - The bottom line is: many of the views Loewen has labeled "lies" were carefully crafted and managed public relations images. Some were long-standing, traditional beliefs. Others were new but popular viewpoints. And, still others were once minority viewpoints that only gained acceptance after frequent repetition that gradually overcame opposing arguments. And, some of these ideas ("lies") were created and promoted by professional public relations practitioners. Others were the work of community and fraternal organizations, the National Park Service, or enthusiastic amateurs promoting their own relatives. But, ultimately, the entire process of winning popular support for them, whether you agree or disagree, like them or not, was public relations.

Loewen's greatest anger is reserved for the intentional misrepresentations that he has documented at historic sites across the county, but he is also troubled by lies of omission, the minimalization or absence of women, minorities, and certain other classes of people from monuments and memorials and their failure to tell of wars, slavery, mistreatment, and other atrocities. But, this too is a way of practicing public relations.

For example, Loewen claims that few Americans can accurately identify Jeffrey Amherst's most significant claim to historic recognition. Those who happen to think of the cities named Amherst in Massachusetts, New York, or New Hampshire, or possibly Amherst College, they may guess that he was a colonial era pioneer or a prominent political figure or some other type of early American good guy. After all, the institutions that memorialize Amherst are all noteworthy and laudable. But, few people would guess that Amherst's greatest contribution to American history was a plan to wage germ warfare and destroy the Indian Nations by giving them smallpox-infected blankets, a plan he and troops under his command actually implemented during the French and Indian Wars in 1763.

Loewen does his best to describe the origin of the "lies" he has uncovered, but he rarely provides detail about how they were promoted. His book isn't a how to do it guide for image-building or public relations. It won't tell you how to shape a politician's or a businessman's or an organization's public image. Nor will it tell you how to counteract public criticism of your company or its policies, but it will give you a lot to think about. And, it clearly illustrates how long-term and lasting the impact of an effective image-building campaign or planned forgetfulness can be.

by James W. Loewen
       A Touchstone Book
       Simon & Schuster
New York; 2000

U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

Grant book cover

The combination of a very thoughtful review by Julia Keller (Chicago Tribune; 11/15/09) and the current congressional debate about replacing Grant's portrait with Ronald Reagan's on the $50 bill prompted me to read this book for possible insights into late 19th and early 20th century public relations. After all, in the roughly 50 years from the end of Grant's presidency in the late 1870s to 1930 his public image fell from being one of the most loved and highly respected American heros of all time to being one of the worst Presidents of all time and, in the eyes of many southerners, little more than "a whiskey-soaked barbarian."  What, I wondered, had he done to deserve this, and how could his public image have been so badly managed?

As it turns out, Grant didn't do anything to create his new negative image, but neither did he or his partisans actively try to manage his image. From a public relations perspective, that may have been the problem.

No one was working to preserve Grant's image, but lots of people -- academicians writing scholarly books and papers; populists trying to stir public opinion; historians and ancestorialists trying to enhance the reputation of their forbearers -- were trying to re-shape the image of the "Old South" to make it more charming and noble and to make the South's role in the Civil War appear more heroic. According to Waugh, trashing Grant, the Union's most visible and most successful general, became central to that process.

At the time he was inaugurated as President of the United States, Waugh said, "No man other than George Washington had come to the office with expectations as high as those that accompanied the forty-six-year-old Ulysses S. Grant (then, the youngest man to have been elected president) ... Even the former vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens, praised the Union's hero."  And, there were numerous non-partisan medallions, posters, brochures, and articles displayed and distributed all over the country picturing George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant as America's three greatest heros, the nation's father, martyr, and defender, respectively.

In 1880, four years after he left the White House and after completing a triumphal two-year world tour, Grant remained so popular that there was a nearly-successful campaign to nominate him for an unprecedented third term as President. When he died in 1885, some observers claimed there was greater public mourning than there had been for Abraham Lincoln. Waugh, for instance, wrote: "Befitting Grant's already larger-than-life legacy, a million and a half people gathered in New York City to view the funeral procession and burial ceremonies" which was only one "of the thousands of memorial ceremonies held in the United States on that sad day."

