In this history of the automobile in American industry, trade and society, Flink says that he addresses himself to people under thirty--""the young dislike long-windedness""--and that he means to be provocative and controversial. But it is hard to be controversial about universally known facts: that the monolithic Big Three make cars that are murderously overpriced, overpowered, overweight, Underbraked, undertired (stylishly small tires for dinosaurs), fuel-wasting and hideous. Nor has he found a lively, concise style (""The automobile industry further solidified into a tight, joint-profit-maximizing oligopoly""). With only six per cent of the world's population, we own over half the world's motor vehicles, and the effect of that ""automobility"" upon the nation's consciousness and mores could be the delight of a cultural anthropologist--which flink is not. By far his two most stimulating chapters--they even admit anecdote--are on Henry Ford, who could have walked into the Presidency in the '20's had he wanted it (his last ten years as sovereign of Ford Motors were quite deranged) and on Billy Durant, founder of General Motors and a fabulously colorful stock promoter and wheeler-dealer. He also does well in showing how automobility opened up the South and rural areas everywhere, but made city dwellers less neighborly. But his socioeconomic tone almost never relaxes into incident: the quality of life is reported, not dramatized--all is Capitalism, not culture. Perhaps the illustrations--which look great--will counter the fact that this is not exactly tagged with an under-thirty price.