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It did so for complex reasons, few of them, in Kirsch's account, having to do with purely technological issues. Enter the "burden of history," a fruitful notion that reminds us that deterministic ideas of why things are the way they are--for example, that the lead-acid battery held insufficient power to carry cars over long distances without recharging, thus ensuring the victory of the more easily replenished internal-combustion engine--are often only half-right, if that. Kirsch urges that those concerned with analyzing the wherefores of the past take into consideration multiple causes, and not always the most apparent ones. The automobile, he continues, is not simply a machine, but "a material embodiment of the dynamic interaction of consumers and producers, private and public institutions, existing and potential capabilities, and prevailing ideas about gender, health, and the environment." In short, the automobile is a system unto itself, and how it came to take its present form--unchanged in many respects for a hundred years--is a story that involves many episodes.
Kirsch's account of some of those episodes provides a solid case study for students of technological history, and for those who press for new means of transportation in the new century. --Gregory McNamee