But, after that, as national politics radically shifted and Reconstruction was de-railed throughout the South and, in many ways and places, was actually undone, Grant fell from favor and harsh, negative views of him became dominant. Many were triggered by the rise of a new and revisionist view of the Civil War among southerners. Labeled a theory, a creed, or a myth depending on the speaker's commitment to the South and/or bitterness toward the North, this view became known among believers and non-believers alike as the Lost Cause.

"The elements that define the Lost Cause are familiar," according to Waugh. They had previously been individually cited as reasons for some Union victories, but the Lost Cause pulled them together into a grand and sweeping explanation of the South's impossible mission. It asserted: "the war was caused not by slavery but by state's rights; southern armies were never defeated, but instead were overwhelmed by numbers; the southern soldier was brave and true, echoing the perfection of the patron saint of the Lost Cause, that courtly Virginia gentleman of impeccable lineage, Gen. Robert E. Lee."

That Grant and his reputation became targets and victims of this growing and powerful romantic myth should be a warning to anyone who wants to operate in the political arena or manage the reputations of those who do. This is a very thought-provoking volume, but it does not offer direct how-to-do-it public relations advice; it's not that kind of book. Keller's review calls it "part biography, part military history, part social chronicle." But, regardless of what you call it, you have to agree with Keller that it is "a sobering reminder of the vicissitudes of fame. ... History, too, can fall victim to fiction and fashion."

by Joan Waugh
       University of North Carolina Press
       Chapel Hill, NC; 2009

Communications and the Corporation

Marlow book photo

This book is long out of print, so you're unlikely to encounter it. But, if you do, grab hold of it, treat it with respect, and read it with care. Although it was written in the pre-Internet Era, -- actually in 1978, the decade before personal computers even came upon the scene -- it remains an outstanding explanation of the broad and strategic role communications can and should play in modern organizations.

It might be stretching the point a bit to call Marlow's small volume (only 64 pages) revolutionary for its day. -- It probably wasn't noticed enough to achieve "revolutionary" status. -- But, it was a breath of fresh air to those who were lucky enough to come across it or to hear Marlow speak. It was prophetic and forward-thinking compared to the much more limited and traditional views of communications that dominated that time. Most other public relations and communications books in those days, whether published as textbooks or as professional business books, accepted and promoted the long-established view that communications' role was to be a secondary support unit within a corporation or non-profit entity. It was expected to play a minor, back-up role to help, not to lead, the organization, and it certainly wasn't expected to be part of the upper management team.

Citing the then cutting edge Age of Information by T.C. Helvey, Marlow wrote: "The survival of the corporation in the marketplace will depend increasingly on the quality of communications professionals, technology, and systems. ... formal communications, managed by communication professionals, drawing upon high technology and 'systems' approaches, will make corporations more flexible, more responsive to internal and external needs." He was also in the forefront pushing video and other multi-media technologies as an alternative to publications for reaching both internal and external publics.

This isn't a book you can use to plan your next communication project, but it could give you a fuller and richer perspective on the role communicators can and should play within the organizations for whom they work. It's definitely worth an hour or two of your time.

It was delightful happenstance that I recently came across my copy and stopped to reread it while cleaning out my office. Quite a few books hit the trash that day. Many were clearly out-dated and deserved to be trashed. -- They were relevant in their day, but no longer. -- Marlow's book was an exception. It remains eminently readable and applicable more than 30 years after its publication. True, it doesn't mention the Internet or social media or even e-mail, but it was -- and still is -- right on the mark in suggesting that modern communications technologies and techniques would become instrumental in ensuring corporate success.

FYI, Eugene Marlow wasn't a one-trick pony; this wasn't his only contribution to public relations. In 1996, almost 20 years after this book was published and only two years after the formation of the World Wide Web, he wrote another landmark, Electronic Public Relations. It was one of the first, if not the very first book, to present a comprehensive view of how the Internet was affecting society and how it could be used by public relations practitioners.

by Eugene Marlow
       United Business Publications, Inc.
       New York; 1978

Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends

Wyatt Earp book photo

Wyatt Earp has been one of my favorite "real-life heros" of the Old West since I watched Hugh O'Brien portray him in the "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" TV series. Since then, I've sought out and read numerous books and articles to learn the real story of the Wyatt Earp and sort out the facts from the fiction and from the legends. I was, therefore, delighted to see this book described on its dust jacket as "A biography and more -- a smart and informative look at how myths and legends are forged."

