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CAR COUNTRY: An Environmental History

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Published on Mar 19, 2012

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.

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."-from the Foreword by William Cronon

"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

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