Selling Hitler

Propaganda & the Nazi Brand

August 2016 9781849043526 360pp
Out of print
May 2021 9781787384927 360pp


Hitler was one of the few politicians who understood that persuasion was everything, deployed to anchor an entire regime in the confections of imagery, rhetoric and dramaturgy. The Nazis pursued propaganda not just as a tool, an instrument of government, but also as the totality, the raison d’être, the medium through which power itself was exercised. Moreover, Nicholas O’Shaughnessy argues, Hitler, not Goebbels, was the prime mover in the propaganda regime of the Third Reich — its editor and first author.

Under the Reich everything was a propaganda medium, a building-block of public consciousness, from typography to communiqués, to architecture, to weapons design. There were groups to initiate rumours and groups to spread graffiti. Everything could be interrogated for its propaganda potential, every surface inscribed with polemical meaning, whether an enemy city’s name, an historical epic or the poster on a neighbourhood wall. But Hitler was in no sense an innovator — his ideas were always second-hand. Rather his expertise was as a packager, fashioning from the accumulated mass of icons and ideas, the historic debris, the labyrinths and byways of the German mind, a modern and brilliant political show articulated through deftly managed symbols and rituals. The Reich would have been unthinkable without propaganda — it would not have been the Reich.


‘Illuminatingly treats the Third Reich’s deployment of myths, symbols, and rhetoric with the eye and ear of a theorist keenly tuned to the subtle plays of power and desire … A fresh take on an area of scholarship dominated by historians, Selling Hitler teems with insight into the subtle ways in which a subliminally reinforced political message can become consciously internalized and defended by well-intentioned citizens.’ — Los Angeles Review of Books

‘A fascinating work on how the Nazis “sold” Hitler to the German people and vice-versa, almost like a modern commercial brand.’— Andrew Roberts, Evening Standard (Best Books of 2016)

‘[A] fresh, surprising and important look at a neglected aspect of the history of Nazi Germany. […] O’Shaughnessy boldly deconstructs the Nazi propaganda machine and its vast output.’ — Jewish Journal

‘This intriguing study of propaganda, mass media and marketing is a most welcome addition to the literature of the Third Reich.’ — Giles MacDonogh, historian and author of, inter alia, A Good German: Adam von Trott zu Solz and After the Reich: From the Liberation of Vienna to the Berlin Airlift

‘This book is a powerful reassertion of the centrality of propaganda in the Nazi regime. O’Shaughnessy’s emphasis on the manipulation of symbols, the selective appropriation of history, and on the Nazi colonisation of language is particularly to be welcomed.’ — Toby Thacker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, Cardiff University, and author of Joseph Goebbels: Life and Death

‘[A] magisterial work… [Selling Hitler is a] methodical study of propaganda, mass media and marketing.’ — The Times of Israel 

‘[Selling Hitler] takes a strong and eloquent look at the landscape of [Nazi] coercion … [it] is a thorough, bitter, and entirely virtuoso performance … [A] penetrating study of “Nazi humbuggery” wherever it manifests itself.’ — Open Letters Monthly


Nicholas O’Shaughnessy is Professor of Communications at Queen Mary, University of London. He studied at Cambridge, Oxford and Columbia. Among his many publications are The Marketing Power of Emotion and The Phenomenon of Political Marketing.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.