From a public relations perspective, the opportunity to learn how Earp's life was transformed into a legend and how his reputation continued to grow after his death in 1929 and even moreso in the last 50 years due to the impact of television and movies was tremendously appealing. And, I'm happy to report that the author delivered on this promise, although it's later in the book and less-detailed than I would have liked.

Readers who are not already familiar with Wyatt Earp and the controversy that surrounds his actual role in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and its aftermath -- One group of scholars sees Earp as a noble, strong-willed, law-enforcing "good guy" while another equally reputable group sees him as a corrupt, power-hungry vigilante and murderous "bad guy" with a badge. -- will be well-served by and appreciate the book's structure and emphasis. Almost 350 of its 400+ pages painstakingly chronicle and analyze Earp's life and the conflicting interpretations that have been applied to it. Only the last 50-60 pages focus on the image-making efforts of Earp's biographers, novelists, screen-writers, and motion picture and television producers. While that's probably an appropriate balance for most readers, given my interests in public relations and image-building, as well as my previous familiarity with the conflicting interpretations of Earp's role in history, it was a bit disappointing. I don't object to any of the author's interpretations. I think he did an excellent job of making sense of Wyatt Earp and the people who have recounted conflicting versions of his story. I just wish he offered more insight into the image-making process and the people and companies behind it.

For me, it was fascinating to think about the ways Wyatt Earp's legend has changed over the course of time. It's summarized in the chapter titled "Hollywood Gunfighter" where the author says: "As police and the FBI battled gangsters and gunmen in the 1930s, Earp emerged as an inspiration for a return to frontier justice; after World War II and Korea, he represented the Cold Warriors who held the line against the enemies of democracy; and now, by 1970, he was seen as a point man for the military-industrial complex."

Don't, however, read this book expecting a to learn a lesson in image-building public relations skills. Although it describes what happened to Earp and his image/legend, it doesn't approach it in a how-to-do-it way. There is little, if anything, you could take from this book to help a current public relations client. But, if you're interested in Wyatt Earp or more generally in the Old West, I recommend it. As an Earp fan, I'm glad someone is still paying attention to both the life and the legends of Wyatt so they, in the words of the TV series theme song, "forever will live on the trail."

by Allen Barra
       Castle Books
       Edison, New Jersey; 2005

The IABC Handbook of Organizational Communication

IABC Handbook photo

This book is cast in the mold of the now-outdated Dartnell Public Relations Handbook and Lesly's Handbook of Public Relations and Communications that tried to encapsule everything a communication practitioner needed to know in a single volume. It and they are meant to be desktop references that are rarely read cover to cover but are kept handy to be consulted when unfamiliar situations arise.

In recent years I've used it as a study guide to assist communication professionals preparing to take the IABC accreditation exam and, without exception, the accreditation candidates agreed that it is an excellent and very useful resource that was well worth reading. Taken as a whole, it provides a great overview of the knowledge, skills, and expertise that are expected of an experienced and accredited communication professional.

The biggest differences between this and earlier handbooks are (a) this IABC Handbook covers a much broader spectrum of the communication industry and incorporates all aspects of organizational communication while the earlier handbooks focused almost solely on public relations and (b) the earlier handbooks featured lots of how-to-do-it articles and step-by-step directions while this book offers very few how-to-do-it techniques but includes lots of conceptual explanations.

Topics include: the evolving nature and scope of communication; communication management; internal organizational communication; dealing with external audiences and publics; media relations; government relations; investor relations; marketing communication; planning and measuring success; and communicating during a crisis. In total, there are 41 chapters by 46 authors, many of whom are highly active and well known in IABC circles.

