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Archive for May 24th, 2010

Autophobia

A new book by historian Brian Ladd explores love and hate in the automobile age:

From the Model T to the SUV, Autophobia reveals that our vexed relationship with the automobile is nothing new—in fact, debates over whether cars are forces of good or evil in our world have raged for over a century now, ever since the automobile was invented. According to Brian Ladd, this love and hate relationship we share with our cars is the defining quality of the automotive age.

But what is most impressive to me is how Ladd understands that cultural, political, and economic forces inform one another through history. He does not, as many economists do, simply assume that preferences are given, but instead builds a richer understanding of the role of the car  in our society. From the synopsis: “Eisenhower, Hitler, Jan and Dean, J. G. Ballard, Ralph Nader, OPEC, and, of course, cars, all come into play in this wide-ranging but remarkably wry and pithy book.”

Also from the synopsis, some thoughtful words on the car:

Cars are the scourge of civilization, responsible for everything from suburban sprawl and urban decay to environmental devastation and rampant climate change—not to mention our slavish dependence on foreign oil from dubious sources abroad. Add the astonishing price in human lives that we pay for our automobility—some thirty million people were killed in car accidents during the twentieth century—plus the countless number of hours we waste in gridlock traffic commuting to work, running errands, picking up our kids, and searching for parking, and one can’t help but ask: Haven’t we had enough already? After a century behind the wheel, could we be reaching the end of the automotive age?

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Boston.com has a depressing series of photos from the BP oil spill, which may now equal 13 Exxon Valdez spills. Just remember that criticizing British Petroleum is un-American.

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