The Car: The Rise and Fall of the Machine that Made the Modern World by Bryan Appleyard - review by Jonathan Meades

Jonathan Meades

Four Wheels Good

The Car: The Rise and Fall of the Machine that Made the Modern World


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 320pp £22 order from our bookshop

Teslas, vehicles controlled via a touchscreen, have settings called ‘Insane’ and ‘Ludicrous’. Really. This doubtless says something about the people who drive them. They appeal to the inner tearaway with a cast-iron gut. The acceleration of these elegant machines outdoes that of the 1970 Norton Commando, which, until a friend took me for what used to be called a spin in one, had been the only form of transportation (rollercoasters and maglev apart) to cause me to leave my viscera in its wake. Bryan Appleyard has a friend who told him that driving his new Tesla ‘felt like being in a video game ... scenery rushing at you but no noise’. This is unexceptionable, which is more than can be said for the claims of one Scott Galloway, a marketing prof with a strong suit in total bollocks. According to Galloway, the owner of a Tesla Model S is advertising that he has ‘genes paramount to the survival of the species’.

That makes me some sort of Untermensch, I guess. I’m the owner and very occasional driver of a fifteen-year-old mobile slum (Don DeLillo’s description of Jack Ruby’s car). I prefer taxis and trains, which is perhaps a position outside Appleyard’s estate of empathy. He clearly loves driving and every now and then expresses that love with an understatement that seems especially modest in a milieu where maxims such as Jackie Stewart’s celebrated ‘cornering perfectly is like bringing a woman to climax’ are the norm.

Establishing which iteration of the car came first is not straightforward. There are several creation myths. It all depends on what you mean by a car. What is clear, though, is that from the very start cars had attached to them the spiel of the huckster. One of the

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