Article by article, every chapter offers solid, well-thought-out, and clearly presented ideas. Each is worthwhile in its own right, but few are truly outstanding. They're worth reading, but they aren't star-quality. Few would be cited as the best or most definitive article written about their topic. In most cases, given a little time to think about it and/or look through files, well-read and up-to-date communicators could probably come up with better articles about most of the topics in the book, but they would be hard-pressed to find a more informative collection of articles on all these topics in a single volume.

Ironically, this book is an almost perfect example of the philosophical paradox that the whole is often more than the sum of its parts. Although few of the articles are noteworthy as stand-alone pieces, taken together they become an excellent overview of contemporary communication practices. For new communicators, they can be a fine introduction to the broad range of organizational or corporate communication. And, for experienced communicators, they can be an effective refresher about basics that were once known but haven't recently been thought about, or they can be a helpful alert to some of the ever-changing trends in professional practices. I highly recommend it.

edited by Tamara L. Gillis
       Jossey-Bass and the International Association of Business Communicators:
       San Francisco; 2006

Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide

Jenkins book photo

This book was not intended to address public relations and, in fact, never mentions the term. Nonetheless, awareness of its analysis and projection of current media and audience trends is likely to be critical to communicating and working with all publics in the years ahead.

A cover blurb from media/computer/sociology guru Howard Rheingold compares the author, Henry Jenkins, to Marshall McLuhan, an assessment that may be right on in more ways than one. McLuhan was widely talked about and highly controversial during the 1960's and `70's but wasn't given wide academic credibility until decades later. Similarly, because much of Jenkins' work focuses on fan involvement in popular culture, video games, and reality TV, he also runs the risk of being dismissed as an intellectual light-weight or as someone with interesting things to say about relatively trivial matters. That, however, would be a mistake.

The final chapters of this book illustrate how the lessons and patterns Jenkins found in years of studying fan-involvement, cross-media convergence, and audience participation in creating media content for fun/entertainment purposes have been manifesting themselves in politics and elections since the breakthrough campaigns of 2004. Today, according to Jenkins, all media audiences are demanding opportunities for greater participation and at least shared control of their media content. When they don't get it, they respond negatively and sometimes with devastating impact on the media or the producers or the sponsors/originators of the unsatisfying content. To the extent that public relations practitioners hope to continue using the media to help maintain their relationships with key publics, it will be critical to be aware of these trends and adapt to them.

by Henry Jenkins
       New York University Press
       New York & London; 2006.

A Jackson Man: Amos Kendall and the Rise of American Democracy>

cole book photo

Little-known outside of scholarly circles today, Amos Kendall, depending on one's politics, was revered or reviled as one of the most influential Americans in the 19th century. As a newspaper editor and political publicist, he was an ardent partisan who helped Andrew Jackson get elected as President. As an adviser and member of Jackson's cabinet (and later Martin Van Buren's), he helped reshape federal government and the modern two-party political system. As Postmaster General and later a business partner of Samuel Morse (inventor of the telegraph), he helped establish the first high-speed communication networks to span the nation. And, in his old age, he founded and funded what became Gallaudet College, the first school for the deaf in the country.

My interest in Kendall was first sparked by the short, vague references to him that appear in several popular public relations textbooks. They're usually only a sentence or two with little detail, but they invariably refer to him as the first, unofficial presidential press secretary. (The actual title "Press Secretary" wasn't used until the 1930s. George Akerson, under President Herbert Hoover, was the first to have it, but it was only one of his duties, not a full-time responsibility. A few years later, Steve Early, working for President Franklin Roosevelt, became the first full-time presidential press secretary.) However, after extensive research during a summer/fall 2002 sabbatical, I concluded that Kendall was far from being a press secretary. He was definitely a great publicist for Jackson, and he wrote lots of stories and editorials supporting Jackson. He also wrote -- or helped write -- many of Jackson's important speeches and proclamations. But, he never wrote "news releases," issued presidential statements, or distributed material intended for any/all newspapers to use. He only wrote for, and was published in, newspapers owned and operated by him, his colleagues, and/or other Jackson supporters. Nor was he a resource, intermediary, or facilitator for reporters or editors. What Kendall did was tell the President's story to people who read his and other Jackson-controlled newspapers; he never worked with or through other newspapers. He spoke only to his own readers, rather than trying, as today's press secretaries do, to get messages disseminated to all media users by speaking to reporters/editors who then convey the story through their media.

