Friday, November 25, 2011

Completed: Traffic


I really enjoyed this book. I certainly learned a lot about traffic, driving, and what makes driving so potentially dangerous.

When I picked this book up a few years ago, I read the beginning and put it down. Not that it wasn't interesting, but it reads more like a collection of longform essays on a similar topic rather than a cohesive book. Ultimately, that meant it was easy to put down at the end of a chapter and just think I would pick it back up. I'm glad I finally finished the rest.

The book is made up of several big uber-chapters, each one with smaller subtitled sections. Most of the book is very "American" focusing specifically on what it is like to drive here in the States. The author visits traffic authorities, police stations, college professors, psychologists, and anyone else who might be studying drivers or driving. The book covers a lot of interesting questions that I've had when driving: whether it's better to merge early or late? Why are cyclists safer on the road than on sidewalks? Why is driving while talking on a cell phone so dangerous?

However, the most interesting parts of the books where the ones that I hadn't ever really thought about. By far the most interesting chapter was about how drivers are different depending on the city in which they drive. He explained why pedestrians in Copenhagen are less likely to jaywalk than New Yorkers and why driving in Dehli is like nowhere else in the world. There's a whole section about parking and why it's better to take the first space you see rather than circling the lot looking for one that's close. He explained why there are traffic jams even when there doesn't seem to be a reason for an accident. He can make any topic interesting, even descriptions of where cars were most likely to have accidents and why intersections are so dangerous.

I feel like I can't really do this book justice. It was fascinating, but also complex. It's impossible to easily summarize any of the information in the book, because Vanderbilt is quite thorough in his research. Mostly, I was impressed with his writing. He manages to weave in research and verbage from government reports into his description of driving and what it's like to be behind the wheel. It's highly readable AND highly informative, which can be a difficult trick to pull off. I also liked that I could pick it up when I had a few minutes and read a section and then move on.

This would be a great book to give as a gift for someone who likes to read, but you don't know what exactly to get them. Everyone drives, and yet we spend so little time thinking about it. You get a license and off you go, but this book really did help me to think about driving in a different way. All in all a very satisfying read.

Only one more month to do. I don't know which book to pick!

PS. The author has a blog called How We Drive. I definitely plan to poke around through here.


  1. This book sounds fascinating... which is impressive, considering the topic of traffic isn't one I would generally categorize that way.

    One question for ya: Does reading this book help lessen road rage at all?

    (I am still struggling with the Book of Vice, although I have also begun Gorey and am *loving* that! I'm going to have a big finish at the end of the year here!)

  2. K,

    My road rage actually improved when I left the Bay Area! Hah.

    By the way, read the latest Succubus book. What a satisfying ending. I didn't realize that the series was ending---so I was very pleasantly surprised to have it all wrapped up. You'll remember at the end of the last one that I felt like it was getting repetitive, so I was quite happy to have a conclusion. Whew. Wonder what crazy paranormal romance series I can read next?