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Engines of Change: A History of the American…

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

by Paul Ingrassia

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each chapter is a profile of an iconic car in the history of motors on wheels - great gift idea for car-loving friends ( )
  lindap69 | Apr 5, 2013 |
Steinbeck, in Cannery Row, said that there should be a definitive history of the American car, for it has become a definitive part of the American landscape as food, independence, and sex.

Ingrassia identifies two major trends in American cars - the austerity, practicality, and efficiency which started with the Model T, and the flair and ostentation which started with LaSalle cars in the 1920s and continued through fins in the 1950s, muscle cars, and beyond. Power, allure, and prestige. Many cars today appeal to one or both of these two trends.

Of course, the author starts with the Model T, but his choice of cars afterwords uniquely reflects the American century. LaSalles, jeeps, pickup trucks, the failed experiment of the Corvair, and the rise of foreign automakers, VW, Toyota, and Honda. The big titans of industry rise and fall. Some have fallen, and some have risen up twice or three times. The American cars of the 1960s and 1970s had some real duds, and the author dutifully includes them. Explosions, rust, and factory sabotage, and the industry's darkest hour.

VW and the Japanese car makers became giants in order to fill the American market segment for cars which didn't explode. VW, of course, was once associated with Hitler's Kraft-durch-Freude compulsory relaxation scheme, but reinvented itself as the quirky and self-deprecating alternative to the fins and ostentation of the 1950s, and became a beloved icon.

Of course this is not just about the manufacturers themselves. The cars themselves and their role in American society is reflected through personal testimony, song lyrics, and TV shows from Perry Mason to South Park.

This was a lot of fun, and a good microhistory on a big subject. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Chronicles the history reflected by fifteen iconic car models to discuss how automobiles reflect key cultural shifts as well as developments in such areas as manufacturing, women's rights, and environmental awareness.

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