Book Review: Drive! Henry Ford, George Selden, and the Race to Invent the Auto Age

Drive! Book Cover Drive!
Lawrence Goldstone
History
Ballantine Books
May 24, 2016
Hardcover
384
NetGalley

From the acclaimed author of Birdmen comes a revelatory new history of the birth of the automobile, an illuminating and entertaining true tale of invention, competition, and the visionaries, hustlers, and swindlers who came together to transform the world.

In 1900, the Automobile Club of America sponsored the nation’s first car show in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The event was a spectacular success, attracting seventy exhibitors and nearly fifty thousand visitors. Among the spectators was an obscure would-be automaker named Henry Ford, who walked the floor speaking with designers and engineers, trying to gauge public enthusiasm for what was then a revolutionary invention. His conclusion: the automobile was going to be a fixture in American society, both in the city and on the farm—and would make some people very rich. None, he decided, more than he.

Drive! is the most complete account to date of the wild early days of the auto age. Lawrence Goldstone tells the fascinating story of how the internal combustion engine, a “theory looking for an application,” evolved into an innovation that would change history. Debunking many long-held myths along the way, Drive! shows that the creation of the automobile was not the work of one man, but very much a global effort. Long before anyone had heard of Henry Ford, men with names like Benz, Peugeot, Renault, and Daimler were building and marketing the world’s first cars.

Goldstone breathes life into an extraordinary cast of characters: the inventors and engineers who crafted engines small enough to use on a “horseless carriage”; the financiers who risked everything for their visions; the first racers—daredevils who pushed rickety, untested vehicles to their limits; and such visionary lawyers as George Selden, who fought for and won the first patent for the gasoline-powered automobile. Lurking around every corner is Henry Ford, a brilliant innovator and an even better marketer, a tireless promoter of his products—and of himself.

With a narrative as propulsive as its subject, Drive! plunges us headlong into a time unlike any in history, when near-manic innovation, competition, and consumerist zeal coalesced to change the way the world moved.

my Review

Well paced and edited, “Drive!” is a great example of historical non-fiction. The scope is broad enough to give you an excellent sense of the world without feeling overwhelming. I knew nothing about this issue before reading Drive! (I had no idea who Selden was or that there was ever a question about who invented the car) but the explanations and set-ups were so clear that I never felt lost or confused.
“Drive!” is full of amazing, crazy (and sometimes, amazingly crazy) anecdotes that really give the reader a sense of the excited over this new invention. Even if you aren’t interested in the legal case, the jaw-dropping stories of early racing makes this an excellent read.

**I received this copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review** Professional Reader

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