Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road

Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road

by Matthew B Crawford


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From the author of the landmark Shop Class as Soulcraft, a brilliant, first-of-its-kind celebration of driving as a unique pathway of human freedom, one now critically threatened by automation. 

"A thoughtful, entertaining, and substantive work about the joys of driving." —Wall Street Journal

Once we were drivers, the open road alive with autonomy, adventure, danger, trust, and speed. Today we are as likely to be in the back seat of an Uber as behind the wheel ourselves. Tech giants are hurling us toward a shiny, happy “self-driving” future, selling utopia but equally keen to advertise to a captive audience strapped into another expensive device. Are we destined, then, to become passengers, not drivers? Why We Drive reveals that much more may be at stake than we might think.

Ten years ago, in the New York Times-bestselling Shop Class as Soulcraft, philosopher-mechanic Matthew B. Crawford—a University of Chicago PhD who owned his own motorcycle shop—made a revolutionary case for manual labor, one that ran headlong against the pretentions of white-collar office work. Now, using driving as a window through which to view the broader changes wrought by technology on all aspects of contemporary life, Crawford investigates the driver’s seat as one of the few remaining domains of skill, exploration, play—and freedom. 

Blending philosophy and hands-on storytelling, Crawford grounds the narrative in his own experience in the garage and behind the wheel, recounting his decade-long restoration of a vintage Volkswagen as well as his journeys to thriving automotive subcultures across the country. Crawford leads us on an irreverent but deeply considered inquiry into the power of faceless bureaucracies, the importance of questioning mindless rules, and the battle for democratic self-determination against the surveillance capitalists. A meditation on the competence of ordinary people, Why We Drive explores the genius of our everyday practices on the road, the rewards of “folk engineering,” and the existential value of occasionally being scared shitless.

Witty and ingenious throughout, Why We Drive is a rebellious and daring celebration of the irrepressible human spirit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062741967
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/09/2020
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 43,557
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Matthew B. Crawford is the author of Shop Class as Soulcraft and The World Beyond Your Head. He is a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. He earned a PhD in Political Philosophy from the University of Chicago, specializing in ancient political thought; he majored in physics as an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara. Crawford has been working on cars since the age of fifteen and currently drives a 1970 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. 

Table of Contents

Prelude: Without a Road 1

Introduction: Driving as a Humanism 5

Cars and the Common Good 51

Rolling Your Own

Breaking Down: 1972 Jeepster Commando 71

Project Rat Rod 85

Old Cars: A Thorn in the Side of the Future 95

The Diminishing Returns of Idiot-Proofing as a Design Principle 122

Feeling the Road 155

Automation as Moral Reeducation 168

Folk Engineering 185

Motor Sport and the Spirit of Play

The Motor Equivalent of War 233

The Rise of the Bicycle Moralists (A Digression) 256

Two Derbies and a Scramble 263

Act I Demolition Derby 263

Act II Adult Soap Box Derby 267

Act III Hare Scramble 274

Democracy in the Desert: The Caliente 250 285

Self-Government, or Not

Prelude: The DMV Experience 303

"Reckless Driving:" Rules, Reasonableness, and the Flavor of Authority 306

Managing Traffic: Three Rival Versions of Rationality 345

Road Rage, Other Minds, and the Traffic Community 357

Meet the New Boss

Street View: Seeing Like Google 379

A Glorious, Collisionless Manner of Living 397

If Google Built Cars 421

Concluding Remarks: Sovereignty on the Road 447

Postscript: The Road to La Honda 453

Acknowledgments 457

Notes 461

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