A Brief History of Motion Summary By Tom Standage

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The book, A Brief History of Motion: Automobiles and the Making of Human History (2021), offers an insightful look into the history, current innovations, and potential future of automobiles.

Starting from when the wheel was invented, to the curious ways in which early steam-powered car prototypes worked, readers will gain an understanding of how vehicles have shaped our planet - for better or for worse.

Not only that, but this book will provide an interesting overview on the promises of automated cars and its potential impacts on global society.

All in all, this book is perfect for those looking to learn more about how automobiles have profoundly affected human progress over time.

A Brief History of Motion

Book Name: A Brief History of Motion (From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next)

Author(s): Tom Standage

Rating: 4.2/5

Reading Time: 28 Minutes

Categories: History

Author Bio

Tom Standage is an incredibly accomplished author, writer, and keynote speaker.

He's been part of the Economist staff since 1998 and now serves as their deputy editor.

Tom has written several books that have made the bestseller lists and his topics usually focus on technology and social trends.

Tom is the author of A History of the World in Six Glasses, An Edible History of Humanity, and of course A Brief History of Motion.

He's drawn from his years of insight to create beautiful works that explain complex concepts in a detailed yet accessible way.

How Cars Have Shaped the Way We Live: A Historical Overview of Automobiles

Historical Overview of Automobiles

The automobile has had a tremendous impact on our lives, both historically and in the present day.

It’s been with us for over a century, transforming how people commute and providing the backdrop for some of the most important conversations in our society.

Now more than ever, it’s time to rethink our relationship with cars and how they shape our daily life.

From chariots being the first status symbol on wheels to electric cars being marketed towards women in the early days to smartphones potentially holding the key to future transportation models, it’s clear that cars have changed and shaped our world in undeniable ways.

But what does this mean for us? We can start by taking back ownership of our streets and rethinking how we use them.

By being mindful of how we move around, we can begin to create a more sustainable world that takes into account climate change and pandemics – something that will continue shaping how we get from A to B in the years ahead.

The Invention of the Wheel Moves Ancient Civilizations Into a New Age of Practicality and Luxury

The invention of the wheel had far-reaching effects, transforming ancient life in both practical and luxurious ways.

It was initially thought to have originated in Mesopotamia some time around 3500 BC, but more recent carbon dating tests suggest that it may have started in the Carpathian mountains, like western Ukraine.

Various artifacts from this region show that the wheel was being used for various practical tasks such as mining copper ore, moving materials, and transportation by 3000 BC.

But it wasn’t until later that two-wheeled carts were invented and chariots with spoked wheels came into existence.

These chariots sparked an age of status symbols among kings and powerful warriors – lavish decorations on chariots were seen as a way of elevating them to god-like status.

In fact, they were sometimes even buried with their chariots when they died!

Thus began an era of luxurious Symbolism surrounding the wheel and all that it offered, transforming it from a practical tool to a luxury item fit for kings and emperors alike.

Roman Innovations Lead to the Development of Coaches, Trains and Impacted Early City Planning

Development of Coaches, Trains

The chariot was the mode of transport of choice during the Roman period, but its use was largely phased out as a military vehicle by the 4th century BC.

However, it did remain popular for racing and its successful drivers were regarded as celebrities and were some of the wealthiest people around.

Innovations such as two-wheeled carts and steerable front wheels allowed for faster transportation with practical four-wheeled carts, leading to the emergence of carriages, coaches and long-distance stagecoaches.

Carriages were seen as unmanly in Roman culture and this opinion continued into the Middle Ages where horseback riding was still considered more respectable than using vehicles to travel.

By the 16th century coaches became increasingly popular for their fast transport and fancy decor.

As Europe fought against the Ottoman Empire, wagons were joined together to form mobile forts that could carry cannons — further adding to their strong reputation among travellers.

This eventually led to an organized system of scheduled coach journeys known as stagecoaches which became immensely popular during the 17th century before giving way to trains in due time — greatly enhancing long-distance travel capabilities.

