Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) Hardcover – Jul 29 2008
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Amazon Best of the Month, July 2008: How could no one have written this book before? These days we spend almost as much time driving as we do eating (in fact, we do a lot of our eating while driving), but I can't remember the last time I saw a book on all the time we spend stuck in our cars. It's a topic of nearly universal interest, though: everybody has a strategy for beating the traffic. Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) has plenty of advice for those shortcut schemers (Vanderbilt may well convince you to become, as he has, a dreaded "Late Merger"), but more than that it's the sort of wide-ranging contrarian compendium that makes a familiar subject new. I'm not the first or last to call Traffic the Freakonomics of cars, but it's true that it fits right in with the school of smart and popular recent books by Leavitt, Gladwell, Surowiecki, Ariely, and others that use the latest in economic, sociological, psychological, and in this case civil engineering research to make us rethink a topic we live with every day. Want to know how much city traffic is just people looking for parking? (It's a lot.) Or why street signs don't work (but congestion pricing does), why new cars crash more than old cars, and why Saturdays now have the worst traffic of the week? Read Traffic, or better yet, listen to the audio book on your endless commute. --Tom Nissley
“If any of you have teenagers who are about to get their license — I urge you to urge them to read Vanderbilt.”
— The Daily Telegraph
“A terrific investigation into why we drive the way we do, and why many of our beliefs about driving are just wrong.”
— The Globe and Mail
“A surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of human beings behind the steering wheels. . . . Traffic is jammed with these delicious you’ve-got-to-be-kidding moments.”
— The New York Times Book Review
"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. That's never been more true than with Traffic, where he takes a subject that we all deal with (and worry about), and lets us see it through new eyes. In the process, he helps us understand better not just the highway, but the world. 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 The Black Swan
"Fascinating, illuminating, and endlessly entertaining as well. Vanderbilt shows how a sophisticated understanding of human behavior can illuminate one of the modern world's most basic and most mysterious endeavors. You'll learn a lot; and the life you save may be your own."
— Cass R. Sunstein, coauthor of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
"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
"Fresh and timely . . . Vanderbilt investigates how human nature has shaped traffic, and vice versa, finally answering drivers' most familiar and frustrating questions."
— Publishers Weekly
"Fluently written and oddly entertaining, full of points to ponder while stuck at the on-ramp meter or an endless red light."
"This may be the most insightful and comprehensive study ever done of driving behavior and how it reveals truths about the types of people we are."
"Tom Vanderbilt uncovers a raft of counterintuitive facts about what happens when we get behind the wheel, and why."
"Fascinating . . . Could not come at a better time."
— Library Journal
Top Customer Reviews
It turns out that driving isn't so natural for humans, and we don't always do it right. While we are unhappy about what others are doing, we overestimate the quality of our own driving.
Even though it's very difficult for a machine to learn to drive effectively, humans get to the point where they drive without paying attention. There's a price to pay: Make the road too boring, and some people will fall asleep until awakened by a rumble strip or they crash into an immovable object such as a tree.
It turns out we lose a lot of our humanity when we drive on good roads at high speed. It's all about us then. Slow things down enough and surround us with easy ways to hurt other people, and we look people in the eye and act like a good neighbor.
The most amazing parts of the book explore ways that attempts by traffic engineers to make roads safer and to carry more traffic have backfired. The engineers, it seems, think we are rationally moving objects rather than people who like to drive around a little to get a change of pace in our lives.
He also tests out some basic subjects where there's wide disagreement, such as, should you merge as soon as possible when a lane is being dropped . . . or speed along in the closed lane until the last minute?Read more ›