Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America


An epic tale of invention, in which ordinary people’s lives are changed forever by their quest to engineer a radically new kind of car
In 2007, the X Prize Foundation announced that it would give $10 million to anyone who could build a safe, mass-producible car that could travel 100 miles on the energy equivalent of a gallon of gas. The challenge attracted more than one hundred teams from all over the world, including dozens of amateurs....

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Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America

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An epic tale of invention, in which ordinary people’s lives are changed forever by their quest to engineer a radically new kind of car
In 2007, the X Prize Foundation announced that it would give $10 million to anyone who could build a safe, mass-producible car that could travel 100 miles on the energy equivalent of a gallon of gas. The challenge attracted more than one hundred teams from all over the world, including dozens of amateurs. Many designed their cars entirely from scratch, rejecting decades of thinking about what a car should look like.
     Jason Fagone follows four of those teams from the build stage to the final race and beyond—into a world in which destiny hangs on a low drag coefficient and a lug nut can be a beautiful talisman. The result is a gripping story of crazy collaboration, absurd risks, colossal hopes, and poignant losses. In an old pole barn in central Illinois, childhood sweethearts hack together an electric-powered dreamboat, using scavenged parts, forging their own steel, and burning through their life savings.  In Virginia, an impassioned entrepreneur and his hand-picked squad of speed freaks pool their imaginations and build a car so light that you can push it across the floor with your thumb. In West Philly, a group of disaffected high school students come into their own as they create a hybrid car with the engine of a Harley motorcycle. And in Southern California, the early favorite—a start-up backed by millions in venture capital—designs a car that looks like an alien egg.
     Ingenious is a joyride. Fagone takes us into the garages and the minds of the inventors, capturing the fractious yet beautiful process of engineering a bespoke machine. Suspenseful and bighearted, this is the story of ordinary people risking failure, economic ruin, and ridicule to create something vital that Detroit had never pulled off. As the Illinois team wrote in chalk on the wall of their barn, "SOMEBODY HAS TO DO SOMETHING. THAT SOMEBODY IS US."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Jack Kerouac opined that walking on water wasn't built in a day and that adage's implication holds true with any innovation. In 2007, the X Prize Foundation announced a $10 million prize to anyone who could design and build a safe, mass-producible capable to traveling 100 miles on the equivalent one gallon of gasoline. More than one hundred creative teams jumped into the race and so did the author of this book. Jason Fagone wasn't aiming, however, at the award money; instead, he followed four very different groups of would-be inventors, tracking their brainstorms and bright ideas; all-night engineering sessions; evolving plans and unexpected log jams; and surprise breakthroughs. Combining science, suspense, and human interest, Ingenious taps our fascination with making things new.

Publishers Weekly
Freelance journalist Fagone shadows four intriguing teams battling to win the X Prize, a grant of $10 million awarded to anyone who builds an efficient, mass-producible car capable of traveling 100 miles on a gallon of gas. Fagone says he’s “not a car person,” but he glowingly describes the X Prize’s creator, Peter Diamandis, whose challenge has encouraged more than 300 teams to go head to head for the honor. The author, with assistance from the contest’s committee, selects his subjects for their diversity. They include love-smitten Harry and Jen, who are working on a fiberglass body in a small Illinois community; a group of spunky West Philly school kids, who are building a pair of hybrids, with one earmarked for poorer drivers; Oliver Kuttner and his well-bankrolled Virginia team; and an ambitious California startup called Aptera Motors, which is building a sleek aerodynamic car. The book benefits from the author’s depiction of the labor and lives of its colorful, driven contestants of TV’s Dancing with the Stars. Anyone interested in how automobile dreams are born in this postbailout economy will delight in this fast, engaging read. Agent: Larry Weissman, Larry Weissman Literary. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
The story of the teams who, for $10 million in prize money from the X Prize Foundation, are striving to make a car that will travel 100 miles on the equivalent of a gallon of gas. Journalist Fagone (Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream, 2007) heard about the competition offering that sizable payday and smelled a good story, and he makes the most of it here. Unlike the builders and the cars themselves, the author takes his leisurely time following the work of four teams and the construction of their brainchildren: the irrepressible, big-hearted Oliver and his ultralight entry; a team of West Philadelphia high schoolers; a crew from the cornfields of the Midwest; and a more professional team, which gets considerably less page space than the other three. For this is a story about the man on the street, "the democracy of it. Invention as an everyday pursuit." The teams sought to build a machine that would be efficient, responsive, cool and affordable. Fagone is not above raising an eyebrow at some of the loopiness that went on, but he never falls short of conveying the energy and spirit of the enterprises. Along the way, readers will pick up plenty of inside information on regenerative brakes, chromoly steel and how to reinvent the common lug nut to shave a pound off the car's weight. We also learn much about the personal lives of these inspired ordinary Joes and how they processed the setbacks and the bad news of losing. Fagone succeeds in making his subjects entirely relatable. "In the thick of the worst economic funk since the Great Depression, here were all these people working furiously in garages and warehouses and barns," he writes, "trying to hit a series of staggeringly difficult targets that no government, automaker, or inventor had ever achieved." A well-tooled, instructive tale of ingenuity.
From the Publisher
"[Verner's] near perfect phrasing and articulation make every syllable clear." —-AudioFile
Library Journal
In 2007, entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, through his X Foundation, offered a $10 million prize to anyone who could build a mass-producible car that could achieve 100 miles per energy equivalent of a gallon of gas. Of the 136 competitors registered for the prize, only 41 made it to the final stage and took part in the four-month- long testing at the Michigan International Speedway in 2010. Fagone (Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream) chronicles the trials of four of the teams that made it past the first cut. Would the winner be Illinois government employee Kevin Smith of Illuminati Motor Works, using his unpaid furlough days to work on his car in his barn? Or the West Philly High School Hybrid X team led by teacher Simon Hauger? Edison2, a company headed by an eccentric German real estate dealer, had four vehicles in the competition, including the Very Light Car. California-based Aptera Motors had already produced a prototype three-wheeled vehicle but was unable to fund further production. VERDICT This is a well-told tale of invention, tribulations, and, yes, ingenuity. Car and green enthusiasts alike, from high school nerds to old-time readers of Popular Mechanics, will find this a ripping good tale.—Susan Belsky, Oshkosh P.L., WI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307591487
  • Publisher: Crown/Archetype
  • Publication date: 11/5/2013
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 576,950
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Jason Fagone has written about science, sports, and culture for GQ, Wired, The Atlantic, New York, Grantland, Mother Jones, the New York Times Magazine, and The Best American Sports Writing. He is the author of one previous nonfiction book, Horsemen of the Esophagus, about competitive eaters, and is the recipient of a Knight-Wallace Fellowship in journalism. He lives in Texas with his wife and daughter. Visit @jfagone on Twitter.

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