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Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America Hardcover – November 5, 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Fagone, author and journalist, tells the true story of the race to capture the Automotive X Prize, the $10 million offering by a California foundation to anyone who could make a safe, practical, 100-mile-per-gallon car. The only standard for winning was the quality of the machine, and all contestants were welcome, big companies and entrepreneurs alike. Fagone zeroed in on four teams, ordinary people striving to be extraordinary. We follow the teams with Fagone, including the winning entry, the Very Light Car built by the Virginia-based team Edison2. The author tells the remarkable stories of the contestants as they sought the prize money during the recent economic downturn and in the process transformed their lives with their creativity, courage, and determination. This is an entertaining book that offers insight and inspiration for a wide range of library patrons who could be thinking about inventing something that matters. --Mary Whaley


A Mother Jones Best Book of 2013

"Fagone’s reporting is as personal as it is scientific, and he spends as much time getting a sense for the inventors as for the invented. His focus, we come to see, is less about the relationship between piston and crankshaft and more about father and son, teacher and teen, rival and rival...Although there is plenty here to interest those who spend their weekends tinkering under their car in an oil-stained driveway, the book is at its core a story of Lindbergh-esque triumph of man over machine."
--The Miami Herald

"A paean to the long-lost American art of invention, Ingenious is a story that has all the built-in drama of the best fiction. It's driven by characters that are, by turns, whip smart and wide-eyed and desperate, and a plot to achieve a seemingly unobtainable goal...Fagone does an impeccable job of conveying the angst of teams that had literally put everything on the line – their livelihoods, their marriages, their financial, emotional and physical well-being...A thought-provoking book that will appeal to automotive efficiency geeks and readers who long for America's can-do past."
--The Orange County Register

"The real story Ingenious tells is about the deep strain of hope, fortified with elbow grease, in the American character. Jason Fagone is a generous, clear-eyed writer, and this is an exhilarating, beautifully engineered book."
--Benjamin Wallace, author of The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine
"The most accurate term, the literary term, for Jason Fagone's new book is awesome. It's also fabulous, in both senses of the word, for the cars and creators of Ingenious work in grand and fantastical realms of the imagination. Only for the time being, though. Read this splendidly wrought book now for that rarest of views, a genuinely hopeful glimpse of things to come."
--Jeff Sharlet, author of Sweet Heaven When I Die and The Family
"Just when you thought America's can-doism is in decline, along comes Jason Fagone's Ingenious, proving the tinker-bench spirit is still alive and well. Jumping between Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania, this book is a love song to our great country."
--Douglas Brinkley, author of Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress
"Precious few books have ever captured the soul of human creativity as perfectly as Jason Fagone’s Ingenious. This beautifully rendered tale of engineering wizardry, set amid a mad scramble for fame and fortune, is a testament to both America’s vast promise and our species’ knack for perseverance. If you have ever dreamed of building something—or simply dreamed at all—this is a book you cannot miss."
--Brendan I. Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking
"Wow, what an adventure. It's the spellbinding tale of a race between rich dreamers and barnyard tinkerers and inner-city teenagers who are all out to create a car that could change the world and win a fortune. I love Ingenious because it's bursting with villains, heroes, and the magic of ingenuity brought to life by determination."
--Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super-Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Ingenious is a wonderful, original book that will stay in my mind for a long time…It is a remarkable study of the human drive to make things, to create, and why the impulse we usually celebrate in artistic or intellectual realms can be as glorious when it comes to the creation of beautifully engineered machines."
--James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic; author of China Airborne
"A must-read for every gearhead and tinkerer who dares to dream beyond the garage. Ingenious shows us that America remains a place of bold innovators willing to risk everything for the glory of progress, fame, and a little loot – the same prize that’s pushed our nation forward since the Mayflower.”
--Bryan Mealer, co author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and author of Muck City
"Compelling…Jason Fagone tells the story of eccentric American inventors committing their lives, design skills, and savings to a common dream – a smarter, cooler transportation future."
--Chris Paine, writer/director of Who Killed the Electric Car? and Revenge of the Electric Car

"A well-told tale of invention, tribulation, and, yes, ingenuity.  Car and green enthusiasts alike, from high school nerds to old-time readers of Popular Mechanics, will find this a ripping good tale."
--Library Journal

"Anyone interested in how automobile dreams are born in this postbailout economy will delight in this fast, engaging read."
--Publishers Weekly
"An entertaining book that offers insight and inspiration for a wide range of [readers] who could be thinking about inventing ‘something that matters.’"

