Archive for the ‘Book News’ Category

On the Road Again

Some stalwart readers have been asking about my extended absences here. The primary reason is I’ve now got another book to do, and, as fate would have it, it has precisely nothing to do with transportation (not that I don’t hope you’ll follow me along for this particular ride). Nor is it a young-adult series about a group of kraken living semi-clandestinely in suburbia. Nor a dog memoir (though for the right price I might be lured out of retirement for a cat memoir; working title There’s Only You and Me and We Just Disagree).

Which is not to say I’ve been idle in the realm of transportation. In a few weeks Slate will run my multi-part series that looks at walking as a ‘lost mode’ of transportation. I’m also just finishing a big feature for the February Wired which looks at autonomous vehicles (as per photo above), including Google’s fleet, which I was lucky enough to ride in recently. And there’s many other things; e.g., I’ll be doing a transport seminar at Australia’s Institute for Sensible Transport.

What else? I’ve become a “micro-columnist” for the New York Times Magazine. I’ve also been biking more recently. And Twittering. And sometimes Twittering about biking.

Posted on Monday, December 5th, 2011 at 8:19 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Los misterios de la carretera

Many years ago, living in Madrid, I would settle in with a cafe con leche in one of my favorite cafes near the Prado and try to work my way through El Pais — always struck that the corrida writeup was in “arts,” not “sports.” In any case, Traffic is just out in Spain (and Latin America) from Debate and I had a feature in last weekend’s magazine (not my translation).

Posted on Monday, December 21st, 2009 at 8:11 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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End-of-Year Holiday Road Read Roundup

Seeing Traffic positioned on a reading list recommended by Foreign Policy’s “Top 100” thinkers had me in mind of book lists, and so I thought I’d round up the transportation-related books (or at least marginally so) that have crossed my desk this year and would make good holiday purchases for your mobility-minded friends (or yourself).

In no particular order:

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1.) Joe Moran, On Roads. I’ve noted my interest in this book before, but suffice it to say it’s cracking cultural history of the U.K. motorway system, a must-buy for bitumen boffins everywhere.

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2.) Ted Conover, The Routes of Man. OK, this one’s not out until February, but the galleys of this book accompanied me on a cross-country flight, and I was hooked. A far-flung, elegiac, honest examination of roads and their impact on us and society, Conover’s book ranges from the tangled “go slows” of Lagos, Nigeria to an (illicit) “capitalist road” trip in China.

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3. The Yugo: The and Fall of the Worst Car in History, by Jason Vinc. If you’re old enough to remember actually riding in one of these things, and enough of an automotive-cultural obsessive to remember, say, the Yugo’s appearance in the plot-line of Moonlighting, then this tale of geo-political commerce is for you. And as Vinc reminds us, the Yugo was the “fastest-selling first-year European import in American history.”

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4. Carjacked, by Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez.
OK, this is turning into next year’s list — this one’s not out until early January — but in Carjacked, an anthropologist and writer delve into American car culture — the romance that longed ago turned into marriage — and offer a thorough, gimlet-eyed assessment. Sample quote: “In the period from 1979 to 2002, the period in which seat belts, air bags and other improvements in vehicle crashworthiness were installed, U.S. crash deaths declined by just 16 percent, while those in Great Britain declined by 46 percent, in Canada by 50 percent, and in Australia by 51 percent.”

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5. Waiting on a Train, by James McCommons. Shifting from road to rails, McCommon’s book is a cross-country trip into the modern-day heart of U.S. passenger rail (“service that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of,” notes James Howard Kunstler in his intro), laying bare the roots of its decline and offering a way forward for the country’s most embattled mode. And I’ve not read it yet, but Matthew Engel’s Eleven Minutes Late, a “train journey to the soul of Britain,” is definitely on my list.

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6. Jeff Mapes, Pedaling Revolution. Another one I’ve banged on about before about, but the go-to work on cycling as a form of transportation in America today. And full disclosure: The guy did lend me a bike to ride in Portland.

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7. City: Rediscovering the Center. By William H. Whyte.
One of those rare books — reissued in paperback in 2009 — that actually lives up to the promise of “changing the way you see the world.” Along with the writing of Joseph Mitchell, I can’t think of any other title that has so influenced my experience of living in New York City.