Consequently, this book has little to offer those seeking insights into public relations or the role of the President's press secretary. It is, however, a fascinating look at an important historical figure. I just wish it had been published in 2002 when I was researching Kendall. I was fortunate to have talked with Professor Cole at that time, and he was generous in sharing insights from his research up to that point, but having the entire book finished would have been even more helpful.

by Donald B. Cole
       Louisiana State University Press:
       Baton Rouge; 2004

Eliot Ness and the Untouchables: Historical Reality and the Film and Television Depictions

tucker book photo

Eliot Ness is, as Tucker describes him, "an established icon in the American psyche" and our image of a dedicated law enforcement officer. Though most people today don't realize it, he was the inspiration for Chester Gould's cartoon character Dick Tracy, created in 1931 at the height of Ness's prominence. Ness was also "a glory-grabber, seeking his own publicity - at times at the price of endangering the effectiveness of his raids by telling reporters when and where a strike would take place."

Personally, I've been trying to understand Ness from a public relations perspective since my earlier research uncovered photographs from the 1930s which showed him standing, axe in hand, with one foot resting on an overturned whiskey barrel. His pose was identical to newspaper photos of prohibitionist Carrie Nation taken three decades earlier when she was smashing saloons in her anti-liquor crusade. The images were so alike that I had to wonder if Ness intentionally copied Nation's stance. And, I found further irony, or perhaps truth, in the fact that this same pose was recreated by both Robert Stack and Kevin Costner in publicity photos for the 1959 Untouchables TV series and the 1987 movie.

Expecting this book to provide a detailed treatment of the real Eliot Ness with references to how he was portrayed on television and in the movies, I was deeply disappointed. The book is the exact opposite of what I expected. It focuses more on fiction than reality. Only one chapter, a scant 18 pages, discusses "The Real Eliot Ness," while 135 pages are devoted to an episode by episode treatment of the two TV series (which were almost entirely fictional except for the names of historic figures and a few headline events) and the movie (which, like the TV pilot, was only loosely based on actual events). While it may be of interest in terms of television/movie history and the re-making of a classic series, it has little to offer students of biography or of public relations.

by Kenneth Tucker
       McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers:
       Jefferson, North Carolina; 2000

The Great Rascal: The Life and Adventures of Ned Buntline

buntline book photo

After the disappointment of reading Larry McMurtry's The Colonel and Little Missy, it was delightful to read about the fabulous adventures of Ned Buntline, an even more fanciful but less well known contemporary of Buffalo Bill's. Although Buntline, whose real name was Edward Zane Carroll Judson, never achieved the "superstar" status of Buffalo Bill and was never as much of a household name, either in his own time or now, it wasn't for lack of trying.

In the mid to late 19th century, until he was surpassed by Mark Twain, Buntline was the best-selling and most money-making author in the United States. But, like Michael Crichton or Tom Clancey of today, he wrote action adventure tales for mass audiences, not carefully crafted literature for the cognoscenti. He wrote tales of pirates and sea-faring dare and do, graphic and exciting tales of warfare, and legend-building stories of the American frontier. His works are often characterized as "pot-boilers" or "pulp fiction," but he wrote so many of them and they sold so well that Monaghan dubbed him "the ten-cent millionaire" in recognition of the scores of dime novels he penned. He also wrote serials for illustrated journals, newspaper and magazine articles, and stage shows that played on Broadway and around the country. He also produced and toured as the star of a Wild West Show that briefly competed directly against Buffalo Bill's "Wild West." He also undertook other highly successful publicity-seeking activities. In one of the most notable, he arranged with the Colt Firearms Company to produce a special, limited edition pistol known as the "Buntline Special" and then went on a grand tour of the West, where he stopped in such locations as Dodge City and Tombstone to present engraved Buntline Specials to Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, and other notable lawmen.

