Auto Mania


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Cars, Consumers, and the Environment

Tom McCarthy

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A history of why the environmental problems that American automobile consumers and automakers created proved so hard to fix

The twentieth-century American experience with the automobile has much to tell us about the relationship between consumer capitalism and the environment, Tom McCarthy contends. In Auto Mania he presents the first environmental history of the automobile that shows how consumer desire (and manufacturer decisions) created impacts across the product lifecycle—from raw material extraction to manufacturing to consumer use to disposal. From the provocative public antics of young millionaires who owned the first cars early in the twentieth century to the SUV craze of the 1990s, Auto Mania explores developments that touched the environment. Along the way McCarthy examines how Henry Ford’s fetish for waste reduction tempered the environmental impacts of Model T mass production; how Elvis Presley’s widely shared postwar desire for Cadillacs made matters worse; how the 1970s energy crisis hurt small cars; and why baby boomers ignored worries about global warming. McCarthy shows that problems were recognized early. The difficulty was addressing them, a matter less of doing scientific research and educating the public than implementing solutions through America’s market economy and democratic government. Consumer and producer interests have rarely aligned in helpful ways, and automakers and consumers have made powerful opponents of regulation. The result has been a mixed record of environmental reform with troubling prospects for the future.

Tom McCarthy is associate professor, History Department, United States Naval Academy.

"McCarthy explores consumers' attachments to automobiles—their sense of status in relation to the larger society—that have had important repercussions for the environment."—Sally H. Clarke, University of Texas at Austin

“This engaging and well-researched book takes on the product life cycle of the automobile in the twentieth century. A very interesting project.”—Martin Melosi, University of Houston

“McCarthy looks at the environment broadly and constructs an interesting mixture of social, economic, political, and environmental history of the car not found elsewhere.”—J. Brooks Flippen, Southeastern Oklahoma State University

Auto Mania is a high speed, insightful and fascinating cruise through important and fascinating eras in the auto industry. From the early years of the horseless carriage, through the explosion of affordable transportation spawned by Henry Ford to the modern era of regulation of emissions and fuel economy. Tom McCarthy’s description of the early days of government regulation through the eyes of key players is unique and dramatically contributes to our understanding of a transformational period of importance to all of us.”—David E. Cole, Center for Automotive Research

"McCarthy . . . tells the story of a nation's affair with four wheels and of how the car's role as cultural icon has influenced its evolution."—Science News

"McCarthy skillfully documents the century-long love affair with cars that soaks through American social strata like motor oil. He shows that, from the start, American cars embodied the desire to command respect, feel secure and be seen as manly."—Steve Weinberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Numerous authors have produced accounts of American automotive history, some adulatory, others angry. McCarthy's nicely written, chronologically broad account is critical, but its tone contributes to understanding more than polemics. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"In well-researched, thoughtful chapters, McCarthy provides readers with superb snapshots of paths taken and missed in the history of auto manufacturing. He creates a history of technological innovation with a particular emphasis on the environmental impact of the automobile. . . . Scholars and students of business and economic history, as well as the history of technology, will find insights in these pages to fuel many additional studies of the automobile."—Brian Black, Enterprise & Society

“Tom McCarthy has given us a history of twentieth-century American automobile culture for a new generation. Auto Mania traces the complex relationship among cars, consumerism, politics, and the environment in a way sure to be useful to an age in which automobility’s conflicting individual benefits and environmental costs lie at the crux of the challenges facing the United States and the world. . . . A must read for anyone interested in the complex dance of consumers, technology, industry, and government in twentieth-century America.”—Kevin L. Borg, Technology and Culture

"Auto Mania is a compelling and detailed book that adds to the rich fields of automobile, consumer, cultural, economic, and enviromental histories. McCarthy's analysis of the relationship between producers, consumers, and the environment deserves to reach readers, scholars, and policy makers who hope to address the environmental problems caused by automobiles in both the present and the future." —William Brucher, Michigan Historical Review

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title from 2008.
ISBN: 9780300158489
Publication Date: October 27, 2009
368 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
52 b/w illus.
Ed Ruscha

Course of Empire

Edited by Christopher Riopelle; With essays by Tom McCarthy

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