Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars

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Overview

America was made manifest by its cars. From the assembly lines of Henry Ford to the open roads of Route 66 and Jack Kerouac, America's history is a vehicular history—an idea brought brilliantly to life in this major work by the acclaimed author of Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road from Glory to Disaster.

One of the nation's most eloquent and impassioned car nuts, Paul Ingrassia offers a wondrous epic in fifteen automobiles, including the VW Beetle, the Chevy ...

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Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars

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Overview

America was made manifest by its cars. From the assembly lines of Henry Ford to the open roads of Route 66 and Jack Kerouac, America's history is a vehicular history—an idea brought brilliantly to life in this major work by the acclaimed author of Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road from Glory to Disaster.

One of the nation's most eloquent and impassioned car nuts, Paul Ingrassia offers a wondrous epic in fifteen automobiles, including the VW Beetle, the Chevy Corvair, Robert McNamara and Lee Iacocca's Mustang, the Pontiac GTO, Honda's Accord, the BMW 3 Series, and the Jeep, among others. Through them, the author shows us much more than the car's ability to exhibit the particularly American tension between the lure of freedom and the obligations of utility; he takes us through the rise of American manufacturing, the suburbanization of the country, the birth of the Hippy and the Yuppy, the emancipation of women, and so much more, including the car's unintended consequences: trial lawyers, energy crises, and pollution. Narrative history of the highest caliber, Engines of Change is an entirely edifying new way to look at the American story.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A thoughtful, propulsive assay of the machine that changed a nation, a world." —-The Wall Street Journal
From The Critics
"A thoughtful, propulsive assay of the machine that changed a nation, a world." ---The Wall Street Journal
Michiko Kakutani
…wonderfully entertaining…In this book [Ingrassia] draws upon his expertise covering the car business to give us a highly informed but breezy narrative history of the vehicles that have shaped and reflected American culture. Along the way he also gives us some sharp snapshots of the engineers, businessmen and ad people who helped design and promote these automobiles…
—The New York Times
Library Journal
"Historians rightly agree that the Model T Ford is the most influential and important car in American history," writes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ingrassia (deputy editor in chief, Reuters; Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road from Glory to Disaster), who here tells the stories of 15 American cars. "The more elegant and delicate question is which car is the second most influential." Ingrassia considers autos that have changed American society or captured the spirit of the times—not just the fastest or the most famous. Even the casual student of history knows about the Model T's influence on assembly-line manufacturing and affordability for the average working family. But what about the transition of the VW, first known for being Hitler's car and later as the favored transport of hippies? Or the minivan's role in the rise of the now ubiquitous soccer mom? The epic failure of the Corvair, Ingrassia points out, had lasting effects on automobile safety, the career of Ralph Nader, and the 2000 presidential election. VERDICT While readers may debate the author's choices (no AMC Gremlin?), they'll be entertained by this appealing social history, served up with just the right amount of sly humor and nostalgia. (Photos not seen.)—Susan Belsky, Oshkosh P. L., WI
Kirkus Reviews
A Pulitzer Prize–winning automotive reporter's cultural history of 15 cars that helped shape American life. Car nut and Reuters deputy editor in chief Ingrassia (Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road from Glory to Disaster, 2010) makes it clear that he's not writing about the best cars in American history, but the ones that have had the most impact on American culture (which also doesn't always mean American-made cars). Beginning with the most obvious choice, Henry Ford's Model T, Ingrassia proceeds to make his case for the cultural relevancy of Cadillac tail fins, the Honda Accord, BMWs, the Volkswagen Beetle, the Chrysler Minivan and more. Some of his more entertaining and informative stories are about automotive failures--e.g., hipster car-industry kingpin John DeLorean and his once-promising career at Pontiac, a tenure that ended with ugly, impractical cars and a botched cocaine deal. Ingrassia plays up the colossal technical flop that was the dangerous, rear-engine Chevy Corvair as the second-most influential car of all time, considering its unintended role as the car that sparked huge legal reforms in the automobile industry and launched Ralph Nader's career. Perhaps the book's most interesting section examines the improbable metamorphosis in public perception of the Volkswagen Beetle, which went from Hitler's favorite ride to a 1960s hippie-chic countercultural statement on wheels. The same kind of socially conscious symbolic value resurfaced decades later in the form of the hybrid Toyota Prius, the ride of choice for left-leaning, eco-friendly affluence. Ingrassia succeeds in fashioning well-researched, swift-paced narratives around each of these 15 select automobiles. Using colorful detail, he effectively recasts these significant driving machines in their respective cultural contexts and brings to life the eras they influenced. An intelligent and accessible mix of car-worship and cultural studies.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452607351
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2012
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged CD
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Formerly the Detroit bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, Paul Ingrassia is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a former executive of Dow Jones.