This book wasn't written from a public relations perspective, so Buntline's PR savvy isn't highlighted or analyzed in detail. You have to spot it for yourself and do a little bit of reading between the lines. But, unless you were specifically looking for these insights, you'd never miss them. The book is a scholarly, well-researched, and very readable biography written by a respected scholar and historian. Whether you're interested in the pop culture icons and superstars of 19th century or just looking for an intriguing biography, this book should be on your reading list.

by Jay Monaghan
       Little, Brown and Company:
       Boston; 1952

The Colonel and Little Missy

McMurtry book photo

Larry McMurtry, who is best know for his novels and movie/television adaptations of them - The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, Lonesome Dove, Buffalo Girls, and dozens of others - begins this non-fiction work with the assertion: "Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley were, in my opinion, the first American superstars - in the 1880s and 1890s, at the height of their fame, their images were recognized the world over. Buffalo Bill was probably the most famous American of his day; he was easily more famous than any president, more famous even than Theodore Roosevelt." This statement is neither surprising nor unusual. Countless others share this view, especially about Buffalo Bill.

McMurtry's ostensible purpose was to explore and explain the professional and personal relationships that brought William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and Annie Oakley to this then-unprecedented level of stardom. And, he does regale us with anecdotes and episodes related to their various tours, some of the techniques used in their performances, and, in the case of Buffalo Bill, a number of sexual and financial peccadillos and personal indiscretions. Regrettably, it's all very superficial. There's a lot of rambling repetition and a general lack of substance. In both style and content, the book reads more like a fan magazine than a serious work of biography or of scholarship. Very few sources are directly cited, and readers are presumably expected to accept what's being said based on the author's presumed credibility and reputation. In fact, it's my rather cynical assumption that it was only the reputation and name-recognition of the author, not the quality of the content or even of the writing, that convinced the publisher to bring out this book. Reading it was a huge disappointment and, if I were Larry McMurtry, I'd be embarrassed to have my name on it.

Readers interested in learning more about Buffalo Bill and his rise to prominence would be far better served by Buffalo Bill: Last of the Great Scouts, written by his sister Helen Cody Wetmore in 1899 and republished in 1994. Its book jacket begins with the statement: "Arguably Buffalo Bill was America's first superstar."

by Larry McMurtry
       Simon & Schuster:
       New York; 2005

Full Frontal PR: Building Buzz about Your Business, Your Product, or You

full frontal PR book cover

This is another of the numerous books cast in the mold of Jay Levinson's Guerilla Marketing or David Yale's Publicity Handbook that strive to be one-volume how-to-do-it guides to attracting attention and/or customers. Like the others, it's written in a slightly hyped but clear and confidence-boosting style that emphasizes how you or your company, using the simple and easy to understand techniques outlined in the book, can achieve the same kinds of results produced by large corporate public relations or marketing departments. In fact, Laermer boldly asserts: "Most enterprises probably do not need a large PR budget, no matter what people, well, like us tell you. The fact is, many don't need firms to do PR for them. They can do it on their own."

That quote may be a great way to sell a book being touted as a do-it-yourself guide to PR, but it seems a bit disingenuous coming from someone who makes a major portion of his living as a PR consultant. And, it seems to inappropriately undermine the belief that a college education, and especially a major in public relations or communication, is important career preparation for students aspiring to success in public relations.

Despite these reservations, and certainly not accepting the notion that this book is an indispensable key to PR success, it does have a lot to recommend it to inexperienced practitioners who already have a reasonable grasp of the fundamentals but need tips on applying their knowledge to unfamiliar situations. It's loaded with bulleted lists, guidelines, mini-case studies, and other suggestions for turning abstract theory into action steps that produce practical results. It's great information but, I must admit, I found the writing style a bit annoying at times. It's a bit too hip, too loaded with buzz-words, too edgy, and too overly optimistic for my taste.

by Richard Laermer
       Bloomberg Press:
       Princeton, New Jersey; 2003

Master bibliographic index On-line readings table of contents Practicing Public Relations home page
 E-mail your reactions or suggestions for additional readings to the compiler.