‘Engines of Change’ Sheds Light on America’s Car Culture

January 7, 2013

Americans have long been fascinated by the prospect of personal transportation, and it’s no wonder in a country where innovation and individuality are prized. While most of us simply admire classic cars as they glide by, uttering a low whistle at the pure craftsmanship that went into making older automobiles, others, like author Paul Ingrassia, harbor a lifelong love affair with the Tin Lizzies that started it all, as well as every vehicle that has graced our roadways since. Car aficionados may recognize Ingrassia’s name from previous entries like ‘Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry’ and ‘Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster’. But in his latest addition to the car lover’s manifesto, he sets aside politics and competition in favor of a closer look at the most popular cars ever to hit American asphalt. In short, this audio book is a witty and endearing love letter from a man who has spent his life in rapt adoration of everything automotive.

Sadly, narrator Sean Runnette leaves a little something to be desired in the telling of this tale about the greatest cars to grace U.S. roads. His careful, precise diction, while easy for listeners to understand, sounds like a narrative hot off a low-budget, PBS documentary (no shades of Sigourney Weaver circa ‘Planet Earth’ here, more’s the pity). But despite his snooze-inducing timbre, he can’t completely diminish the compelling nature of the text being read, especially for those that have an interest in the history of automobiles.

Ingrassia puts his plumage on full display as he pinpoints fifteen cars that, in his estimation, have helped to showcase and shape American culture. He not only talks about the rise of car manufacturing thanks to Henry Ford and his trusty assembly line, but goes on to explain how Ford’s business model and practical sensibilities made way not only for workhorses like the VW Microbus to get a foothold, but also far less sensible (but possibly more appealing) entries to the automotive scene, such as the Mustang and the Pontiac GTO. In an interesting aside, he even discusses the sudden popularity and relatively quick dismissal of tailfins. He touches on small details that car nuts will love, such as the fact that the DeLorean DMC-12 was actually a roadster (hard to imagine, but the gull-wing doors actually leave the car virtually roofless, so it cannot technically be called a coupe). But he also delves into the deeper societal issues surrounding car culture in our country.

Listeners may be amazed to learn about the role that the automobile played in emancipating the female population, although less surprising is how it added to growing suburban populations. And of course, he also touches on the unforeseen consequences of cars, from environmental issues to the growth of legal organizations devoted to handling automobile accidents. ‘Engines of Change’ ranges in topic from the minute details that made specific cars popular to the vast landscape of a culture obsessed with freedom and how the fifteen cars featured both exhibited and enhanced the mood of the country. For anyone with even a shred of interest in the wide world of automobiles, Ingrassia’s audio book provides and insightful and engaging listen. And it may cause plenty of non-enthusiasts to change their tune and look at cars in a whole different light.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: