The Life of the Automobile: A New History of the Motor Car by Steven Parissien - review by Alan Judd

Alan Judd

Va Va Voom

The Life of the Automobile: A New History of the Motor Car


Atlantic Books 437pp £25

If you wanted an introduction to the history of the 20th century you could do worse than study the history of the car; in which case this book would be a good a place to start. Because the story is one of individual enterprise, corporate endeavour, national self-assertion and global phenomenon, it reaches parts that histories of other industries – with the arguable exceptions of its twin sister, oil, and, in the previous century, rail – generally don’t reach. It is very much social history – the car shaped our towns, roads, housing, habits and aspirations – as well as economic and, to a surprising extent, political history.

Hitler, who adored cars without ever learning to drive, was a determined supporter of what in Edwardian England was called motorism. He built 4,300 miles of autobahn with 3,000 new bridges, sponsored the creation of the ‘people’s car’ (the Volkswagen Beetle), personally opened the annual Berlin motor show, and ensured

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