By Tom Vanderbilt Knopf; 402 pages
"For those of us who are not brain surgeons, driving is probably the most complex everyday thing we do," writes design journalist Vanderbilt in this look at the intricacies of the open road. Full of scads of cocktail-party factoids (half of all American road crashes occur at intersections; Saturday afternoons see more congestion than the typical rush hour), Traffic piles up fact after study after data point into an occasionally mind-numbing heap. Yet several of Vanderbilt's conclusions are eye-opening. Example: "We all think we are better drivers than we are." Propelled onto the road after a minimum of training, most drivers never again receive feedback on their performance unless they are involved in an accident. In terms of traffic engineering, Vanderbilt endorses commonsensical solutions: roundabouts over intersections (they cause drivers to pay more attention), congestion pricing (fewer cars on the road) and the "all-purpose solution to safer roads" (lower speed limits). Each is, of course, anathema to freedom-loving, fast-driving, car-obsessed Americans.