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Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars [Hardcover]

Paul Ingrassia
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 1 2012
A narrative like no other: a cultural history that explores how cars have both propelled and reflected the American experience— from the Model T to the Prius.

From the assembly lines of Henry Ford to the open roads of Route 66, from the lore of Jack Kerouac to the sex appeal of the Hot Rod, America’s history is a vehicular history—an idea brought brilliantly to life in this major work by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Paul Ingrassia.

Ingrassia offers a wondrous epic in fifteen automobiles, including the Corvette, the Beetle, and the Chevy Corvair, as well as the personalities and tales behind them: Robert McNamara’s unlikely role in Lee Iacocca’s Mustang, John Z. DeLorean’s Pontiac GTO , Henry Ford’s Model T, as well as Honda’s Accord, the BMW 3 Series, and the Jeep, among others.

Through these cars and these characters, Ingrassia shows how the car has expressed the particularly American tension between the lure of freedom and the obligations of utility. He also takes us through the rise of American manufacturing, the suburbanization of the country, the birth of the hippie and the yuppie, the emancipation of women, and many more fateful episodes and eras, including the car’s unintended consequences: trial lawyers, energy crises, and urban sprawl. Narrative history of the highest caliber, Engines of Change is an entirely edifying new way to look at the American story.

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“You will never look at a car the same way after reading Engines of Change—as I strongly recommend to anyone who relishes great storytelling that combines biography, social and political history, science, and romance. Having driven and virtually lived in a 1953 Plymouth on a year’s journey across Eisenhower’s America, and having followed that up many driving years later by writing on the innovations of Henry Ford, I thought I knew something of the history of cars. I was all the more surprised—and vastly entertained—by the riches in Ingrassia’s stories of fifteen vehicles embodying the American dream from the Model T to the Beetle, the Corvair, the Corvette, and the Mustang to the pickups and the Prius (driven by the Pious). Even readers who cannot tell a camshaft from a cami-knicker will find fascination in a gallery of characters depicted by Ingrassia with vivacity and wit.”—Sir Harold Evans

"The whole country in 15 cars—that's crowded! And Engines of Change is indeed packed from rocker panels to sunroof with good stories and salient facts about the automobiles that shaped America, from the oddity of the Model T to the oddballs driving the Prius."—P.J. O'Rourke

"Highly entertaining... lucid... Engines of Change informed and charmed me..."—Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal

"The prose is lapidary, the tone informed by humor.Paul Ingrassia has written an automobile book that goes beyond the genre;it's for anyone interested in modernity and what led us to where we are."—Miles Collier, The Revs Institute for Automotive Research

"Paul Ingrassia knows where the bodies are buried, or maybe where the keys to the American car business got lost. With a swift, sure scalpel honed by years as the industry reporter, he anatomizes Detroit in all its glory and inglorious decline. A thoughtful, propulsive assay of themachine that changed a nation, a world."—Dan Neil, car critic, The Wall Street Journal

"Entertaining and instructive..."—George Will, The Washington Post

"Sure, cars suck up gas, and they promote suburban sprawl, but they also help drive the economy, and drive families from home to school to soccer field. And, of course, cars fire our imaginations. Paul Ingrassia, who won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting from Detroit for The Wall Street Journal, has written a book about cars that may not all be cherished classics or engineering marvels, but have earned a place in America's scrapbook."—Scott Simon, National Public Radio

“Ingrassia succeeds in fashioning well-researched, swift-paced narratives around each of these 15 select automobiles. Using colorful detail, he effectively recasts these significant driving machines in their respective cultural contexts and brings to life the eras they influenced.”Kirkus Reviews

“A must for anyone with a passion for cars, history, or simply an interest in America’s story." Bask Magazine

“Ingrassia takes great pleasure in historical irony, and the unpredictable conclusion of each car’s story is so fascinating even those who prefer their MetroCard to the BQE will appreciate the inherent paradoxes of the vehicle’s road to glory.”—New York Daily News

“Paul Ingrassia…is probably the best broadsheet reporter ever to cover the car business…Picking 15 vehicles as tent poles for this sprawling canvas was a good idea, and Ingrassia chose well…Any book on a topic so overwhelming as the car in America has to be more of a goad to, than a proof of, argument. And here Ingrassia has succeeded.”—Weekly Standard