From Horse Manure to Horseless Carriages: How the Automobile Revolutionized City Life

The dream of a quieter and cleaner alternative to horse-drawn carriages become a reality in the late 1800s.

People had grown tired of the mess that 300,000 horses left behind on London’s streets every day, and dreaded crossing the street after it rained due to all of the filth that would splash onto their clothes.

They were hungry for something that was still dynamic and full of life but didn’t leave behind a pile of manure wherever they went.

Enter the horseless carriage.

In 1894, people got an exciting preview of different models when an 85-mile road race from Paris to Rouen took place with 21 vehicles participating.

Most cars had either steam or petrol engines and were steered using tillers – with only one car having been modified by its owner to use a steering wheel.

The result was unprecedented… 2,500 spectators cheered on these machines as they crept along at 10 mph!

Ultimately, it was Gottlieb Daimler’s engine design that won out–the team claimed victory due to its increased reliability and practicality compared to other cars in the race.

It didn’t take long for wide acceptance of horseless carriages around Europe – now it seemed almost inevitable that this change would sweep across the world too!

The Rise of Automobiles: How the Ford Model T Revolutionized Transportation and Changed Attitudes

The Rise of Automobiles

When cars first hit the roads, they weren’t universally welcomed with open arms.

People were afraid of them because of their seeming dangerousness, as well as the dust and farm animals they would kick up.

The issues weren’t limited to climate change-level effects – children were being killed on roads.

Plus, early car models weren’t cheap either.

Rather than being something your average person could get into, cars were seen as luxury items only rich people could afford.

It wasn’t until 1908 when Ford introduced the Model T that the game changed – an assembly line allowed for prices to come down improbably low for that time ($850 at launch, comparable to about $80k in 2020).

Thanks to this affordable car for the masses, attitudes began to change and people realized automobiles weren’t just deadly toys anymore.

This paved a new revolution of mobility, which continues to this day!

In the early 1900s, Cars Became Increasingly Important Status Symbols Thanks to General Motors’ Incentivization Strategies

Starting in the 1920s, cars began to gain an importance far beyond just being a means of transportation.

They had become important status symbols and a clear indicator of economic wealth and success.

This became clear when General Motors (GM) created brand names that featured step-up ladder options so that you could represent your economic standing.

The introduction of payment plans by GM further made owning cars more accessible since customers could now trade in their old car and use their earnings toward taking the next step up the ladder.

Moreover, GM was even hiring fashion experts to help design the colors for its new models, giving people the opportunity to choose options that reflected both their economic status and personality.

This transformation of cars into status symbols was a stark contrast to Henry Ford’s strategy for the Model T, which only featured one color option and focused on creating an efficient car making process.

Eventually Ford had to accept this change in order to stay competitive; by 1928 he moved on from Model T production to featuring different color options and installment plans for his Model A’s.

In doing so, he embraced this shift from cars as mere methods of transportation to vehicles representing financial success and individual style statements.

The Car and Fuel Industries Shape the 20th Century, to the Detriment of People

The Car and Fuel Industries

By the 1930s, the car industry had seen tremendous growth.

This was in part due to an increasing number of cars on the road and a need for rules to make sure that drivers were safe.

One of those decisions was to designate specific areas for pedestrians to cross – crosswalks – while also giving cars the right of way.

These rules would have lasting consequences and be implemented all over the world, with many traceable back directly to Los Angeles.

The success of America’s automotive industry had not gone unnoticed either.

Germany’s new chancellor Adolf Hitler wanted a piece of that success so he set out plans to eliminate registration taxes, start the Volkswagen brand, and construct a cross-country motorway.

This plan lead to rapid expansion of their automotive industry while also helping them get out of the Great Depression faster.

Lastly, decisions later made in 1939 at Futurama sponsored by GM (General Motors) sparked further changes in policy that would make massive interstate highways cut through cities, often targeting poorer parts en masse and displacing predominantly Black families from their homes in multiple American cities.

All this combined showed how for better or worse by the 1930s decisions about cars were having lasting consequences throughout much of the world.

