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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

March 21, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

CAR TROUBLE: How New Technology, Clean Fuels, and Creative Thinking Can Revive the Auto Industry and Save Our Cities From Smog and Gridlock by Steve Nadis and James J. MacKenzie (Beacon Press: $27.50 cloth, $12 paper; 229 pp.). Books sponsored by institutions usually suffer from two related maladies: first, the need to be comprehensive, and second, studied prose. The World Resource Institute's "Car Trouble," happily, is thorough but not tedious, a result of the fact that the car world isn't nearly as monolithic as one might assume. It's full of oddball, progressive developments, such as the Rabbit modified to run on vegetable oil recycled from fast-food joints (leading one wag to comment "It's like driving behind a french-fry machine") or German car manufacturers' now stamping codes on plastic parts because 80% of them must be recyclable by 1995 in many European countries. This book is full of such factoids--it contains 591 citations--and most work toward convincing the reader that America's obsession with the automobile is hazardous in every way imaginable, from health and culture to finance and global politics. Convincing? Generally speaking, yes, although the authors--physicist James MacKenzie and science journalist Steve Nadis--also demonstrate in their discussion of new technology that many of the problems caused by cars are being seriously confronted. "Car Trouble" is intended as ideological ammunition, but even car buffs will find it useful for its summation of developments in modern automobile culture.

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