Divorce Your Car, by Katie Alvord, is thought provoking. In the United States of America, an automobile is many things to many people: transportation, status symbol, hobby, money pit. Alvord takes apart the place of the car in modern society (the focus of the book is on North America, though she does refer to Europe and the Third World in places) and roundly condemns our dependence.

Her book is split into three parts–the first covers the history of the automobile and other forms of transport. She legitimizes what I’d often heard and dismissed as a myth–the car industry bought up the transit systems of cities in the US early in the 20th century and replaced them with buses. The second is a laundry list of the negative effects of the car (which, I must confess, I didn’t finish–too depressed after the first thirty pages). The final section covers alternatives, including walking, biking, mass transit, non-gasoline cars, and telecommuting.

I found the book to be quite good in outlining the problem and highlighting solutions. The dependence of modern life on the car is a dependence on convenience. But, to some extent, it’s a matter of inertia. Automobiles are so prevalent and easy that many of us never try the alternatives, let alone use them in preference to our car. A strong point is that she realizes that car-free living isn’t for anyone, and makes a point that going car-lite can have a positive effect as well. She also touches on the far reaching implications that technology decisions have had on our society, our cities and our lives–from subsidies to the development of advertising. It would have been interesting to read more about that, but what she did say was definitely thought provoking.

However, I do have three quibbles. Alvord cites sources extensively, but her arguments would be more compelling were the sources less biased (as you can tell by titles like Asphalt Nation) and more first hand. She ignores two factors that would affect my divorce. Giving up your car, or at the very least being aware of alternatives, makes driving after drinking less likely–a good thing! On the other hand, if you don’t have a car, you suddenly have a dearth of available camping and hiking activities. But these concerns aren’t everyone’s, to be sure.

Overall, a book well worth reading, especially if you commute a lot. Too bad they don’t sell it as a book on tape!


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