The Long History of Gasoline vs. Renewables: Exploring the Political and Scientific Factors That Led to Fossil Fuel Dependency

When it comes to understanding how we got to where we are today, it’s important to look at the role that marketing, politics, and science all played in our current reliance on gasoline.

It’s well-known that electric cars have been around for more than a hundred years, with some companies trying to establish a fleet of them in New York City as early as the 1910s.

But even back then, politics and marketing were standing in their way.

For example, companies like Babcock Electric and Detroit Electric were attempting to market electric cars specifically towards women since they didn’t require cranking – a move which likely had an ultimately reductive effect on the potential growth of electric vehicles over time.

At the same time however, there was potentially a viable solution in renewable fuel such as ethanol derived from vegetables and crop waste – engines burning through this faster however halted its progress due to worries of food shortages if power became reliant on the fuel.

This was further worsened by the existing monopoly of Standard Oil.

Today, though emphasis is more strongly placed on finding alternative solutions due to damaging effects caused by burning fossil fuels but politicians are still playing their part purely for purposes of maintaining economic stability as much as environmental health.

In other words: Marketing, politics, and science all factor into our reliance on gasoline.

How The Pandemic Is Helping Us Rethink Our Relationship with Cars

Relationship with Cars

The automobile has brought many conveniences to our lives, yet its negative effects are undeniable.

The noise and pollution from vehicles have been a thorn in the side of many cities, not to mention their contribution to climate change.

And yet, there might still be hope: There are some positive signs that people may be able to reclaim the streets for themselves.

Take for example the post-WWII years when car ownership surged, thanks to strong economy and low gas prices.

Suddenly young people had access to a much larger dating pool, drive-in theaters opened up and massive shopping malls sprouted up in suburban areas designed around the car instead of the pedestrian – often with no sidewalks at all.

Despite some recognizing immediate dangers in these designs, they were nonetheless adopted as they seemed more efficient at the time.

Fast forward to today and there appears to be less reliance on cars than before – due in part to COVID-19 forcing many people to stay home and use e-commerce more often.

This coupled with increased investments such as widening already existing sidewalks or even creating entire no-car zones is helping us reevaluate our urban planning needs today.

People now can see that there is great potential for cities where we prioritize people over cars – both saving money and enhancing quality of life on so many levels.

Overall, what this reassures us is that while it might be too late for some towns built solely around cars in yesteryear, communities can still push forth with new plans focused on placing pedestrians first cut back our dependency on vehicles!

The Future of Automobile Transportation May Lie in Bundled Smartphone Apps—Not Autonomous Vehicles

The development of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology has been underway for more than a decade, but its future remains uncertain.

As a result, many are turning to another option for transportation – bundled smartphone apps.

This type of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) program consolidates different modes of transport in one convenient app.

In Helsinki, people can get around using a bicycle, an electric scooter, public transportation, or car-share all from one place.

Since then, similar services have been seen in other cities such as Singapore and Berlin.

What sets these apps apart is that they allow users to string together multiple services and pay for them with one payment method.

This makes getting around easy and it alleviates the need to own an automobile – something that used to be seen as a symbol of status and freedom in the past.

Nowadays we are beginning to rely more heavily on our smartphones for everyday tasks like transportation, which brings up its own set of privacy and security concerns.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that MaaS programs are becoming increasingly popular over automated vehicles.

Wrap Up

The motion book provides readers with a brief but comprehensive history of the wheel, from its earliest use by ancient civilizations to its modern day existence as one of the most desired status symbols.

We can see how the dream of automotive freedom and convenience has been tainted by excessive noise and pollution, resulting in cities that prioritize cars over people.

In response to this issue, there is now a greater push towards alternative fuels, automated vehicles, and smartphone-based technology that may offer more practical options than car ownership.

All of this culminates in a final reminder to reconsider our values surrounding transportation while paying attention to today’s pandemic and climate change crisis since they are potentially calling for an even bigger shift away from typical car culture.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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