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Cars: Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything (text by Stephen Bayley).
Because sometimes you just really want to look at a pretty picture of a 1955 Citroën DS.

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9. Jeff in Venice, by Geoff Dyer. One of my favorite writers, and his description of driving in India does not disappoint.

Suggestions are welcome for others I may have left out.

Posted on Monday, December 7th, 2009 at 4:19 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Los Angeles

The main leg of the paperback tour ended last week (as very nearly did my mental and physical health) with an event at the great Zocalo series in Los Angeles. Eric Morris of Freakonomics provided the questions, while the sold-out audience was star-studded, with Donald Shoup, John Fisher of LA DOT, Nate Berg of Planetizen, not to mention a bunch of folks from UCLA and CALTRANS. Thanks to all who came out.

Posted on Monday, September 21st, 2009 at 8:12 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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My Airport Reading

Thanks to all who came last night to the great event at the beautiful K.C. library. I passed the time this morning at the airport (nary a moving walkway in sight!) reading Roundabouts of Kansas City, which celebrates circular yield-entry intersection control in the Show-Me state and neighboring Kansas and now takes pride of place on my roundabout shelf, right next to Roundabouts of Great Britain.

Thanks to Brian for the book and Kyle for the BBQ.

Posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 3:50 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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On the Road

For any book fans in K.C. or Houston, I’ll be at the Kansas City Public Library tomorrow evening (Monday), and then at Brazos Bookstore in Houston the following evening. I’ll also be at the Zocalo series in Los Angeles the night after that, but it’s sold out.

Hope to see you there (as you long as you don’t shout “you lie” from the back of the room!)

Posted on Sunday, September 13th, 2009 at 6:22 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Catching Up

Due to some technical difficulties, and a lot of travel, posting has suffered here as of late; thanks as always to all the tips, etc., that have come in.

Here’s a few random things from the last week in which I’m quoted, etc.

London set to expand “shared streets” trials, notes the Times. I’ve not had the chance to really look into this in depth, but the results will certainly bear watching.

Samoa turns to the left, reports Macleans.

The paperback gets some joy from William Skidelsky in the Observer.

Non traffic related, but I have a (largely positive) review of Rebecca Solnit’s new book A Paradise Built in Hell in today’s New York Times Book Review.

And for the paperback there’s been another slew of interviews, particularly on radio, like this one, among many others.

Posted on Sunday, September 6th, 2009 at 10:46 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Boston Bound

The tour is cranking up in earnest and just to let you know I’ll be at the venerable Harvard Bookstore, in Cambridge, Mass., on Wednesday, September 9th, to talk about the book.

Details here. Hope to see you there.

Posted on Friday, August 28th, 2009 at 11:35 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The paperback edition, which came out last week, has landed on the New York Times paperback bestseller list. Thanks to all who have purchased the book (in print, on audio, or in Kindle), and talked it up on your own blogs, etc.

Posted on Saturday, August 22nd, 2009 at 7:39 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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As I was checking on the price of the forthcoming paperback version of the book the other day, I noticed that the paperback price is about four dollars less than the Kindle price, which itself is a few bucks cheaper than the hardcover.

Not owning a Kindle, I am curious about this. One the day the paperback is released, will the Kindle price magically drop to rival the paperback? Or would the Kindle price remain higher than the paperback? (this would seem to make little sense to me as 1.) it is obviously cheaper to produce and distribute the Kindle version than the paperback 2.) The paperback has a potential resale value, however slight; there is no ‘used Kindle book’ market, as of yet at least 3.) There is arguably more longevity with even the paperback version of the book than Kindle — we are still reading ancient manuscripts yet digitized records from the 1980s are in some cases already almost beyond recall, as the technology has changed). I don’t know how true this is, but Nicholson Baker notes in the New Yorker that the Kindle doesn’t handle endnotes very well, which is a big liability in the case of my book (one thing I think Baker neglected to mention is the idea of the “pass along” — how many beloved books have you given to friends? Is this made obsolete with the Kindle?)

