This review was first published by Booklist on July 30, 2021.
Traffic jams. Accidents. Pollution. Safety concerns. This was the situation faced by cities at the end of the nineteenth century, with a glut of horse-drawn vehicles clogging streets and dirtying roads. The car was supposed to solve all that. Instead, automobiles came with their own problems: congestion, deadlier accidents, climate impacts, and the worsening of economic and cultural divides. Standage believes a look back at the history of wheeled vehicles and their impacts is useful to guide us toward the future. Cars fundamentally altered the landscape of the modern world, driving the redesign of urban areas and fueling the rise of suburbia. The popularity of cars had ramifications even beyond urban planning and traffic: factory mechanization, planned obsolescence, and the creation of teenage culture were all affected. He offers a balanced overview of new options being explored: autonomous vehicles, ride-share apps, vehicle sharing, and integrated transit systems. All offer potential benefits, and all come with risks. Any new technology will have consequences we don’t foresee. This is a well-researched exploration of an urgent subject.