‘The Car,’ a New Book, Takes Joyride through Automotive History

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Cambridge-educated journalist and writer—and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) recipient—Bryan Appleyard primarily covers the arts and sciences in his books and articles, so in some ways he seems unlikely to be the author of a new book. car history. However, the new book Cars: The Rise and Fall of the Machines That Made the Modern World not ordinary history. Instead, it’s a delightfully meandering journey through important milestones in the development of the automobile, and the repercussions they have had—astonishing as well as terrifying.

Cars: The Rise and Fall of the Machines That Made the Modern World

Cars: The Rise and Fall of the Machines That Made the Modern World

Cars: The Rise and Fall of the Machines That Made the Modern World

This simultaneous dichotomy is an element of both agility and allure of this book. I didn’t really realize what the book’s thesis was until a few months after I wrote it,” says Appleyard CD. “This is because there is a kind of thesis that underlies this book, which is not just about cars. It’s about things in general. This is the idea that people should be able to keep two ideas and thoughts in their minds. In this case, one of them is nice carand one of them is bad car. And that doesn’t mean that one will cancel the other.”

In other words, while cars have catalyzed profound and often problematic changes to our lives and our natural and man-made environments, they should not make us throw away our sense of freedom, spectacle of design and innovation, cultural influence, and capacity. for the speed and magic of the car has been provided.

But it raises the bigger question of how to integrate this branching and conflicting knowledge into planning for the future. “The narrower thesis of this book is that cars, as we know them, tend to turn into something else,” Appleyard said.
And this is the end of an era that began in 1885, and I think it deserves to be recorded.”

Appleyard has a long history with cars, from his familiar childhood experience of “identifying every car I see passing” to a life full of problematic or odd vehicles. The list includes a Triumph Spitfire, where the passenger seat is a large cushion, a pair of Minis, and to its current stables, which includes, as Appleyard puts it, “two relatively luxurious cars—a Bentley Continental GT, and a Porsche Boxster, which sits at the foot of the car.” the last one, I guess.”

portrait of bertha benz

Bertha Benz

henry ford 1863 1947 namerican car manufacturer photographed with one of its car models, c1920

Henry Ford and his Model T

Granger/Alamy Historical Image Archive

In his in-depth study of the extensive history of automobiles, Appleyard was most struck by several things. First, he was struck by the sluggishness of innovation that led to the accumulation of cars. “I mean, I think the steam piston was invented in the first century, or something,” he said. “And it took almost 2000 years to get from there to the internal combustion engine.”

Second, and related, it was carried by the direct sociological predecessor of the automobile, which was neither a cart nor a train, but another wheeled conveyance. “It also surprised me to what extent the bicycle was a serious precursor to the car, because the bicycle gave people the idea of ​​individual freedom of movement, over relatively long distances, at much higher speeds,” he said, noting that contemporary chain-driven bicycles with two similar wheels were not invented until the mid-19th century.

Appleyard’s choice of which stories or historical figures to focus on — Bertha Benz, Billy Durant, Ferdinand Porsche, Sochiro Honda, and Ralph Nader, to name a few — is also a challenge, especially when it comes to refining and editing their stories into something consumable. “I have a pathological desire to expand on details that I find interesting, way beyond what other people find interesting,” he says. “So I had to fight to get the parts focused enough.”

audi presents the audi aicon concept car at the iaa auto show in frankfurt main, germany, 12 september 2017 the iaa international motor show is the world's largest motor show and auto exhibitors from up to 40 countries will present their latest products and innovations at iaa, while hundreds of thousands people are expected to visit the exhibition from 14 to 24 septemberinternational motor show iaa in frankfurt, frankfurt main, germany 12 sep 2017

Autonomous Audi concept

Friedemann Vogel/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
pile of broken cars in the trash


The book loses ground a bit towards the end, in its discussion of electrification and autonomy, a fact that perhaps reflects Appleyard’s own uncertainty about the future. When asked if he could replace his lover, if self-destructive, the Boxster, with an EV, he denied. “Electricity is interesting,” he said. “Right now I can’t imagine buying an electric car as my main car because the charging network isn’t as good as it should be. Obviously, there is a charging case, all taken or partially damaged. “

However, like many of us, he came. “I can’t have it for long trips. But for a car in London, we would definitely consider an electric car,” he said. “So we might get the next electric car, I guess.”

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