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Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back [Paperback]

by Jane Holtz Kay
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 1, 1998 0520216202 978-0520216204 Reprint
Asphalt Nation is a powerful examination of how the automobile has ravaged America's cities and landscape over the past 100 years together with a compelling strategy for reversing our automobile dependency. Jane Holtz Kay provides a history of the rapid spread of the automobile and documents the huge subsidies commanded by the highway lobby, to the detriment of once-efficient forms of mass transportation. Demonstrating that there are economic, political, architectural, and personal solutions to the problem, she shows that radical change is entirely possible. This book is essential reading for everyone interested in the history of our relationship with the car, and in the prospect of returning to a world of human mobility.

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Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back + Why We Drive: The Past, Present, and Future of Automobiles in America (Real World)
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Editorial Reviews Review

Commuters, here's some food for thought: collectively, Americans spend more than 8 billion hours each year stuck in traffic. This is just one of the horrifying statistics mentioned in Jane Holtz Kay's Asphalt Nation, an eye-opening look at the relationship between Americans and their cars. Kay asserts that the automobile is destroying our communities, our environment, and our economic competitiveness, and her supporting arguments are pretty persuasive. In addition to the billions of hours wasted in gridlock, Kay notes that our daily drives are becoming longer and more frequent, and that increased mileage has nullified any advances in emission controls. Asphalt Nation is comprised of three parts: the first, "Car Glut: A Nation in Lifelock," examines the impact of the automobile culture on life in the United States today. "Car Tracks: The Machine That Made the Land" traces the history of cars from Henry Ford to the present, while "Car Free: From Dead End to Exit" imagines a happier future without automobile dependency.

