The Car: The Rise and Fall of the Machine that Made the Modern World

Pegasus. Sept. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781639362301. $28.95. HIST
Appleyard, a veteran British journalist and author (The Brain Is Wider than the Sky), takes a broad perspective on the automobile. Soon, people can expect cars, as they know them, to be replaced by autonomous electric pods, summoned and dismissed via the cloud. The author first sketches the history of the bicycle, which he credits with planting the idea of free, individual moment along open roads. The self-propelled carriage was invented in the 1880s as a cleaner replacement for polluting, horse-drawn vehicles. He profiles the main historical figures that developed auto corporations around the world, also noting the evolution of the car from transport device to styled object of consumer desire. Public culture includes hot rodding, customizing, films, television series, computer games, supercars, and cars of celebrities. Yet proliferation of the car and truck has enabled freeways, suburban sprawl, drive-in commerce, smog, and millions of traffic casualties.
VERDICT That everyday engineering wonder, the petroleum-powered vehicle, has been around for 130 years. Appleyard narrates its transformative story while acknowledging that its era is fading.
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