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Driving force Auto Mobile How the Car Changed Life Ruth Brandon 468pp Macmillan The view from the roof of Dearborns Ritz-Carlton hotel is infinitely melancholic but magnificent Bright ribbons of freeway unravel across the flat dull midwestern landscape Somewhere in the distance the enormous River Rouge plant has been churning out the cars that now populate these roads in a mobile jam that is a derisive caricature of the production line It was somewhere near here that Henry Ford invented what he called the gasoline buggy in order to escape the aching tedium of life on a Michigan farm The universal appetite for freedom that Ford excited has brought pleasure and pain wealth and pollution desire great beauty destruction and death For some people the acqui sition of a new car is an experience as close to perfection as they might reasonably expect on earth For others cars are a filthy menace The poignancy of watching traffic rests as Eric Larrabee mused on the contradictions of the automobile in use you are liberated but lonely there is a sense of adventure but also of sorrow you are free but trapped The vision of escape is a cruel illusion but the taste for it once established is ineradicable The mixed blessing of the affordable car - Henry Fords gift to the world - is the subject of Ruth Brandons new book Brandon is the author of a superb biography of Isaac Merritt Singer the sewing-machine entrepreneur It may have been this original curiosity about the heroes of early capitalism that interested her in Ford whose person and works dominate the index of this portly book Ford can seem a sinis ter figure and Brandon does not resist the temptation to speculate about the motor industrys incipient totalitarianism As early as 1928 the New York Times called Ford an industrial fascist and Hitler awarded him Germanys highest honour in 1938 But Fords was a fundamentally democratic achievement
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