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Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us) Hardcover – 28 Aug 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (28 Aug. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713999314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713999310
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.8 x 24.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 722,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'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 of The Black Swan

'An important book ... a demonstration, with dozens of examples, of the counterintuitive truth about traffic' -- Sunday Times

'Everyone who drives - and many people 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

'Eye-opening ... full of scads of cocktail-party factoids'
-- Time

'Fascinating ... Vanderbilt humanises his subject brilliantly ... it is a pleasure to accept the role of passenger' -- Sunday Telegraph

'Fascinating, illuminating and endlessly entertaining as well. Vanderbilt shows how a sophisticated understanding of human behaviour can illuminate one of the modern world's most basic and most mysterious endeavours. You'll learn a lot; and the life you save may be your own.' -- Cass R Sunstein, co-author of Nudge

'I'm very glad I read this book ... if you read it you'll be bursting to tell people' -- Evening Standard

'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. 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

'Tom Vanderbilt uncovers a raft of counterintuitive facts about what happens when we get behind the wheel, and why'
-- BusinessWeek

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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3.9 out of 5 stars

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 Sept. 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 Verified Purchase
You need this book.

My feelings on landing at page 286 were of breathlessly unbuckling my 6-point safety harness in the front seat of a Mach 2.5 fighter, having been catapulted from a carrier deck, afterburnered by an expert from the navigator's seat vertically to the edge of space, plummeting to sea level to streak inverted beneath the Golden Gate bridge, rolling looping and stall-turning seamlessly through or past every nook and cranny of the subject. Time travel is thrown in: ancient Romans had our problems, too!

The thorough reference notes finish on page 383 and there is a short but concise index.

Reference 1 for the `Epilogue: Driving Lessons' warmed my heart: `The Isaac Newton School of Driving: Physics and your Car".

I've written in a popular driving instructor magazine on this, like John Adams banging on but few listening. They're too frustrated sitting in in a stop-go tailback of their own making. They've never even watched Bill Beatty or Andrew Marr cracking the 'Phantom Blockage' on YouTube. Car radio may ease the pain but Vanterbilt points to the cures.

Once I took top prize at a dry and dusty technical conference of pump manufacturers:

I knew nothing of the subjects, but had been asked to write and prepare on behalf of a colleague, mugging up then presenting his work in a form intelligible to me, and attractive to a diverse audience. Tom Vanderbilt has done this for Traffic.

Is it moving objects, or moving people? Traffic engineers view pedestrians as annoying grit in the machine; but `a pedestrian is someone who has just parked their car'. Do engineers abandon their humanity when they step into the office? Should we control or cajole traffic? That's why it is all so interesting.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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