Sean Runnette, a multiple AudioFile Earphones Award winner, has produced several Audie Award–winning audiobooks. He is a member of the American Repertory Theater company, and his television and film appearances include Two If by Sea, Copland, Sex and the City, Law & Order, and Third Watch.

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Read an Excerpt

1

WHEN HENRY MET SALLIE: CAR WARS AND CULTURE CLASHES AT THE DAWN OF AMERICA’S AUTOMOTIVE AGE

Someone should write an erudite essay on the moral, physical, and esthetic effect of the Model T Ford on the American nation. Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford coil than the clitoris, about the planetary system of gears than the solar system of stars.

—John Steinbeck, Cannery Row1

Just north of downtown Detroit on a small street called Piquette sits an inner-city storefront church called the Abundant Faith Cathedral. By the looks of the surrounding weed-choked lots and empty factories, abundant faith is exactly what’s needed, not to mention plenty of hope. The neighborhood is a postindustrial ghetto, although right across the street from the church is a functioning business called the General Linen & Uniform Service. It occupies the first floor of an old building where, as unlikely as it seems, modern America began.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

1 When Henry Met Sallie: Car Wars and Culture Clashes at the Dawn of America's Automotive Age 1

2 Zora, Zora, Zora: A Bolshevik Boy Escapes the Nazis and Saves the Great American Sports Car 31

3 The 1959 Cadillacs: Style, Status, and the Race for the Biggest Tail Fins Ever 57

4 Volkswagen's Beetle and Microbus: The Long and Winding Road from Hitler to the Hippies 81

5 The Chevy Corvair Makes Ralph Nader Famous, Lawyers Ubiquitous, and (Eventually) George W. Bush President of the United States 111

6 Turning a "Librarian" into a "Sexpot": The Youth Boom, the Sixties, and the Making of the Mustang 141

7 The Brief But Glorious Reign of John Z. DeLorean and the Pontiac GTO 163

8 Ohio Gozaimasu: Godzilla, Mr. Thunder, and How a Little Japanese Car Became America's Big Ichiban 191

9 The Chrysler Minivans: Baby Boomers Become Soccer Moms and a, um, Driving Force in American Politics 219

10 The BMW 3 Series: The Rise of the Yuppies and the Road to Arugula 241

11 The Jeep: From War to Suburbia, or How to Look Like You're Going Rock Climbing When You're Really Going to Nordstrom 265

12 The Ford F-Series: Cowboys, Country Music, and Red-Meat Wheels for Red-State Americans 289

13 An Innovative Car (the Prius), Its Insufferable Drivers (the Pious), and the Advent of a New Era 313

Afterword 341

Acknowledgments 347

Notes 349

Selected Bibliography 373

Index 377

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 6, 2012

    More Then 15 Cars

    In this book the author actually covers a lot more then just 15 cars. He gives us a brief concise history of American Motoring with an emphasas on cars that caused or underscored social trends, from the Model T to the Prius. His snappy prose keeps the material moving along, and he gives just enough detail to satisfy most readers, except for maybe the more serious gearheads. Some readers might argue as to which 15 cars should make this list. The Chrysler Airflow,'57 Chevy, and Ford Taurus are barely mentioned, and the hot rod and custom trends of the 40's & 50's are virtually ignored. There is a heavy emphasis on the buying habits of yuppies - when was the last time you heard anyone mention the 1927 LaSalle - but the author does make a good case for his picks. Read this book yourself and see if you agree!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

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