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Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) [Paperback]

Tom Vanderbilt
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 11 2009 0307397734 978-0307397737
Driving is a fact of life. We are all spending more and more time on the road, and traffic is an issue we face everyday. This book will make you think about it in a whole new light.

We have always had a passion for cars and driving. Now Traffic offers us an exceptionally rich understanding of that passion. Vanderbilt explains why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our attempts to engineer safety and even identifies the most common mistakes drivers make in parking lots. Based on exhaustive research and interviews with driving experts and traffic officials around the globe, Traffic gets under the hood of the quotidian activity of driving to uncover the surprisingly complex web of physical, psychological and technical factors that explain how traffic works.


From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details


Product Description

From Amazon

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“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."
Kirkus

"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."
Booklist

"Tom Vanderbilt uncovers a raft of counterintuitive facts about what happens when we get behind the wheel, and why."
BusinessWeek

"Fascinating . . . Could not come at a better time."
Library Journal


From the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading Feb. 5 2013
By Kate
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was well researched and very interesting. I think everyone should read it and then reevaluate that way that they drive.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflections on Getting from Here to There Sept. 24 2008
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
If you've ever been stuck in traffic alone (and who hasn't been?), all kinds of thoughts have occurred to you about how poorly the highways are designed, why drivers are so inconsiderate, what else you would like to be doing, and how to get out of this mess! Since cell phones have arrived, I regularly receive calls from my wife and children while they are stuck in traffic hoping that I'll have some suggestions for them. Tom Vanderbilt takes that vague reactions and tests them out.

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?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great read for anyone who drives Oct. 11 2010
Format:Hardcover
As some other reviews note, this book is sometimes superficial, sometimes not technical enough, sometimes glances over topics. Despite these flaws, I can highly recommend the book because it is chock-full of interesting information, and fun to read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good read when stuck in traffic Jan. 17 2010
Format:Paperback
This is quite a good read, explains a lot of the way traffic works and the way traffic engineers think. Very well organized and explained. Could go a bit further technically here and there.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing ! June 26 2009
By Pierre Gauthier TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book's premise is fascinating: why do so many civilized, polite human beings become selfish and aggressive as soon as they sit behind a driving wheel?

One could expect the author to have fresh and encompassing views on the topic as he is a journalist and not a specialist in psychology or transportation science.

Unfortunately, despite some enlightening tidbits, the book is marred with an anecdotal approach that borders often on superficiality.

Though lively, the writing style is convoluted and it is often difficult to grasp the points the author aims to make.

Sadly, possibly due to lack of time to complete the research and polish the rendering, the goods promised are not delivered.
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