Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us)

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us)

Hardback

By (author) Tom Vanderbilt

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  • Publisher: ALLEN LANE
  • Format: Hardback | 416 pages
  • Dimensions: 163mm x 245mm x 38mm | 764g
  • Publication date: 28 August 2008
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0713999314
  • ISBN 13: 9780713999310
  • Sales rank: 401,191

Product description

Why does the other lane always seem to be moving faster? Why are people so different inside their cars than they are outside them? Is traffic a microcosm of society, or does the road make its own rules? "Traffic" speaks volumes: bringing together people from every walk of life. In this hugely enjoyable, curiosity-filled book, Tom Vanderbilt explains why traffic problems are really people problems. "Traffic" shows that how we behave walking the streets, on our bikes and in our cars is an astonishing cultural indicator; a living, constantly surprising model, what physicists call 'emergent collective behaviour'. Vanderbilt chauffeurs us through why it's so hard to pay attention in traffic, why women cause more congestion than men, what factors make us more likely to honk our horns and a whole host of eye-opening highway conundrums. This book will change the way you view the world and help you better navigate it.

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Author information

Tom Vanderbilt writes on design, technology, science, and culture for many publications, including Wired, Slate, The London Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, Artforum, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine and Popular Science. He is contributing editor to award-winning design magazines I.D. and Print, contributing editor to Business Week Online, and contributing writer of the popular blog Design Observer. He is the author of two previous books: Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America and The Sneaker Book.

Review quote

"Tom Vanderbilt is one of our best and most interesting writers, with an extraordinary knack for looking at everyday life and explaining, in wonderful and entertaining detail, how it really works. It doesn't matter whether you drive or take the bus - you're going to want to read this book." James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds "A great, deep, multidisciplinary investigation of the dynamics and the psychology of traffic jams. It is fun to read. Anyone who spends more than 19 minutes a day in traffic should read this book." Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan "Fascinating, illuminating and endlessly entertaining as well. Vanderbilt shows how a sophisticated understanding of human behaviour can illuminate one of the modern world's most basic and most mysterious endeavours. You'll learn a lot; and the life you save may be your own." Cass R Sunstein, co-author of Nudge "Everyone who drives - and many people who don't - should read this book. It is a psychology book, a popular science book, and a how-to-save-your-life manual, all rolled into one. I found it gripping and fascinating from the very beginning to the very end." Tyler Cowen, author of Discover Your Inner Economist

Editorial reviews

Traffic emerges from chaos, and chaos emerges from traffic. There's too much of both, and entirely too little honesty - a quality that has much to do with travail on the roads.Say what? Well, writes I.D. and Print editor Vanderbilt (Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America, 2002), the nations of the world that are the least corrupt "are also the safest places in the world to drive," such that Sweden "practically oozes safety." France, once a place of much roadside carnage, got safer once it installed speed cameras and started doing Breathalyzer tests, while New Zealand has eminently safe roads. Americans aren't quite so lucky, on either the corruption or the traffic-safety front, but at least we beat out Russia, which accounts for some two-thirds of all road deaths in Europe, and China, a veritable slaughterhouse. Vanderbilt's book is a trove of such information, but also a fine study in what works and what does not. What does not work, for instance, is speeding along the interstate, weaving in and out of traffic, and popping a cork when a slow vehicle gets in the way. As he notes, in experiments along the New Jersey Turnpike, that great bane of drivers, the weaving, honking speedster arrives at his (almost always his) destination only a few minutes ahead of the driver who maintains an even rate of speed and stays in one lane. What does work, as their designers intended, are on-ramp meters: Having sussed out "the basic parameters of how highways perform" and determined that the key factor is volume, those designers put in place a metering system that in some places has doubled highway productivity. And why are highways mowed ten-odd yards on either side? Because most cars come to rest within that zone once they've flown off the road - though, one General Motors experiment indicates, a "crash-proof" highway would have 100-foot clear zones, which would be particularly useful come the evening rush hour, which is twice as deadly as the morning one.Fluently written and oddly entertaining, full of points to ponder while stuck at the on-ramp meter or an endless red light. (Kirkus Reviews)