Car Country: An Environmental History

Overview


For most residents of the United States, getting almost anywhere begins with reaching for the car keys. This is true, Christopher Wells argues, because the United States is car country: a nation whose landscapes are so completely oriented around personal vehicles that other forms of transportation tend to be inconvenient at best and nearly impossible at worst.

Car-dependent landscapes seem perfectly natural to us today, but they are a relatively new historical development. In ...

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Overview


For most residents of the United States, getting almost anywhere begins with reaching for the car keys. This is true, Christopher Wells argues, because the United States is car country: a nation whose landscapes are so completely oriented around personal vehicles that other forms of transportation tend to be inconvenient at best and nearly impossible at worst.

Car-dependent landscapes seem perfectly natural to us today, but they are a relatively new historical development. In Car Country, Wells explains how, over the course of just a few decades, entrepreneurs demonstrated the profitability, practicality, and political attractiveness of remaking the nation around the easy movement of automobiles. He also shows how government policies, from the federal to the local, created a dense thicket of new regulations, incentives, and practices surrounding both transportation and land use, which together redefined "development" as "car-oriented development."

From the dawn of the motor age to the establishment of the interstate highway system and the rise of the suburbs, Wells untangles the complicated relationships between automobiles and the environment, charting a history essential for understanding American transportation and land-use issues today.

Christopher Wells is associate professor of environmental history at Macalester College.

"Car Country is arguably the most carefully researched, clearly written, and consistently engaging study anyone has yet written exploring the far-flung and extraordinarily complicated landscapes created by and for automobiles in the twentieth-century United States. The story is all the more remarkable because most of us who now inhabit this landscape take it so much for granted without having the slightest clue how it came into being." -from the Foreword by William Cronon

"Car Country offers a valuable historical perspective that is directly related to many pressing contemporary issues." -Owen D. Gutfreund, author of Twentieth-Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape

"Car Country is the most comprehensive recent synthesis of the automobile in twentieth-century America, of unusual scope and readability." -Peter D. Norton, author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Wells has produced an important and persuasive new chapter in the history of American car culture." -David Blanke, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Autumn 2013

"[T]he book is a fresh, well-documented history of roadbuilding policies in the United States between 1900 and 1960." -James M. Rubenstein, Journal of American History, March 2014

"In Car Country, Christopher W. Wells offers a compelling history of America's signature car-dependent landscapes. With lively anecdotes, effective imagery, and dozens of illustrations, the book also presents an accessible narrative that will help students visualize how Americans gradually and profoundly transformed their nation." -Michael R. Fine, American Historical Review, February 2014

Enterprise & Society

Car Country is a valuable addition to our knowledge on urban development, the environmental impact of automobiles, and the evolution of the twentieth-century American landscape.

Human Ecology

For students and inhabitants of car country, Wells offers a terrific excavation of the sprawlscape that still drives our days.

Southern California Quarterly - Theodore Strathman

One of the great strengths of the book is Wells’s meticulous work in revealing how the institutional, economic, and mental arrangements supporting ‘Car Country’ were set in place during the interwar years.... Wells’s book is a remarkable achievement.

Journal of American History - James M. Rubenstein

A fresh, well-documented history of roadbuilding policies in the United States between 1900 and 1960.

The AAG Review of Books - John A. Jackle

Relatively few academic geographers have focused their research and publishing directly on the automobile and its geographical implications for life in the United States. Yet nothing over the past century has had a greater effect on America’s geography than the public’s evolving dependence on the motor car, and, as well, the motor truck.... Christopher Wells’s opus will excite more geographers to focus on automobility as a fundamental factor underlying the American experience.

American Historical Review - Michael R. Fine

In Car Country, Christopher W. Wells offers a compelling history of America’s signature car-dependent landscapes. With lively anecdotes, effective imagery, and dozens of illustrations, the book also presents an accessible narrative that will help students visualize how Americans gradually and profoundly transformed their nation.

American Historical Review - Michael R. Fein

In Car Country, Christopher W. Wells offers a compelling history of America’s signature car-dependent landscapes. The text is at once a deft synthesis of recent literature on motor vehicles, highways, urban planning, suburban development, and land use policy, and a persuasive reinterpretation of these histories through the lens of landscape ecology.

The Michigan Historical Review - Tom McCarthy

[Car Country] is an excellent and needed addition to the still remarkably small literature that explores the combined histories of Americans, automobiles, and the environment.

Journal of Historical Geography - Ben Bradley

Wells argues that in order to understand how automobility has become so deeply ‘locked in’ to contemporary American society, historians and geographers would do better to focus on the built landscape... [Car Country] belongs in the library of anyone interested in transportation, infrastructure, mobility, and land-use in twentieth-century America.

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society - David Blanke

Wells has produced an important and persuasive new chapter in the history of American car culture.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295992150
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 1/24/2013
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher W. Wells is associate professor of environmental history at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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