HIGHWAYS TO HEAVEN by Christopher Finch

HIGHWAYS TO HEAVEN

The AUTO Biography of America
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Cultural historian Finch (co-author, Gone Hollywood, 1979; Rainbow, 1975) deftly examines Americans' auto eroticism and the revolutionary alterations it has made in the country's landscape. Most of the sources Finch uses are secondary histories, and some of his material--such as the sexual symbolism of the automobile--has been discussed so often as to be hackneyed. The coverage of topics is also standard: from the early innovations of Germany's Daimler and Benz and America's Duryea brothers through L.A.'s development as the first decentralized, auto-centered city, down to the crunching oil crises of the 1970's. Yet Finch excels in detailing how autos have expressed the deepest impulses of the American psyche. ``Nothing,'' he notes, ``has played a more potent role in the waking dreams of twentieth-century Americans than the automobile.'' Often ironically, he underscores correspondences between the car and other aspects of popular culture, such as the fashion and movie industries. He is tugged between concern over the ills bred by the automobile and affection for its frequently raffish ``kitsch culture'' progeny, including diners, billboards, shopping centers, motels, and franchise operations like McDonald's. He also turns in fascinating analyses of the car's role in crime; the ``geographic restlessness'' permeating Raymond Chandler's glimpses of L.A.; and the development of hilly, even mountainous areas. Even as automobile body-types have become homogenized, Finch shows, Americans continue to personalize their vehicles through vanity license plates, custom vans, and bumper stickers. He suggests that such individualism should be taken into account as legislators propose remedies for oil-induced ills like smog, excess traffic, and gas shortages. A bracing tour through 20th-century American culture. (One hundred b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 15th, 1992
ISBN: 0-06-016551-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992