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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
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
on August 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
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
on October 8, 1999
Format: PaperbackVerified 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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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
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. There are no books currently written that have solved, or even come close to solving, the problem associated with this addiction or the secondary problems of urban decay, suburban sprawl, co-dependence on Middle Eastern oil, destruction of our natural environment, drive-thu culture, separation of the extended family, etc. The admittance of the addiction is the first and most important step in finding a solution. This is the point of Asphalt Nation. As people become familiar with the ideas contained in Asphalt Nation, as well as other books, some alternatives like New Urbanism and Co-Housing (community/shared living) will begin to spawn better and better concepts toward a more human-scaled way to live in the next millennium.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
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 without exploring this one, or finding its equal. Not only does this book have intelligent values, but it expresses them with elegance and humor. Unlike other books of this nature, it doesn't harangue but uses facts and arguments from lifestyle, the environment, economics and history plus solutions that made clear to me why we are running backwards...with sprawl, pollution, traffic, etc. Hey, and even engaging pictures! I
heartily recommend this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Who can imagine life without cars? Author Jane Holtz Kay recounts the
history of the automobile starting from when it was a rare novelty at
the beginning of this century. Back then, it promised a bright new
future of freedom and mobility. Kay shows, however, how the servant
became the master. As a new century approaches, we are increasingly stuck in traffic
and only beginning to count the costs of accommodating cars at the
expense of all else. You will be surprised to read about how
far-reaching and profound the impacts of our auto-dependency are--and
realize even more strongly the need for balance. Sparing no detail, Kay
paints a sobering picture of mounting congestion, worsening pollution,
and widening isolation caused by our heavy-handed grip on the steering
wheel. She also portrays the prospect of a more sustainable future--one
in which the car has its place but does not dominate our lives. You
will learn about efforts in communities around the country that show how
bringing about this balance dramatically improves quality of life. A must-read for all concerned with finding solutions to our transportation and social dilemmas!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
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 become car-dependent but in portraying the root of so many of our environmental and urban ills. Not just a diatribe, this book offers a broad and literary tale of our massive shift to automobility. Both more eloquent and factual than similar books (e.g. "The Geography of Nowhere" and "Fastfood Nation") it is a a good read and influenced my outlook on current events from global warming to farm and forest destruction to being just plain stuck in traffic. I heartily recommend it.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
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.

Having said that, this book fails to convince the skeptic, which ought to be her intended audience. It's a long series of disjointed arguments and statistics and bizarre examples of planning mistakes carefully picked from history with 20/20 hindsight. Far from its other "Nation" namesakes (Suburban Nation, for example, seriously changed my outlook on how we build cities), it fails to follow some narrow trends or examples, and instead in every chapter tells the same story over and over. This book has great potential, but it feels like the sentences got all mixed up in the publisher's word processor so that no coherent story is told.

If you're a fanatic, it's worth a read, but the skeptic will walk away confused and will not be inclined to buy the downtown row house Kay might admire.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I confess that I read only the first part of the book and thereafter skimmed through it. The reason: a book of this type, relying on statistics and facts, can't contain the number of errors I soon spotted and retain my interest. On page 20, the author writes, "half of all Americans own more than one car, one-third purchase a second car, and one-fifth own yet a third." That doesn't quite compute. On page 32, she writes that 78,000 miles equal "double [the journey] of astronaut Neil Armstrong . . . ." Not as long as the moon's mean distance from Earth remains approximately 238,900 miles. Then there are the typos: "in accessible" (p. 3); "Loma Pieta" (p. 46). The Loma Prieta earthquake occurred in 1989, not 1993 as she states. Enough! I sympathize with the author's argument. As a cyclist and a car owner in the San Francisco Bay Area, I frequently use my bike because it's faster. But it's hard to read a book when errors begin to crop up almost from the first page. The photos, however, are wonderful.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This extraordinary book's effective message is evident in the vehemence of attacks it has received in the press. Ms. Holtz-Kay has obviously struck a nerve: how dare she deprive Americans of their autos! In a society that consumes 25% of the world's oil and only produces 12% of it, it is indeed time they (and other nations,too,) seriously consider ways to decrease consumption, and Holtz-Kay's wake up call is a serious slap in the face to those unwilling to confront the damage that cars have inflicited upon the planet. I appreciate her candor, I appreciated even more, still, the way she presents her arguments with style and humor.
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