The Car by by Bryan Appleyard – Review
By Liam Bird
We take them totally for granted. They’re everywhere and yet most of us barely give most them a second look. And yet when asked, we’ve all got an opinion on them; there are ones we love, ones we hate, and ones we wish we’d never let go of. Could we ever live without them?
As E.B White once wrote “Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car”.
More than any other technology, cars have transformed our culture. Cars have created vast wealth as well as novel dreams of freedom and mobility. They have transformed our sense of distance and made the world infinitely more available to our eyes and our imaginations. They have inspired cinema, music and literature; they have, by their need for roads, bridges, filling stations, huge factories and global supply chains, re-engineered the world. Almost everything we now need, want, imagine, or aspire to, assumes the existence of cars in all their limitless power and their complex systems of meanings.
Bryan Appleyard’s The Car delves deep into our fascination, our dependency, our love, and our hate, of the machine that defined what we now consider the modern world. From its infancy as little more than an eccentricity and its time as merely a toy for the rich, through its role as a political agenda and its being conceived to mobilise the masses, the periods spent as part of pop culture, teen culture and many a subculture, and ultimately to its now becoming been seen as a polluting petrol-powered pariah, no other invention seems to have shaped so many lives, and landscapes, in so many ways.
We remember a person’s car almost as much we remember the person themselves; James Dean’s “Little Bastard” Porsche 550, John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls Royce, the Lincoln Continental that carried JFK through Dallas, and the Mercedes S280 that carried Diana Princess of Wales through Paris. Janis Joplin drove a Porsche and sang about a Mercedes Benz; Marc Bolan had a Mini; Steve McQueen drove a Ford Mustang; Natalie Cole wanted your pink Cadillac. Elvis had over 100 of them. Prince had a little red Corvette; the Beach Boys had a Little Deuce Coupe, probably because their daddy took the T-Bird away; Rush hid a Red Barchetta from the gleaming alloy air-car in their white-haired uncle’s barn. And speaking of white hair, Marty McFly went Back to the Future in Doc Brown’s DeLorean. Simply put, cars have been intertwined with culture for as long as we’ve been driving them.
Drive-thrus, Drive-Ins, Drive by shootings, Motorways, Motels, Multi-story carparks, Filling Stations, out of town shopping centres, the suburbs, the production line, the three-shift-a-day system, the need to have this year’s model because last year’s model is… well… so last year, it’s all because of the car.
As the age of the car as we know it – well, the car powered by internal combustion at least – comes to an end, this brilliantly insightful book tells the story of the incredible machine that made the modern world what it is today.
Even if you’ve never owned, driven, or shown even the slightest interest in them, The Car by Brian Appleyard will make you realise just how much the car has shaped your life.
As the author says himself: “For all its crimes it (the car) was – and still, for the moment, is – a marvellous thing.
‘The Car: The rise and fall of the machine that made the modern world’ by Bryan Appleyard is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £22 hardback