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[Book Review] Propaganda, by Edward Bernays.


Hi folks! Today I am going to write a book review on Propaganda, by Edward Bernays. I think this book has great relevance to how social media is used by influential people today.

propaganda book

(Picture: Source)

Edward Bernays is widely known as the “Father of Propaganda”. There are 6 chapters in this book titled “Propaganda” (1928), covering overarching topics of public relations and ethics, mass psychology, persuasion, politics, education, corporations and democracy. His main premise is that for democracy to exist, there is a need for an elite group of people to “engineer” the consent of the masses, so that major decisions can still be executed well by the elites in a sea of diverse ideas.

A very interesting point to note from the book is that Bernays presented the concept of “propaganda” in a relatively neutral–if not positive– light. This might come across as surprising since propaganda is commonly thought of as something “manipulative”, “unethical”, or “negative”, conjuring images of the Nazi Germans and Holocaust.

Bernays however, proposed that propaganda is supposed to be positive: the source of all propaganda should be based on noble ethics and ideals–the mission of the company/institution cannot be dishonest, anti-social, or misleading. Ultimately, the mission of companies/institutions/individuals should be to make the world a better place for all to live in, and propaganda can help the founders achieve this in a faster and more powerful manner.

I love the way Bernays spoke about how the consent of the masses can be moulded or influenced. He even showed us exactly how to do this: seek to influence the leaders, and they will influence the masses! And thereafter, distribute your ideas using appropriate “distribution” channels and platforms, such as via the lecturer’s stage, television, radio, broadsheet, flyers and books. And more importantly, social media.

I’d been saying that social media = human nature for the longest time ever. This book reaffirms this sentiment: we are social beings in need of charismatic leaders! Having said that however, Bernays did not give methods as to how public relations can be prevented from its misuse, nor did he caution us against the degrading of human beings and the world.

The book ends with this, which I felt was intelligent and apt:

“No matter how sophisticated, how cynical the public may become about publicity methods, it must respond to the basic appeals, because it will always need food, crave amusement, long for beauty, respond to leadership…Propaganda will never die out. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends
and help to bring order out of chaos.”

A classic book on public relations and persuasion indeed, be sure to read it!

Some other quotes we love:

  1. On the public’s resistance to change: “The great enemy of any attempt to change men’s habits is inertia. Civilization is limited by intertia.”
  2. On how even we ourselves don’t really know ourselves: “Men (people) are rarely aware of the real reasons which motivate their actions.”
  3. On the real value of education in democracy: “The public is not cognizant of the real value of education, and does not realize that education as a social force is not receiving the kind of attention it has the right to expect in a democracy.”
  4. On the need of skilled PR experts. “Now “public opinion” stood out as a force that must be managed, and not through clever guesswork but by experts trained to do that all-important job.”

Be sure to read the book too!🙂

This entry was posted in: PR/Marketing


Wan Wei is a PR practitioner with a heart for pretty things. Formally trained in public relations and quantitative economics, she is also a contributor to various ecosystems in Europe and Asia. Drop her a PM or visit her blog! :)

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