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

February 9, 2009
By Jake Kooker BRONZE, Plano, Texas
Jake Kooker BRONZE, Plano, Texas
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At first, glance one might assume that Traffic is solely a dry, explicit exploration into driving and congestion in the shallowest of terms. Presumably, it would cover the spectrum of mundane statistics regarding traffic flow, car safety, and more. And it does. Yet Tom Vanderbilt does not simply thrust a broad array of data upon the read in a superficial analysis; he meticulously 'and more importantly, clearly- uses the information presented to delve past the surface and examine the underlying psychological issues and influences that shape the act of driving.

Traffic is broken up into nine distinct chapters, each of which contains two or three subchapters, plus a prologue and epilogue. Each section covers a discrete subject, which allows the reader to jump from segment to segment depending on what elements interest them most. Vanderbilt's work is not limited to strictly abstract analysis, but also includes numerous anecdotes to enrich the subject at hand. Much of the book is dedicated to a meticulous list of notes that catalogue each statistic and fact, but the most telling element of detail is the number of first hand experiences from across the globe, from Los Angeles to New York to Copenhagen to Delhi. Clearly, traffic is not simply an American problem, or even a recent issue; Vanderbilt cites numerous ancient civilizations that had their own trafficking issues, far before automobiles were even conceived. Interestingly enough, humans, presumably the most intelligent creatures on planet earth, are wildly incompetent in commuting when compared to a number of insects of the world, as chapter four details.

None of this data, however, would mean anything to the average reader if taken on its own, were it not for Vanderbilt's knack for taking a relatively vague example or idea and pinning it to an every day event that imbues it with a more tangible significance. Traffic is a deeply intriguing and entertaining book that takes the nebulous and mechanical subjects of driving and traffic and strips them down to the constituent psychological aspects that drive them.

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