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Four good books about cars and the auto industry

Headed for a vacation this summer? You might be tempted to spend a lazy day with a good read. Here are some new books involving cars that will satisfy the urge for a great summer read.

The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways by Earl Swift; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 384 pages ($27)

Former Virginian-Pilot reporter Earl Swift has done something that hasn't been done before: assembled an entertaining, coherent history of America's highway system. It starts back at the dawn of the automobile, involving auto industry titans such as Carl Fisher and Henry P. Joy. But most of the book revolves around the man who did the most to develop America's highway system, and it wasn't President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was Thomas MacDonald, who ran the Bureau of Public Roads from 1919 until his forced retirement in 1953. Beyond MacDonald, Swift follows not just the development of American highways, but the voices that recently have risen up against them. He doesn't have an ax to grind; he is merely presenting events as they happened, shedding light on the true history of the roads that have reshaped America.

Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business by Bob Lutz; Portfolio, 256 pages ($26.95)

Former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz, after a successful stint at Chrysler, was recruited to help fix things at GM. His new book is filled with hilarious insider anecdotes of a company that was so consumed by developing cars as quickly as Toyota, they allowed MBAs to rule product development rather than design, which for decades developed GM cars and trucks. The book is pure Lutz, a man who proudly wears his motto, "Often wrong, but never in doubt." While he admits to his failures, he also lamely blames the government and the media for hindering GM's success. It's a great read, one of this year's best.

Witch Hunt: Essays on the U.S. Auto Industry by Peter M. De Lorenzo; Octane Press, 348 pages ($37.95)

This is the second collection of columns from Peter De Lorenzo, who rants about the ins and outs of the auto business on his website, More so than the first book, this tome chronicles that sad dance of decline among the Detroit Three. Thankfully, he adds context to each column, as some of the events he talks about aren't ones that readily spring to mind. De Lorenzo doesn't hold back, although his criticisms come from a central point: He loves the domestic industry and wants it to survive and thrive. The only sour note is his use of foul language, which lends his writing an amateurish tone.

My First Car by Matt Stone; Motorbooks, 224 pages ($25)

Quick. What was your first car? Bet you have a story to go along with it. Motor Trend editor Matt Stone asked the question of some top race cars drivers and celebrities, including Jay Leno, Mario Andretti, Patrick Dempsey, Danica Patrick, Sir Stirling Moss and Gregg Allman. This is the quintessential summer read: lightweight, entertaining and with short chapters for those with short attention spans. Each chapter is illustrated by period photos of the person's car. It's a fun read, as effervescent as a summer day.

Four good books about cars and the auto industry 07/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 4:30am]
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