"In this new book, Ingrassia traces the history of some iconic cars and how those models reflected shifts in politics, culture, and technology. He also takes readers inside the industry, skillfully navigating among the soaring tail fins, egomaniacal visionaries, and corporate intrigue that surrounded the creation of these vehicles."—Boston Globe

"Paul Ingrassia’s Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars ranges as widely and quirkily as the title suggests among the people, passions and foibles of
the automotive industry. As a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Ingrassia shared a 1993 Pulitzer Prize for writing on General Motors Co. In this book he lets out the journalistic stays, enjoying the freedom to openly needle an industry and admire its pioneers without any loss of the good reporter’s delight in detail and a fine tale."—Jeffrey Burke, Bloomberg BusinessWeek

"In Engines of Change, Mr. Ingrassia arguably does for cars and culture what David Halberstam did for a decade in The Fifties. History well researched, made alive, relevant and eminently readable."—John Lamm, The New York Times

“Using his nimble narrative gifts, Mr. Ingrassia turns the creation stories behind the Prius and other cars into gripping accounts of how visionary design, corporate competition and inventive engineering combined to produce automobiles that would come to represent an era or a mind-set.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

About the Author

Paul Ingrassia, formerly the Detroit bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and later the president of Dow Jones Newswire, is the deputy editor-in-chief of Reuters. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 (with Joseph B. White) for reporting on management crises at General Motors, he is the author of Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster.

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5.0 out of 5 stars More Than Expected Oct. 5 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book was much more than I had anticipated or expected. It was most informative and a very good "read"!
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  72 reviews
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Car Storybook in a While May 12 2012
By J. Cheema - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is the 3rd book by Paul Ingrassia after "The Comeback" and "The Crash Course" which dealt with politics, dynamics and history of automotive industry. "Engine of Change" is as usual very interesting and intriguing. Mr. Ingrassia is an automotive industry expert and shares his insight very candidly. What makes Engine of Change more interesting than the previous two works is the fact that it does not focus on the competiveness or decline of a company or a group of companies.

Engine of Change is a narrative of fifteen most popular American cars or foreign cars adopted by Americans like VW microbus, Beatle and Hondas. The most interesting part of the book is the one-hundred year history of evolution of Ford pickup from model T in 1912 to F150 in 2012. Similarly, a significant part of book is devoted to appearance and disappearance of tailfins on American cars from late 50s to early 60s from Chrysler Belvedere to Cadillac El Dorado and everything in between. A reader will definitely enjoy additional information about the development of Dodge Charger, Pontiac GTO and above all DeLorean's DMC. Strangely a detailed account of Toyota as an Americanized automaker is missing in the book with the exception of a narrative about Toyota Prius. In short great story told in a very absorbing style.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and entertaining, but not perfect. May 18 2012
By R. E. Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Paul Ingrassia's latest book is engagingly written and highly entertaining. It moves along crisply and contains factual history, humor, and wit in equal measure. I found the chapters on VW, the Pontiac GTO, and the DeLorean to be the most enjoyable; the author's disdain for BMW and BMW drivers fairly drips off the page though.

I just wish several errors hadn't crept in---proofreading by someone else knowledgeable in American automobile social history would have been beneficial. A couple of examples: the author wrote that the Mustang GT 390 in "Bullitt" driven by Steve McQueen (and others) was a Carroll Shelby car. It wasn't. He wrote that the '55 Chevy had a "toothy-grin grille." It didn't. Earlier Chevies did, and so did the Corvette in '55, but the standard '55 Chevy had a lovely eggcrate grille ripped off from Ferrari. "Bimmer" is not pronounced "beemer," either, as he condescendingly states. They are two different things entirely. Finally, Mr. Ingrassia tells us that the Delorean DMC-12 was a roadster with gull-wing doors. That's difficult to imagine, as roadsters don't have roofs to which gull-wing doors can be affixed. The Delorean was and remains a coupe, and roadsters have soft tops (or folding hard ones) so as to be able to be driven with the top down.

