For most residents of the United States, getting almost anywhere begins with reaching for the car keys. This is true, Christopher Wells argues, because the United States is car country: a nation whose landscapes are so completely oriented around personal vehicles that other forms of transportation tend to be inconvenient at best and nearly impossible at worst. Car-dependent landscapes seem perfectly natural to us today, but they are a relatively new historical development.
In Car Country, Wells explains how, over the course of just a few decades, entrepreneurs demonstrated the profitability, practicality, and political attractiveness of remaking the nation around the easy movement of automobiles. He also shows how government policies, from the federal to the local, created a dense thicket of new regulations, incentives, and practices surrounding both transportation and land use, which together redefined "development" as "car-oriented development." With these changes, the United States became Car Country. From the dawn of the motor age to the establishment of the interstate highway system and the rise of the suburbs, Wells untangles the complicated relationships between automobiles and the environment, charting a history essential for understanding American transportation and land-use issues today.
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Christopher Wells is associate professor of environmental history at Macalester College.
"Car Country is arguably the most carefully researched, clearly written, and consistently engaging study anyone has yet written exploring the far-flung and extraordinarily complicated landscapes created by and for automobiles in the twentieth-century United States. The story is all the more remarkable because most of us who now inhabit this landscape take it so much for granted without having the slightest clue how it came into being. [...] Wells seeks in this lively, playful, and wonderfully accessible account to introduce readers to the transformations wrought upon the national landscape of the United States to make it fit for Americans and their cars [...] To grasp the complexities and fascinations and paradoxes of Car Country, I know of no better guide than this engaging book."
- William Cronon, from the Foreword
"One of the great strengths of the book is Wells's meticulous work in revealing how the institutional, economic, and mental arrangements supporting 'Car Country' were set in place during the interwar years [...] Wells's book is a remarkable achievement."
- Theodore Strathman, Southern California Quarterly
"For students and inhabitants of car country, Wells offers a terrific excavation of the sprawlscape that still drives our days."
- Human Ecology
"A fresh, well-documented history of roadbuilding policies in the United States between 1900 and 1960."
- James M. Rubenstein, Journal of American History
"Relatively few academic geographers have focused their research and publishing directly on the automobile and its geographical implications for life in the United States. Yet nothing over the past century has had a greater effect on America's geography than the public's evolving dependence on the motor car, and, as well, the motor truck [...] Christopher Wells's opus will excite more geographers to focus on automobility as a fundamental factor underlying the American experience."
- John A. Jackle, The AAG Review of Books
"In Car Country, Christopher W. Wells offers a compelling history of America's signature car-dependent landscapes. With lively anecdotes, effective imagery, and dozens of illustrations, the book also presents an accessible narrative that will help students visualize how Americans gradually and profoundly transformed their nation."
- Michael R. Fine, American Historical Review
"Wells has produced an important and persuasive new chapter in the history of American car culture."
- David Blanke, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
"[Car Country] is an excellent and needed addition to the still remarkably small literature that explores the combined histories of Americans, automobiles, and the environment."
- Tom McCarthy, The Michigan Historical Review
"Wells argues that in order to understand how automobility has become so deeply 'locked in' to contemporary American society, historians and geographers would do better to focus on the built landscape [...] [Car Country] belongs in the library of anyone interested in transportation, infrastructure, mobility, and land-use in twentieth-century America."
- Ben Bradley, Journal of Historical Geography
"Car Country offers a valuable historical perspective that is directly related to many pressing contemporary issues."
- Owen D. Gutfreund, author of Twentieth-Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape
"Car Country is the most comprehensive recent synthesis of the automobile in twentieth-century America. Of unusual scope and readability."
- Peter D. Norton, author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City