Home Book editor “The Car”, a new book, takes a stroll through the history of the automobile

“The Car”, a new book, takes a stroll through the history of the automobile


Cambridge-educated journalist and author – and recipient of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) – Bryan Appleyard has mainly covered the arts and sciences in his books and articles, so in some ways he seems unlikely in as the author of a new automotive history. Yet his new book, The car: the rise and fall of the machine that created the modern world is no ordinary story. Instead, it’s a delightfully winding journey through key stages of automotive development and the repercussions it has had, both astonishing and horrific.

The car: the rise and fall of the machine that created the modern world

The car: the rise and fall of the machine that created the modern world

This simultaneous dichotomy is essential to the book’s dexterity and appeal. I didn’t really realize what the thesis of the book was until several months after I wrote it,” Appleyard said. CD. “It’s because there’s a kind of underlying thesis to the book, which wasn’t just about cars. It’s about things in general. It’s the idea that people should be able to keep two ideas and thoughts in their mind. In this case, one is cars are goodand one is cars are bad. And it’s not that one will cancel the other.

In other words, if the car has catalyzed profound and often problematic changes in our lives and in our natural and built environment, this should not make us forget the sense of freedom, the spectacle of design and innovation. , the cultural influence and the capacity for speed and the wonder that automobiles have provided.

Yet it raises a broader question about how to integrate this conflicting and bifurcated knowledge into planning for the future. “The narrower thesis of the book is that cars, as we know them, are capable of transforming into something else,” Appleyard said.
And so it’s the end of an era that started in 1885, and I thought it was worth recording.”

Appleyard has a long history with cars, from its familiar childhood experience of “identifying every car I saw go by” to a life littered with problematic or weird vehicles. That list included a Triumph Spitfire, in which the passenger seat was a big cushion, a pair of Minis, and up to his current stable, which includes, as Appleyard put it, “two relatively extravagant cars – a Bentley Continental GT and a Porsche Boxster, which is out of breath I think.”

portrait of bertha benz

Bertha Benz

Henry Ford 1863 1947 namerican car manufacturer pictured with one of his model t automobiles, c1920

Henry Ford and his Model T

Granger Historic Photo Archive/Alamy

In its extensive research into the vast history of the automobile, Appleyard was most surprised by a couple of things. First, he is shocked by the languor with which the innovations that lead to the automobile accumulate. “I mean, I think the steam piston was invented in the first century, or something like that,” he said. “And it took almost 2,000 years to get to the internal combustion engine.”

Second, and relatedly, it was taken up by the immediate sociological precursor to the car, which was not so much the wagon or the train, but rather another means of wheeled transportation. “I was also surprised how the bicycle is a serious predecessor to the car, because the bicycle gave people the idea of ​​individual freedom of movement, over relatively long distances, at much higher speeds. high,” he said, noting that the contemporary chain-driven bicycle with two similar wheels wasn’t invented until the mid-19e 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 – was also a challenge, mainly in terms of refining and editing their stories into something consumable. “I have this pathological desire to expand the details that I find fascinating, far beyond what anyone else might find fascinating,” he said. “So I had to struggle to get to the pieces that were fairly focused.”

audi presents the audi aicon concept car at the iaa motor show in frankfurt am main, germany, september 12, 2017 the iaa international motor show is the largest motor show and exhibitors in the automakers from up to 40 countries are set to showcase their latest products and innovations at the iaa, as hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend the show from September 14-24, iaa international motor show in frankfurt, main frankfurt, germany 12 Sep 2017

Autonomous Audi concept

Friedemann Vogel/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
piles of wrecked cars in a scrap yard


The book loses some power towards the end, in discussions of electrification and autonomy, a fact that perhaps reflects Appleyard’s own uncertainty about the future. When asked if he could replace his beloved, self-destructing Boxster with an electric vehicle, he dithered. “Electric is interesting,” he said. “I could not imagine at the moment buying an electric car as my main car because the charging network is not as good as it should be. Obviously there are charger bays, which are all taken or some of which are broken.”

Yet, like many of us, he returns. “I couldn’t have it for long journeys. But for a car just in London we would definitely consider an electric car,” he said. “So we could have an electric car next, I guess.”

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