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The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life (Discovering America) Hardcover – April 5, 2016
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With cities across the country adding miles of bike lanes and building bike-share stations, bicycling is enjoying a new surge of popularity in America. It seems that every generation or two, Americans rediscover the freedom of movement, convenience, and relative affordability of the bicycle. The earliest two-wheeler, the draisine, arrived in Philadelphia in 1819 and astonished onlookers with the possibility of propelling themselves "like lightning." Two centuries later, the bicycle is still the fastest way to cover ground on gridlocked city streets.
Filled with lively stories, The Mechanical Horse reveals how the bicycle transformed American life. As bicycling caught on in the nineteenth century, many of the country's rough, rutted roads were paved for the first time, laying a foundation for the interstate highway system. Cyclists were among the first to see the possibilities of self-directed, long-distance travel, and some of them (including a fellow named Henry Ford) went on to develop the automobile. Women shed their cumbersome Victorian dresses—as well as their restricted gender roles—so they could ride. And doctors recognized that aerobic exercise actually benefits the body, which helped to modernize medicine. Margaret Guroff demonstrates that the bicycle's story is really the story of a more mobile America—one in which physical mobility has opened wider horizons of thought and new opportunities for people in all avenues of life.
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"Margaret Guroff has written an amazing book. ... [Y]ou will learn moreabout the impact that bicycles have had on society, especially Americansociety, than you ever imagined." --(The Wheelmen, Winter 2016)
"Guroff richly details the adoption, development, and significantcultural influence of the bicycle.... [Her] fluid and lively writingimparts knowledge without sounding dry or pretentious." --(Library Journal 2016-02-15)
"A bright, enthusiastic cultural history." --(Kirkus 2016-02-01)
"[P]edals through two centuries of engineering, transportation, recreation, and athletics to trace a changing world and its evolving modes of mobility. From local governments paving town streets to military strategists experimenting with combat usages, the bicycle has had a sprawling cultural influence throughout its history, some of which has been lost to generations." --(Wall Street Journal 2016-04-08 2016-06-27)
[A] dazzling cultural history of the bicycle . . . Guroff peppers these historical accounts with lively quotes from primary documents and herown sharp, modern insight. As she makes plain, it's not just cyclistswho have bicycles to thank for the way they get around--it's everybody.And that makes The Mechanical Horse worth a read for the most avowed drivers, too." --(CityLab 2016-04-01)
"A provocative, in-depth analysis of the two-wheeler's shifting influenceon American society. Highly recommended. --(David Herlihy, author of Bicycle: The History)
Margaret Guroff has broken new ground with this masterful account ofthe bicycle revolution set in the broad context of American social andcultural history. The Mechanical Horse is that rarest ofbooks, a work of solid scholarship and deep analysis so readable thatyou can't put it down." --(Tom Crouch, author of The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright)
"Guroff is a confident social historian who allows her eye for the colorful detail to lead the way.... Good stories abound in [this] account." --(The Weekly Standard 2016-08-01)
"[T]this book [is] as fun as a spin around the block on a warm summer evening. Reading it is as easy as, well, riding a bike. And if that was (or is!) one of your favorite things to do, then 'The Mechanical Horse' is a winner." --(Green Living, July 2016)
About the Author
- Publisher : University of Texas Press (April 5, 2016)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 295 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0292743629
- ISBN-13 : 978-0292743625
- Item Weight : 1.19 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,887,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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There's hundreds of these "how one things explains a lot of other things" titles floating around now -- I know because I have dozens in my house! I'm a sucker for these pop histories, going back to Cod, Salt, How the Irish Saved Civilization, etc., etc., etc. In short, I think I'm qualified to pass judgment on this book, both from a cyclist's perspective but more importantly from a "lay" readers's perspective -- and I give this a very enthusiastic thumbs up. The Mechanical Horse does a great job doing 2 things.
First, Guroff does a great job exposing new or novel bits of history, the "no way! really?!?!" kinds of moments that makes these types of book such fun reads. I won't give spoilers, but I'll note that these are the kinds of historical notes that are so fun to read because they've been hiding in plain sight for so many years -- if you had an old Italian hand-me-down "10 speed" or you laughed at the old-timey chaps on the big-wheel-little-wheel bike, or you saw those old bikes on Antiques Roadshow, you've got a familiarity with the subject. But despite our familiarity, I'll wager very few of us have any idea of the contexts associated with any of the above, never mind the whole of the bike industry's 100+ year history.
Second, Guroff avoids overstretching the point. There were some pretty broad societal trends that are touched on -- compellingly linked to the bicycle -- but not belabored. I've found the tendency in this genre to overstate the points (or to keep searching for new points). If anything, I think Guroff is a bit restrained in covering the current trend of cycling. I've heard contemporary cycling described as the new golf" (in which rich old guys spend a lot of time, money and travel expense on their new hobby!), and I'm curious how future generations will look back on us.
The writing is crisp and clear throughout, the pacing and depth of the book perfectly suited to a rainy weekend. In closing, I picked this up expecting genre history -- "oh this was too long to go in the bike mag" -- but was pleasantly surprised to find a great history read.
And the book is actually something of a rip-off in that HALF of it really is acknowledgements and footnotes. I suppose this is inevitable when the subject is so trivial, but it's annoying to spend $13 on the Kindle edition (let alone twice that in paper) and get only half the page count as actual content.