The casual reader won't notice these things, and will be entertained by a good read. The more knowledgeable reader, though, might wish for a little more precision. Four stars for this one.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and Disappointed March 20 2013
By Nicholas Puner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Why are books about automotive history so poor? Is it because their authors, so taken with the subject matter, go into mental overdrive, overlooking their own narrative lacunae? Or is it because there is no editor who has the background to vet what the author has written? Or is the author simply so captivated by what he thinks is his amusing style that he elevates form over content?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but, whatever they are, they have all converged to make Engines of Change, a book that was well reviewed in the mutually back scratching media, a disappointing book.

Paul Ingrassia deserves credit for his inspiration to write about how 15 different cars influenced what he calls the American dream. But the book is so filled with outright error, with breathless mischaracterization, with irritating stylistic furbelows (all along the line of "Wow, am I funny!"), as to seriously reduce its merit.

Shall I give you a few examples of slop?

In very early pages we're warned about the author's carelessness when we come across "Austin-Healey" misspelled as "Austin-Healy." Minor? I think not in a book of this sort. If you can't get the car names right, what have you got?

Bookending this egregious error, Ingrassia's acknowledgments thank "Csaba Cera," better, and correctly known in the actual world of his journalistic eminence as "Csaba Csere." Embarrassing? You bet.

In between these startling miscues there is a continuous drone of misstatement and outright error.

For example: the photograph of what purports to be Dodge's display at the 1957 Detroit Auto Show actually pictures 1955 Dodges.

On page 116 Ingrassia chronicles Ed Cole's 1952 seconding to Chevrolet, to fix its manifold (OK, pun intended) problems. But he implies that one of Cole's first tasks was to redesign an existing Chevy V8 engine, whereas, in fact, Chevy did not have (its very ancient history excepted) a V8 available for its cars until 1955. Let me be clear: indeed the new V8 may have been redesigned under Cole's leadership before it was ultimately introduced in 1955. But an impressionable reader could reasonably conclude from Ingrassia's telling that Chevrolet already had a V8 in the model years between 1952 and 1955. This, of course, was not so, and I'm sure Mr. Ingrassia knows it was not so. But his writing is so fuzzy, so imprecise, so unimproved by a rigorous reading before publication, that he sows error by failure to be clear.

Moreover, he says that the '55 Chevy, whose grille has often been likened to one of a contemporary Ferrari, i.e. simple mesh, had "a toothy front grille." It did not. Again, these may seem like small points, but they are unacceptable because, in fact, they distort the very history that the author is attempting to recount.

There is more. Read about the 1979 government bailout of Chrysler and be completely mystified. Ingrassia presents it as a fait accompli, but never tells us how it, over a great deal of opposition, came about.

And, sadly, there's more beyond what I've written here. But you get the picture.

Mr. Ingrassia's writing ranges from serviceable to cutesy to pedestrian. All too often he falls for attaching adjectives like "anemic" to engines, or, when he needs another, he'll attach "tiny" and apply it to a 4-cylinder engine that in fact, at 2.2 liters, is only 0.3 liters from the size of the largest 4-cylinder engine yet practicable. The problem once again is imprecision: "tiny" in relation to what?

As someone who has been deeply interested if not completely obsessed with cars from a time before I could read, now more than 65 years, I wish I could give potential readers better news. There is a lack of diligence that infects Engines of Change. It could have been a winner.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing! Excellent book! May 16 2012
By AaryM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I came across this book as I was reading an excerpt of it in Newsweek magazine on my subway ride home from work. I was honestly surprised to have enjoyed reading about cars because I don't even have a license. And my husband (we are newly weds) bought a muscle car with money that we received as presents from our wedding (I did agree to this in advance, he's a great negotiator haha). We live in NYC.

As soon as I got home I purchased the book on my Kindle Fire and started reading it that night.

Due to this book, I am now able to understand why so many people love cars so much, and their inter-connection to history and modern society. I work in HR so there were a few moments that made me smile when reading about the managerial practices in some of the factories.

Lastly, I really appreciated the author's writing style: crisp, fast paced, and laced with quality humor here and there.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid book- not for car nuts though. March 9 2013
By fussball - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The is a well written book that takes you through some of the highlights of automobiles in American culture. The drawback is that it tells those archetypal stories that any real car enthusiast already knows. If you don't know a lot about the history of cars in the US, but want to, this book is ideal. If you grew up reading car mags and wrenching on old cars, leave this one on the shelf.
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