Even if it drops, this is still an odd situation to me, which I’m sure an economist could explain in some terms. The Kindle edition’s price at the moment is pegged to the hardcover — or does it reflect its own “Kindle” price, pegged to the cost of producing it, supply and demand, etc.? — and when the paperback is released it will presumably drop in the face of being eroded by the cheaper paperback (unless Kindle owners so cherish their devices they will pay more for a virtual edition). In the meantime, while hardcover and paperback editions are very different things in terms of production costs, the Kindle edition costs will not have changed at all; meaning, depending how you look at it, Amazon will have to relinquish some Kindle profit in light of the paperback, or that that profit was all rather vaporous to begin with. The Kindle edition price point seems to relate to the existence, or lack thereof, of a competing price point in a print edition; it is almost an anti-price, if that makes any sense.

Anyone have any experience with this?

Posted on Thursday, July 30th, 2009 at 8:51 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Paperback Ahead

Just to let everyone know that in a mere few weeks, the paperback edition of Traffic will be published, by Vintage. But you can grab it for the time being for a sawbuck and some change from

Posted on Tuesday, July 28th, 2009 at 9:10 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Catching Up

There’s so much to post on, but just a few personal things that transpired in my absence:

I extolled the virtues of roundabouts in my latest Slate column (and blathered on a bit more on the BBC’s Americana program).

I joined in on a conversation on the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” web page about whether cell phones should be banned while driving (I give a hesitant ‘yes’); this happened before the Times dropped this little piece of news.

I was briefly quoted in this Boston Globe story about a push in Massachusetts for a primary seat-belt law.

I read (and opined briefly about) Colin Ellard’s excellent new book You Are Here.

Off-topic here, but I reviewed a few books about the real estate crash in the Times Book Review (and even got one of those slightly cringe-inducing caricatures)

Posted on Monday, July 27th, 2009 at 9:45 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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On the Road Again

In August, the paperback version of Traffic will be released, and roughly a month later, I’ll be hitting the road for a series of events. The schedule is still a bit rough, but there will be stops in Los Angeles on and a bit around the 16th, and the week before that: Boston, Kansas City, Houston. And then after that Washington D.C. And still taking shape are trips to Portland, Oregon and Chicago. This in addition to the evolving list of events posted in the right column.

I will post again when this becomes more fully realized, but if you’re in one of the places and are interested in an interview, an appearance, offering a tour of the local TMC, please get in touch at

Posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 at 10:54 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Feels the Love From the U.K.’s Department of Transport

The name Lord Adonis, were one to see it Brooklyn, conjures a Bed-Stuy middle-weight boxer, or maybe one of the dance-hall reggae performers ones sees on posters cruising along Flatbush.

But for the uninitiated, he’s the U.K.’s new Secretary of Transport and, it turns out, a fan of Traffic, as he notes in a recent talk. (I just hope he didn’t purchase it with taxpayer funds!)

The speech makes a number of worthy points, including the idea of connecting various travel modes.

One key factor is the ease of interchange between cycling and other forms of travel. Let me take the specific issue of the interchange between cycling and rail travel. While some 60 per cent of the population lives within a quarter of an hour cycle ride of a railway station, only two per cent of journeys to and from stations are made by bike. By contrast, in Holland, cycling accounts for roughly a third of all trips to and from rail stations. This massive difference isn’t in the different genes of the British and the Dutch; it has a lot to do with the provision of facilities for cyclists at stations.

I’ve just returned from the Netherlands, and was struck, as always, not just by the cycling numbers but the cycle parking. As it is with car traffic, parking is an often overlooked factor in the whole traffic equation; needless to say, the presence of a safe, convenient space at the end of a trip is of incredible importance to the desirability or even possibility of making that trip (more so than some cultural disposition to mode choice). As I looked at the long rows of bikes outside shops and train stations (where, David Hembrow notes, there is an actual crisis of parking) in Utrecht and Rotterdam, I couldn’t help thinking: What if all these were cars? Well, of course, those tidy, compact, well-populated streets wouldn’t exist. I suspect someone, somewhere, has crunched the numbers on how many bicycles can fit inside an average car parking space, I’d estimate the factor must be something like 15 to 1?

Posted on Monday, June 29th, 2009 at 12:14 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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I noted with pleasure that Traffic was the subject of a New York Times acrostic today.

