Book Review — Life is a Highway: A Century of Great Automotive Writing; Edited by Darwin Halmstrom and Melinda Keefe.
For all practical purposes, the automobile has been around for over 120 years. Since cars were first seen as objects of wonder on city streets and country roads, they have been the subject of much discussion. Life as a Highway (available from Motorbooks.com) is a collection of articles written by well-known automotive writers published between 1903 and 2008.
In the earliest articles, the writers often write about virtues of automobiles that you might not think of today. For example, the 1917 article written by H.L Barber titled "Benefits Conferred by the Automobile" comments mostly on how the automobile was considered as a "Medium of Distribution of Knowledge" and as a "Factor in Promoting Sociability." He pointed out that before the introduction of the automobile, most people rarely travelled over 25 miles away from their homes. He wrote: "What the automobile does for the city dweller, in enabling him to see the last act at the theatre or hear the last act of the opera, it does for people of the farm in enabling them to spare the time to attend dances, sociables, entertainments, and motion picture shows."
During the years when war clouds were forming over Europe in the forties, the tone decidedly changed. And rightfully so; the writings were much more somber. However, it is clear that not everyone agreed that everything need be for the upcoming war effort. In his 1940 piece, James Dalton writing for MoToR magazine wrote, "Those who prate of transforming automobile plantsinto airplane factories may be well-intentioned but their reasoning is puerile. Airplanes are vital in modern war but any limitation on the use of motor vehicles would throw into hopeless confusion this nation [US] of more than 130,000,000 people."
It is intriguing to see how the writing styles and approaches to the subject matter have changed over time. This collection gives insight into how cars have been viewed throughout history, and provides an opportunity to read some of the work of writers such as Tom McCahill, Ken Purdy, Brock Yates and Jay Leno as well as Car and Driver's P.J. O'Rourke, and Patrick Bedard. There are also articles from some very well-known fiction writers such as Stephen King, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson.
If you're interested in knowing what people thought about cars at various times during the automobile's history, this is the book for you.