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Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
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A-TrafficTom Vanderbilt specializes in writing on design, architecture, and technology, and he’s a regular in such publications as Wired, the Wall Street Journal, and Popular Science. His previous books include Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America and The Sneaker Book: Anatomy of an Industry and an Icon.

The Topic: "For those of who are not brain surgeons, driving is probably the most complex everyday thing we do," Tom Vanderbilt writes in Traffic, his study of what driving reveals about our society. Full of anecdotes, interviews with traffic professionals, a brief history of traffic congestion—Julius Caesar makes a surprising appearance—and arcane, interesting facts (rubbernecking drivers slow down traffic passing a crash by as much 12.7 percent; jaywalkers are safer than people in crosswalks), Vanderbilt combines observation and analysis into a how-not-to-drive primer for any aspiring driver. Spanning disciplines as diverse as city planning, law enforcement, and psychology, Traffic articulates the danger of feeling safe behind the wheel in a world designed for the "late mergers."
Knopf. 402 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0307264785

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic—engagingly written, meticulously researched, endlessly interesting and informative—is one of those rare books that comes out of the depths of nowhere. … One of Vanderbilt’s best chapters is ‘How Traffic Explains the World: On Driving with a Local Accent,’ in which he shows how everything from road signs to motorists’ behavior varies from city to city, country to country." Jonathan Yardley

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"It is a rare book that presumes to explain so many mysteries of human behavior, such as why ‘park sharks’ circle endlessly looking for a space, why rush hour seems to keep getting worse and why every other driver on the road is an idiot. Remarkably, Traffic succeeds in all three, and much more besides." Alexandra Witze

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Tom Vanderbilt’s intriguing new book about traffic and the reasons we drive the way we do somehow manages to plunge far more deeply than one would imagine a meditation on travel possibly could. … Insatiably curious and a gifted writer, Vanderbilt forces you to consider what really tames, shapes and encourages the most exemplary human behavior." Elaine Margolin

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Traffic is not a dry examination of highway engineering; it’s a surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of human beings behind the steering wheels. … My solution to the nation’s vehicular woes would be to make this good book required reading for anyone applying for a driver’s license." Mary Roach

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Vanderbilt, a writer specializing in design, technology and culture, provides an engaging, informative, psychologically savvy account of the conscious and unconscious assumptions of individual drivers—and the variations in ‘car culture’ around the world. … Traffic is full of fascinating facts and provocative propositions." Glenn Altschuler

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"[L]ethargically paced, weirdly organized and not exactly enthralling. … The most glaring omission in Traffic is an investigation into the all-too-human allure of its essential machines—automobiles, in all their fetishized glory." Matthew DeBord

Critical Summary

Tom Vanderbilt has an eye for identifying the extraordinary in the mundane. In the well-received Traffic, the autophile’s equivalent to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, the author offers fresh insight into the annoying—and, Vanderbilt makes clear, quite dangerous—world of traffic. "Get only a few pages into Traffic," the Washington Post writes, "and you’ll begin to understand something that probably has never crossed your mind, unless you’re a traffic engineer, a behavioral psychologist or a law-enforcement officer." An insider’s look at how car culture is shaped by human nature, even if the Los Angeles Times reviewer criticized Vanderbilt’s omission of our collective car fetish, Traffic is an engaging read for every driver—from the 10-and-2 to the habitual gawker.