What makes Asphalt Nation far more interesting than the typical anti-auto diatribe is Kay's discussion of the cultural mores that helped create America's current car glut--namely, our attitudes toward land use and growth management; her comparisons between American and European practices in these areas are particularly interesting. Others have written about the American love affair with the automobile, but Holtz revisits the discussion with lively writing and a dramatic narrative. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Despite some occasional discord, most Americans' love affair with the automobile continues unabated. In fact, highway speed limits have been raised in some places, and Chicago has reopened venerable State Street to auto traffic. Yet antiautomobile activists, highway engineers, and transportation bureaucrats have all begun to reach the same conclusion. Pollution, congestion, and destruction of our landscape from automobiles and highways have reached the crisis stage. Kay is the Nation's architecture critic and author of Lost Boston (1988). She documents the degree to which Americans have become dependent upon the automobile and measures the costs of America's "car culture." But Kay also offers solutions, many of which have been successful in places across the country. Hers is an impassioned plea to design public spaces to accommodate pedestrians, to stop building new highways, to reverse the neglect of public transit and mass transportation, to promote the use of bicycles, and to design communities for people instead of machines. David Rouse --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520216202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520216204
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, saddening, yet optomistic March 12, 1999
By A Customer
Asphalt Nation is wasted on any reader who would dismiss it as another disgruntled environmentalist diatribe. Aside from the obvious environmental issues of pollution and the consumption of natural resources described by the author, the more compelling sections of the book relate to the social costs of automobile dependency. Among these are the destruction of some of the nation's finest architecture in cities such as Boston and Detroit to make way for highwayws,roads and parking lots, the second class status assigned to public transportation, particularly railroads and subways which serve to break automobile dependency, and the lack of suitable space for pedestrians and bicyclists in cities and towns designed to accomodate the automobile and further dependency. The point is well made that the Amish reject the automobile not because the internal combustion engine is intrinsically evil, but that the automobile serves to break social ties and alienate fellow human beings - all one need do is to observe the typical American suburb to see this prophecy fulfilled. What we are left with in the end are "uglified" cities, congested roadways, lack of accessability for those who choose not to drive, and "carchitecture" (to steal a term from the book), that undifferentiated, generic, plastic looking architecture built along roadways, and also in residential subdivisions which serve the automobile. How many "environmental" issues have I mentioned? These are societal ills. The wanton destruction of our architectural heritage, the dumbing down of our aesthetic appreciation, the lack of societal ties, are the results of decades of poor social policy and the influence of the automobile industry's powerful lobby upon it. We are a nation that needs to preserve and protect our social and cultural heritage and identity.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to its subject August 11, 1999
By A Customer
I was interested in reading this book after I saw a documentary about the way automobile companies helped put an end to the streetcars which were once common in American cities--even in Los Angeles.
What I found here was both fascinating and disturbing; the book really had an impact on the way I look at and think about the man-made environment around me.
I have since gone on to read more about this subject; I would have to say that although this book is a good introduction to this topic, Kunstler's Geography of Nowhere is both more comprehensive and more compelling. Kay's book really seems to lose its focus somewhat when it offers suggestions for change, a few of which seem reasonable, but most of which seem unlikely to ever win the support of the majority of the public.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great idea, bad writing October 8, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although I wholeheartedly agree with Jane Holtz Kay that the car is ruining America (I just junked mine and started taking the train), I wish she had done a better job of writing about the problem. Asphalt Nation is chock-full of cliche's -- sometimes repeated on the same page -- and contains such horrible misquotations as "think locally, act globally" (p. 267), that one wonders whether the author was awake during much of her task, or perhaps writing under a strict deadline.
The content is wanting too. Despite the "how we can take it back" part of the subtitle, the book contains no apendices or tables listing resources for anti-car activism; I have had to jot down notes _en passant_ and look up the names she mentions using the internet.
This is all very unfortunate, because the point of the book needs to be made, and I give Jane Holtz Kay three stars for making it. But if this is the best kind of popular scholarship and writing we can expect in support of the anti-auto movement, then that movement is likely doomed.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Asphalt Nation: Step One of Twelve June 13, 1999
If this country did not have the First Amendment, Asphalt Nation would probably have been one of several books banned from public circulation. Asphalt Nation justly attacks one of the most influential inventions of the modern age, the automobile. This book is an attempt to define our addiction to the personal automobile and the negative effects of this addiction. If you have ever lived in an environment designed for human beings rather than motor vehicles, then you will understand why the people of our country should read a book like this. Places like Paris, Barcelona, Venice, and thousands of small-scaled European cities are examples of the anti-thesis to modern American cities that were built around the daily use of the automobile. I was extremely fortunate to have lived in Europe for half a year and without that experience I would probably not be interested in this topic.
The decisions that propelled the automobile into all of our daily lives were made before most of us were born. Past governing officials, business leaders, and our grandparents made these decisions during a period of time before the now evident problems could be foreseen. The development of our built environment (mainly suburbs and shopping centers) can be directly related to the increasing influence of the automobile. Our own culture is very much intertwined with the car, and the problems that it brings effects our society deeply. The car is not the American Dream, it does not symbolize freedom, and, if we act responsibly, it will not be the only option for our children as it was for us.
Read this book to see the problems of automobile addiction and not to find solutions to the problems defined.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Hit and Miss
I have very mixed feelings about this book. The first chapter is awesome. The last section (the last six chapters) is also very good. Read more
Published on January 11, 2009 by Tabor Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars it makes sense
It takes an awful lot of subsidies and tax revenues to keep suburban republicans rolling in the suburbs. Was it ever any different? How did it get this way? Read more
Published on September 7, 2008 by Ryan Costa
2.0 out of 5 stars A Muddled Mess
Let me first say that I completely agree with Kay's main point: Our car culture has huge costs, costs which are way out of whack with their benefits. Read more
Published on November 30, 2005 by Trevor Miller
4.0 out of 5 stars A little more of this, a little less of that...
Less a book than a book-length sort of reportage, Asphalt Nation builds the case against the automobile to almost absurd heights. Read more
Published on September 3, 2004 by David Greusel
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy thesis, well presented
I've noticed how much design caters to car traffic for some time now. Not only are bus systems left behind in plans, but it is also difficult to walk anywhere these days. Read more
Published on June 20, 2004 by traderje
4.0 out of 5 stars Loss of Economic Competitiveness
No wonder our American jobs are being outsourced oversees - we demand more money from our employers so that we can drive farther from our home to work and spend, spend, spend on... Read more
Published on January 16, 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars should be in every cardealers showroom
They should put up a stand in front of every cardealer's showroom to preach the message. Though some of your writers said Kay's message was nothing new, it clearly makes a polemic... Read more
Published on January 14, 2004 by Thomas Chambers
3.0 out of 5 stars Long recounting of our auto-dependent culture
I, too, am concerned about the decay of our cities in the name of car culture. Asphalt Nation is a nice light reptitious long read about the problems, how we got here, and a few... Read more
Published on October 17, 2003 by A Tech Worker
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating , insightful and readable
I find it incredible that I have not come upon Asphalt Nation before. I read books on the city and the environment continuously and have consulted the circuit of such writers... Read more
Published on September 17, 2003 by Peter Fordham
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep and persuasive recounting of the car culture
I had heard of this book and heard the author but didn't realize how compelling and well-written the actual story would be, not only in delivering insights on the way we have... Read more
Published on August 27, 2002 by eleanor applegate
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