Posted on Sunday, March 1st, 2009 at 12:33 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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One of the interesting and rewarding things about putting a book into the world is to witness the myriad and often unexpected ways people engage with it. For example, Jelani Greenidge wonders about the spiritual issues the book, in his opinion, raises — and of course even the Vatican’s Pontifical Council has weighed in on the problems of driver savagery.

Michael Giberson, meanwhile, delightfully salvages a moment of poetry of which I was not even aware.

He writes:

I found a sentence (p. 126) to read nicely as a bit of traffic poetry (I’ve broken the prose sentence into three lines, in the manner of most poetry):

Or the hiccup in heavy traffic that passes through you

might be the echo of someone who, forward in space

and backward in time, did something as simple as change lanes.

He then elaborates:

I particularly like the way the meter has a sort of pulsing flow through the lines until you reach the last two words, which to my ear must both be stressed. A spondee, in poetic terms, that brings the flow of the sentence to a halt, while echoing the “hiccup” at the beginning of the first line.

You might also note the manner in which the syntactic unit “forward in space and backward in time” is broken over two lines, a poetic device called enjambment, which seems appropriate for this found poem about a hiccup in heavy traffic.

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2009 at 9:15 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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On the Road

Regular posting will resume soon. For what it’s worth I’ve updated my ‘appearances’ page (although there’s already a few more to add), so if you happen to find yourself near any of these events…

Posted on Sunday, January 25th, 2009 at 9:51 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Malcolm Gladwell’s Favorite Reads

I’m delighted by the mention and in some good company here, via The Week:

Best books … chosen by Malcolm Gladwell

New Yorker contributor Malcolm Gladwell is the author of The Tipping Point and Blink. His newest work is the current best-seller Outliers: The Story of Success.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis (Norton, $14). Lewis is the finest storyteller of our generation, and this is his best book. Supposedly about football (the title refers to the side of the field a quarterback is blind to), it’s actually an extraordinary story about love and redemption.

Should I Be Tested for Cancer? by H. Gilbert Welch (Univ. of Calif., $15). One of those gems to come out of the academic press failing to get the attention it deserves. It asks a seemingly nonsensical question: Are there situations when you shouldn’t be tested for cancer? And the answer is yes. If you’re worried about cancer, this lucidly argued book will be a godsend.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (Morrow, $28). I don’t need to say much here. This book invented an entire genre. Economics was never supposed to be this entertaining.

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt (Knopf, $25). One of the heirs to the Freakonomics legacy. A very clever young writer tells us all sorts of things about what driving says about us. I kept waiting for the moment when my interest in congestion and roads would run its course. It never did.

Nixon Agonistes by Garry Wills (Mariner, $15). A classic from the early ’70s by one of the great political writers of his time. Written just before Richard Nixon resigned, it’s as devastating a portrait of him as has ever been written.

The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin (Harvard Business School Press, $27). Explores what makes great CEOs stand out from their peers. I realize that there are thousands of business books on the subject, but, trust me, this is the first to really answer the question.

Posted on Sunday, January 11th, 2009 at 5:37 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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TRB On Monday

Like many of the people I interviewed for Traffic, I too shall be at the Transportation Research Board meetings next week. I’ll be doing an “informal conversation” on Monday evening — a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle, IMHO, but I’m delighted in any case to be at the traffic geek’s paradise that is TRB.

If you’re at TRB, stop by during or after — the details are as follows:

Monday, January 12, 2009, 5:45pm- 7:15pm, Marriott, Salon 3
“Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)”: A
Conversation with Author Tom Vanderbilt Paul P. Jovanis, Pennsylvania
State University, presiding Sponsored by Safety – Section (ANB00)

Posted on Thursday, January 8th, 2009 at 5:54 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Sounding One’s Own Horn V

I’m slow to get to this in my holiday torpor, but I was thrilled that New York Times David Leonhardt included Traffic on his annual list of best economic books (particularly since I’m resolutely not an economist and only some of the book could be said to fall under that subject heading).

This came on the heels of the book being named one of the year’s best by the Washington Post,, Planetizen, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Library Journal, among others…

Posted on Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 at 8:23 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Transport column to me at:

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage:

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency:

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau:

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



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