Jeff's Reviews > Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
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's review
Sep 03, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: lieberry_books, non-fiction
Recommended to Jeff by: Powells bookstore newsletter!
Recommended for: anybody who drives or is driven
Read in September, 2008

This is the perfect example of 4.5 stars for me. I don't want to say it was AMAZING but it was significantly better than "really liked it." The writing's not especially wonderful, but the information is great. It's my kind of topic. It's delivered in a non-preachy tone though the author's "bias" is apparent at times. It's not trying to be too clever (as i usually feel when reading Oliver Sacks or David Sedaris) nor is it afraid of being interesting (as seems to be the case with most Important Biographies i've tried to read).

Not many people THINK deeply about traffic. We have strong feelings about it and it can ruin our day, but considering it in the abstract or viewing it as an index of culture (as telling as one's language or religion) probably doesn't even occur to most of us as something worth trying. This book covers the topic incredibly thoroughly. Sometimes redundant, but i suspect that's because the author wasn't so arrogant as to expect every reader to start on p.1 and plow through to the last page of the index without stopping.

The first chapter or two had me thinking it should be mandatory reading for student drivers. The majority of the book, though, is really about sociology and psychology, so it's not worthwhile to students. The final chapters and the epilogue return to appropriate topics. Of course, i don't expect many young teens would dig this stuff much: non-fiction books ain't typical American Cool.

This should make it onto the syllabi of undergrad courses across the country. I hope the students appreciate it. And i really hope the blurb in Entertainment Weekly about it helps get a few thousand more people to read the damned thing (rather than just buying it, a la Oprah's magic).

Extensive notes (i didn't read them; normally would, but it's a 14-day loaner from the lieberry) in the backmatter are probably very useful and informative. I didn't need the index, but i love me a non-fiction book with a good index: indispensable for somebody who needs to study it.

Finally, i'd like to thank the smarties at Powell's Bookstore in Portland, OR, for their excellent newsletter and its oft-terrific recommendations. I have not given them credit before now, but they consistently have good ideas for what to read next.
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