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Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us) Paperback – 6 Aug 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (6 Aug 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141027398
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141027395
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 126,130 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of human beings behind the steering wheels.... Jammed with delicious you've-got-to-be kidding moments.... Required reading for anyone applying for a driver's license."--"The New York Times Book Review" "Fascinating, surprising . . . Vanderbilt's book will be a revelation not just to us drivers but also, one might guess, to our policy makers.""-"Alan Moores, "The Seattle Times" "Traffic gets about as close to the heart of modern existence as any book could get . . . Engagingly written, meticulously researched, endlessly interesting and informative, [it] is one of those rare books that comes out of the depths of nowhere.""-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World" "An engaging, informative, psychologically savvy account of the conscious and unconscious assumptions of individual drivers.... Full of fascinating facts and provocative propositions.""--Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" """An engrossing tour through the neuroscience of highway illusions, the psychology of late merging, and other existential driving dilemmas.""--Discover" ""Manages to be downright fun."""--Road and Track" "Smart and comprehensive . . . A shrewd tour of the much-experienced but little-understood world of driving . . . A balanced and instructive discussion on how to improve our policies toward the inexorable car . . . Vanderbilt's book is likely to remain relevant well into the new century.""-"Edward L. Glaeser, T"he New Republic" "A delightful tour through the mysteries and manners of driving.""-Tony Dokoupil, Newsweek" "A breezy . . . well-researched . . . examination of the strange interaction ofhumanity and multiton metal boxes that can roar along at . . . 60 m.p.h. or sit for hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic.""-"Patrick T. Reardon, "Chicago Tribune" "Traffic will definitely change the way you think about driving, which also means changing the way you think about being human."-Michael Agger," Slate" "[A] joyride in the often surprising landscape of traffic science and psychology.""-"Abigail Tucker, "Smithsonian Magazine" """Tom Vanderbilt is one of our best and most interesting writers, with an extraordinary knack for looking at everyday life and explaining, in wonderful and entertaining detail, how it really works. That's never been more true than with Traffic, where he takes a subject that we all deal with (and worry about), and lets us see it through new eyes. In the process, he helps us understand better not just the highway, but the world. It doesn't matter whether you drive or take the bus--you're going to want to read this book."" ""--James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds" "A great, deep, multidisciplinary investigation of the dynamics and the psychology of traffic jams. It is fun to read. Anyone who spends more than 19 minutes a day in traffic should read this book.""--Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author The Black Swan" "Fascinating, illuminating, and endlessly entertaining as well. Vanderbilt shows how a sophisticated understanding of human behavior can illuminate one of the modern world's most basic and most mysterious endeavors. You'll learn a lot; and the life you save may be your own.""--Cass R. Sunstein, coauthor of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness" "Everyone who drives--and manypeople who don't--should read this book. It is a psychology book, a popular science book, and a how-to-save-your-life manual, all rolled into one. I found it gripping and fascinating from the very beginning to the very end.""--Tyler Cowen, author of Discover Your Inner Economist" "A well-written, important book that should hold the interest of anyone who drives a car.""-Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret News" "An engaging, sociable tour of all things driving-related.""-Joel Rice, The Tennessean" "Traffic changes the way you think about driving. For that reason alone, it deserves your attention."-Dan Danbom, Rocky Mountain News"Intriguing . . . Somehow manages to plunge far more deeply than one would imagine a meditation on travel possibly could. Perhaps without intending to, Vanderbilt has narrowed in on the central question of our time . . . His book asks us to consider how we can persuade human beings to behave more cooperatively than selfishly."-Elaine Margolin," The Denver Post" ""Vanderbilt investigates . . . complexities with zeal. Surprising details abound."""-The New Yorker" ""Fresh and timely . . . Vanderbilt investigates how human nature has shaped traffic, and vice versa, finally answering drivers' most familiar and frustrating questions."""--Publishers Weekly" ""Fluently written and oddly entertaining, full of points to ponder while stuck at the on-ramp meter or an endless red light."""--Kirkus" ""This may be the most insightful and comprehensive study ever done of driving behavior and how it reveals truths about the types of people we are."""--Booklist" ""Tom Vanderbilt uncovers a raft of counterintuitive factsabout what happens when we get behind the wheel, and why."""--BusinessWeek" ""Fascinating . . . Could not come at a better time."""--Library Journal" ""Brisk . . . Smart . . . Delivers a wealth of automotive insights both curious and counterintuitive."""-Details" ""A literate, sobering look at our roadways that explains why the other lane is moving faster and why you should never drive at 1 p.m. on Saturday."""--GQ" ""An engrossing tour through the neuroscience of highway illusions, the psychology of late merging, and other existential driving dilemmas."""-Michael Mason, Discover" ""Funny . . . Enlightening . . . Want to spend 286 pages having a good time and learning a whole lot about something you do every day for an hour or two? Buy this book."""-Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman" ""I'm very glad I read this book . . . It tells you a lot about traffic. But of course it does more than this. It's really a book about human nature."""-William Leith, Evening Standard (UK)" ""A richly extended metaphor for the challenge of organising competing human needs and imperfect human judgment into harmonious coexistence."""-Rafael Behr, The Guardian (UK)" ""Automobile traffic is one of the most studied phenomena in advanced societies . . . Mr. Vanderbilt has mastered all of it. Arresting facts appear on every page."""-Christopher Caldwell, Financial Times (UK)"

