Review by C.J. Bunce

Merging art with science and technology the Victoria and Albert Museum in London put together an exhibition celebrating more than 100 years of the car.  That exhibition has been documented and is now available as a history of the car, combining historical objects from the museum with thirteen essays that show the impact of this cultural achievement (both the good and the bad) on people around the world.  Prepared by the museum’s researchers, the book Cars: Accelerating the Modern World is a history of the automobile and a nostalgic look at the marketing of cars through hundreds of reprinted advertisements and vintage photographs.

The book examines the need for speed looking at early and modern races, including early women in racing.  From the 1890s to the 2010s style has been supreme when it comes to the love of cars–it might seem obvious, but in one graphic readers can see a comparison of cars, planes, trains, phones, and even chairs, clocks, fashion, and swimsuits, all trending toward more streamlined forms across the decades.  Along with favorite cars is the quest for greater safety.  Manufacturing, assembly lines, industry, regulations, and the development of roads and highways, all led toward a key component that makes road travel possible: standardization.

As with everything else, the history of the car is interspersed with politics, profits, corporations, and The growth of an industry of cars for work tracked cars for personal use and even luxury purposes.  And along the journey was a new class of sales, marketing lifestyle and image to the consumer.  It’s also the movement from the stately black early cars to choice for the consumer via new, vibrant colors for interiors and exteriors.  One Saturday Evening Post excerpt champions new color combinations from DuPont in the 1920s.  Fashion plates compare what women should wear in their new cars in the early days of the automobile.

Ultimately a success industry resulted in variety, and it was variety that led to sub-cultures identified with cars.  From owners of Volkswagen Beetles to Cadillacs, what you drove could also say who you are.

Readers of Cars: Accelerating the Modern World will get insights into advancements that may be surprising, like early rechargeable, fully functioning electrical cars in the year 1900.  Ultimately human reliance on gasoline instead of electric has meant air and water system problems worldwide, shortages, and political unrest, all toward keeping cars going.  But it also connected people like never before, leading to the growth of major metropolitan centers.  Everything comes at a price.  The book also looks at the future, what could be ahead for us, which may be a world without any cars at all.

A great splice of the history of science and technology with art and style about one of mankind’s favorite subjects, Cars: Accelerating the Modern World is available now in a trade edition.  Order it here at Amazon.