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

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
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's review
Aug 11, 2012

really liked it

A fun book, in the vein of Malcolm Gladwell hits like "The Tipping Point" and "Outliers." In trying to paint a portrait of traffic throughout our society, Tom Vanderbilt goes for breadth rather than depth, which has its pluses and minuses.
Instead of anchoring to one or two sweeping conclusions (like Gladwell) and pressing into their service some interesting anecdotes, Vanderbilt goes into a dizzying array of factoids and stories about traffic without necessary trying to tie them all together. If there are any overarching conclusions, they are "individual actions often lead to unexpected collective outcomes" and "road safety is scary." Having more of a point would be nice, but is there one to made from the sheer amount of material? This book is best considered a -- riveting -- tour of the world of traffic, and it consistently raises questions about what we really want when we design policy for roads. Do we want convenience? Do we want safety? Do we want to express our national character in a specific fashion (like with the mystifying US reluctance to build roundabouts)?
There are some unsatisfying anecdotes all well, but, partnered with the extraordinary amount of research, they consistently serve as a jumping off point for further exploration. While the author never really makes an argument for being a "late merger", I now know where to look, and my interest in these issues has been piqued. Similarly, this book does a really good job of giving the reader an awareness of the day-to-day life of people whose work we take for granted: traffic engineers, road safety experts, and all those minor figures who have made traffic their passion.
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