About the Author

Tom Vanderbilt writes on design, technology, science, and culture for many publications, including Wired, Slate, The London Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, Artforum, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine and Popular Science. He is contributing editor to award-winning design magazines I.D. and Print, contributing editor to Business Week Online, and contributing writer of the popular blog Design Observer. He is the author of two previous books: Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America and The Sneaker Book.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Adrian Booth on 21 Oct 2008
Format: Hardcover
Tom Vanderbilt is a great author. He has managed to write a book about one of the most mundane, boring, simplistic topics and turn it into an exciting, interesting and informative piece of work. Every single sentence backed up with years of studies from experts in the field of traffic (yes...experts on traffic) makes for an incredibly interesting read. I won't got too much into detail but Vanderbilt cites many examples of how our eyes can easily deceive us on the road, and also talks about 'risk homeostasis' where we tend to adjust are our behaviour relative to the risks involved e.g. Wearing seatbelts = Faster driving etc. This part at the end was most interesting.

All in all, after reluctant to read it, as it was given as a present, I have learnt never to judge a book by its topic, not matter how boring or dull it may sound. It's a truly enjoyable read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By martinpick on 4 Feb 2009
Format: Hardcover
Who would have thought that the bane of our lives could be so interesting? But traffic is mass human behaviour, and watching it (from the outside!) gives real insight.
"Traffic" is well written and has changed the way I drive, hopefully for the better.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 Sep 2008
Format: Hardcover
If you've ever been stuck in traffic alone (and who hasn't been?), all kinds of thoughts have occurred to you about how poorly the highways are designed, why drivers are so inconsiderate, what else you would like to be doing, and how to get out of this mess! Since cell phones have arrived, I regularly receive calls from my wife and children while they are stuck in traffic hoping that I'll have some suggestions for them. Tom Vanderbilt takes that vague reactions and tests them out.

It turns out that driving isn't so natural for humans, and we don't always do it right. While we are unhappy about what others are doing, we overestimate the quality of our own driving.

Even though it's very difficult for a machine to learn to drive effectively, humans get to the point where they drive without paying attention. There's a price to pay: Make the road too boring, and some people will fall asleep until awakened by a rumble strip or they crash into an immovable object such as a tree.

It turns out we lose a lot of our humanity when we drive on good roads at high speed. It's all about us then. Slow things down enough and surround us with easy ways to hurt other people, and we look people in the eye and act like a good neighbor.

The most amazing parts of the book explore ways that attempts by traffic engineers to make roads safer and to carry more traffic have backfired. The engineers, it seems, think we are rationally moving objects rather than people who like to drive around a little to get a change of pace in our lives.

He also tests out some basic subjects where there's wide disagreement, such as, should you merge as soon as possible when a lane is being dropped . . . or speed along in the closed lane until the last minute?
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Format: Paperback
In this book, Tom Vanderbilt looks at the subject of traffic from an eclectic range of perspectives. Covering driving psychology, social-anthropology, economics and traffic engineering, among others, he gives a comprehensive and original view of this uniquely human phenomenon. He shows the picture on the world's roads as it truly is, not how drivers, politicians or transport planners would want it to be.

In one chapter he covers the cognitive process of driving, based on the fact that humans did not evolve to travel at speeds of 60+ mph and so our sensory organs are not designed to work at such speeds. In another he covers calculations of risk, both ours and the insurance industry's. In another he shows how driving norms have evolved differently in different countries. And he achieves all this with an entertaining wit and a lot of useful pub facts.

Books about driving are often either testosterone-fuelled rants or so bogged down in finger-wagging minutiae they make The Highway Code look exciting. Despite being full of information, this book is an easy and enjoyable read and takes a warm and personal view of people on the move in all their wonderful irrational multiplicity.

I bought this book because I work in the industry. I would recommend it because it is really good!
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By Mr BD TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 16 Jan 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although described as 416 pages, the last 220 pages are the notes and references used to research the book. It is very well researched and written in an entertaining and relaxed style.
Most of the research and examples are within the USA, but the research behind them can easily be used for the UK. It shows just how similair the driving cultures can be on both sides of the Atlantic. The research into late and early merging at roadworks is an interesting start to the book, showing how the Americans and our Highways Agency attempted to specify one method over the other, and how the motorists made their own choices much to the irritation of the engineers.
Examples are studied from all over the world. The absence of any traffic control in the Netherlands to the first attempt to introduce a Traffic Act in China.
It details research which may show what actually causes 'road rage' and why some drivers tailgate. How engineers attempt to control complicated traffic flows around major cities in different cultures and just how easy it is to make a shambles of it.
Not something I could read in one sitting, but a chapter or so at a time makes it an interesting read and gives some insight into the road behaviour of yourself and others.
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