"Journalist Fagone...smelled a good story, and he makes the most of it here. Fagone is not above raising an eyebrow at some of the loopiness that went on, but he never falls short of conveying the energy and spirit of the enterprises. Along the way, readers will pick up plenty of inside information on regenerative brakes, chromoly steel and how to reinvent the common lug nut to shave a pound off the car’s weight...Fagone succeeds in making his subjects entirely relatable...A well-tooled, instructive tale of ingenuity."
--Kirkus Reviews


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307591484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307591487
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #710,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Wineberg TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Ingenious is the story of driven (there's just no way around car metaphors in this society) tinkerers. They still exist, but the outlets for their creativity are fewer and fewer. Between monolithic industry and monolithic government, it's just harder to break out. This is the inside story of several teams that competed for the X Prize for cars.

It was a rocky road, with ever changing rules, ever changing demands, ever changing requirements, and of course - underfunded participants. Jason Fagone, who fortunately for all readers is not a car or racing fanatic, visited and followed them as they designed and built, tested and ran their exceptionally green vehicles.

Even the grand prize money got halved, as additional categories were included later. The winner received $5 million, intended to help commercialize the winning design, but of course almost all the money went towards backfilling the gaping pothole the project created, and the car has yet to see anything like production.

The hands down outstanding character in this drama is Oliver Kuttner, a man who continually defies characterization, let alone stereotyping. He is many things to many people, and his actions, reactions, attitudes and demeanors can never be assumed. His passions run deep, his skills are many, and his team deservedly wins, thought the victory is at best bittersweet (which for spoiler reasons is all I can say). He is fascinating.

That a bunch of guys (and the occasional spouse) in places all over the country can design and build cars that get four times the mileage of the major manufacturers says lots. Not to dwell on the negative, it says we still got it. We can summon up the ingenuity and desire to creatively destroy an industry - if it weren't such a monster.

Ingenious reads like a reality show, cutting back and forth between the teams, focusing on individuals and moving on. Our culture in a nutshell.

David Wineberg
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ingenious is an excellent tale of the challenge to build more efficient automobiles, all driven by an old concept - pay a prize for technological innovation. Ever since the prize was claimed for the solution to longitude at sea, the motivation of a prize for innovation has been appealing when it comes to taking a huge leap in technology. In the story of ingenious, we learn not only about the technologies required to get to more efficient automobiles, but the people behind those stories.

The book is well written, and the author has a good handle on both the human aspect and the technological aspects of the challenge for efficiency. Many proponents of alternative energy powered cars don't quite get the basic laws of physics - just running your car on ethanol or solar isn't enough. Gasoline is one of the highest density for weight fuels available, and the challenge is largely based on car design in general. In fact, the winning automobile was gas powered. It's not just about alternative energy.

A few times in the book, the author lets his style get away from him and he leaves the proverbial rails. For instance, while talking about poorer students who are working on efficient automobiles, he surmises that poor people "care more" about global warming because they can't move to higher ground when the cities on the East coast get flooded like richer people can. On it's face, this is a bit of a ridiculous claim. Alternative energy cars are largely playthings for the wealthy - most of the poor can't even afford these cars. Most support for these initiatives come from the wealthier segments of society anyways. I think the motivation of poor students to innovate has to do with achieving and building something, rather than fear of their neighborhoods getting flooded.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ingenious tells a rather engaging story of the pursuit of the Automotive X Prize, a contest to design a car that can achieve one hundred miles per gallon and still be practical and usable. The most remarkable part of the story is how "small time" many of the key players are. It's not MIT and major engineering corporations that the book highlights (though a few larger players were in the mix, at least initially), but instead a high school in West Philadelphia, a couple of small start-ups, and a few groups of what can only be called hobbyists. Yet, these are the people who decide to set out on this phenomenally challenging goal. That the story shows how much they can achieve. Every one of the groups that the book follows makes a real push to win the prize. It certainly raises the question, why can't the major automakers do better? (And maybe the better question is why don't consumers push for it?) And one of the fascinating ironies of the book is that the winning vehicle in the primary class was not electric or hybrid or some other innovative and obscure technology but was powered by a motorcycle engine. The technology is here (and probably has been for a while).

The book is an interesting mix of personal stories, interesting technology, and one great big race for the prize. It's well told, and you can tell the author dedicated many years to getting to know these teams and follow their exploits. My biggest complaint is that there aren't way more pictures. When you're talking about unfamiliar technology, or when so much rides on innovative and unfamiliar designs, it would be really helpful to actually see what he's talking about, instead of having to search online for pictures of the odd-looking machines he describes. There are a few snapshots, but not nearly enough. But that doesn't take away from a this book. It's a good read, and an interesting one. Enjoy.
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