Books that cover two human constants: time and movement

All this we learn until finally the historic moment arrives: the daring pre-dawn feat of a certain Bertha Benz, who in 1888 surreptitious...


All this we learn until finally the historic moment arrives: the daring pre-dawn feat of a certain Bertha Benz, who in 1888 surreptitiously took away her husband’s prototype. Motorwagen and with his two sons and many drummers from ligroin, daytime fuel (gasoline was considered unnecessary and was dumped in the swamps), traveled 65 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim to see his mother. And from this daring act of feminine resolution was born the automobile itself, the true star of the story.

Of course, this being a full story, we learn a lot about Henry Ford and mass production and the Model T, but then how General Motors cleverly realized that if Ford could make cars, GM could sell them (theirs). brands being Chevrolet, Cadillac, Pontiac and one, Buick, from a company that previously manufactured bathtubs) by lending potential buyers the money to pay for them. The General Motors Acceptance Corporation has helped put millions of Americans on the road, helped create the suburbs and suburbs, and, more insidiously, helped put many of those millions on the road to near debt. permanent, as millions remain today.

The pivotal point of the book is Standage’s description of the memorably prescient Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, where designer Norman Bel Geddes (who also drew the blueprints for an amphibious passenger plane at nine floors with 26 motors and a ballroom) offered his surprising take on “the shape of cities in the age of the automobile”, with people and cars separated safely and in a way that would allow the ‘automobile (“in no way responsible for our traffic problems”) to dominate the economic dynamism of the nation and allow its citizens to go anywhere, anytime.

Shopping centers, gas stations, drive-in parks – and redlining, Robert Moses, urban scourge, white flight – all were born out of this utopia turned dystopia, and Standage writes with masterful clarity before turning its attention, as needed, to the subject of our automotive future.

I wish he hadn’t. This does not mean that his writing here is less vivid; rather, he’s talking about a dreary world of self-driving cars and Ubers everywhere, drone deliveries, electronic highways, artificial intelligence, and things that might just be around the corner or on the street. around the corner, but fogs like me just wish it were gone. I prefer to recall the enduring charms of the Age of Wheels, as when I traveled to the South Atlantic Island under British administration of Tristan da Cunha in 1985 on a freighter that had a car in its hold and a proclamation. official to make to the 220 inhabitants: that since this car would henceforth be the second on the island and that the two vehicles had the potential to collide, all vehicles on the single causeway of Tristan must henceforth, by order of His Majesty the Queen, drive left.

Telling stories through a selection of particular objects – maps, objects in a museum, uniforms – is a current editorial trope. Standage itself had considerable success with “A Six-Glasses World Story” over ten years ago. Today, a prominent British watchmaker, David Rooney, entered the lists with his highly intelligent ‘About Time’, popularly captioned ‘A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks’. His idea is that time-measuring instruments of one kind or another (his impartial passion for such objects, from sundials to plutonium-powered clocks, he relates quite touchingly) have been at the heart of human activity, and it illustrates the power of such influence through scores. well-chosen examples.

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