Are We There Yet? The American Automobile Past, Present, and Driverless

Now that self-driving cars have finally arrived, n+1’s car critic, Dan Albert, asks, what’s to become of us?

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Tech giants and automakers have been teaching robots to drive.

Robot-controlled cars have already logged millions of miles. These technological marvels promise cleaner air, smoother traffic, and tens of thousands of lives saved. But even if robots turn into responsible drivers, are we ready to be a nation of passengers?

In Are We There Yet?, Dan Albert combines historical scholarship with personal narrative to explore how car culture has suffused America’s DNA. The plain, old-fashioned, human-driven car built our economy, won our wars, and shaped our democratic creed as it moved us about. Drivers ed made teenagers into citizens; auto repair made boys into men.

With fewer young people learning to drive, the rise of ride hailing, and electric motors replacing gasoline engines, the American automobile may have reached the end of the road. When the robots take over the driver’s seat, what’s to become of us?

Are We There Yet? carries us from muddy tracks to superhighways, from horseless buggies to driverless electric vehicles. Like any good road trip, it’s an adventure so fun you don’t even notice how much you’ve learned along the way.

Praise for

Are We There Yet? The American Automobile Past, Present, and Driverless

“An extreme­ly engag­ing work of nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion… His prose is wit­ty and smart, self-effac­ing and erudite.”

Jim Hahn, Univ. Lib., Univ. of Illinois, Urbana, Library Journal

“No mat­ter what the future holds, you’ll be bet­ter pre­pared to under­stand, engage with and even shape it after you read Are We There Yet?than you were before.”

—Edward Niedermeyer, The Drive

“From the ​‘in hon­or and in lov­ing mem­o­ry of’ ded­i­ca­tion at the begin­ning to the final car crash at the end, Albert nev­er los­es his clever, addic­tive­ly read­able voice.”

—Jeva Lange, “The Best Summer Books of 2019,” The Week

“He takes read­ers on a fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney cov­er­ing a lot of ground. An excep­tion­al work of scholarship.”

—Kirkus Starred Review

“A smart, well-writ­ten look at the sub­ject, full of insights…”

—Jason Fogelson, Forbes

“The clas­sic title hints at this wit­ty take on the his­to­ry, and future, of the Amer­i­can automobile.”

—“20 Hot Titles for Summer” Jane Henderson, St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Dan Albert is a unique voice in Amer­i­can let­ters — a his­to­ri­an of the car and its cul­ture with a driver’s pas­sion and a sense of the absurd. His wise, fun­ny, eru­dite tour of the Amer­i­can car and road is part mem­oir, part his­to­ry, part polemic. All of it is nec­es­sary. It’s like tak­ing a long dri­ve through the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry with some­one who can actu­al­ly iden­ti­fy the sights.”

—Keith Gessen, author of A Terrible Country

“Writ­ten in a wit­ty and infec­tious style, Are We There Yet? is a briskly paced guid­ed tour of the eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, geo­graph­ic, envi­ron­men­tal, and aspi­ra­tional influ­ences cars have had on Amer­i­cans, and vice ver­sa. Dan Albert makes this his­to­ry inter­est­ing and rel­e­vant in its own right while show­ing how it bears direct­ly on the most recent auto­mo­tive fron­tier: the much-antic­i­pat­ed dri­ver­less car. He reminds us how fun­da­men­tal­ly inter­twined the auto­mo­bile, the built envi­ron­ment, and human nature have been, and that they will remain so for the fore­see­able future.”

—Kevin L. Borg, author of Auto Mechanics: Technology and Expertise in Twentieth-Century America

“From Hen­ry Ford to Elon Musk, from seat belts to self-dri­ving cars, Dan Albert takes us on a kalei­do­scop­ic tour of the automobile’s evo­lu­tion, show­ing us how the future of trans­porta­tion can­not be under­stood with­out inves­ti­gat­ing the past.”

—Nathan Bomey, author of Detroit Resurrected: To Bankruptcy and Back

This is a per­fect nar­ra­tive for gear­heads, but those who spend time behind the wheel will also sure­ly enjoy the ride.

Publishers Weekly

The Great Amer­i­can Road Trip, 1992

Dan and Melissa cross 25 states on the (long) way from Maryland to Michigan

Before the days of GPS, we crossed the country with a Rand McNally and a good supply of highlighter pens.

1Departing Road Trip Highlighter Pen

Everyone said driving through Kansas would be boring, but we found it unforgettable. So much nothing. Expectantly gazing through the windshield to the vanishing point. The engine note held forever.

2Kansas Vanishing Point

By the time we reached the Pacific ocean, the musky scent of kangaroo rat no longer emanated from the air vents. But the Road Vermin (RVs) remained.

3Pacific Coast Road Vermin 3

The last photo of the Saab, still in good health. A few years later it would meet its demise in Brooklyn, a Swedish debutant gone to the big city for fame and fortune only to end up dead in the gutter with a needle in her arm.

4Saab Natchez Trace Lo Res

Media Appearances

Nov 04, 2019

The American sedan is dead. So what comes next?

For decades, these cars ruled American roads. But changes in design and consumer taste doomed them. It’s just about over for the American sedan.

Aug 23, 2019

Connections on WXXI Radio

Are cars in America reaching the end of the road?

Guests: Dan Albert and Howard Decker, architect and board member of the Community Design Center of Rochester.

Aug 17, 2019

Waymo’s Self-driving Tech Needs One Big Thing to Succeed

... More Humans

This Arizona town is overrun with self-driving cars — here’s what it’s like

Aug 16, 2019

Motley Fool Industry Focus Energy

The Past, Present, and Future of the Car with Dan Albert

Jul 16, 2019

Horace Dediu of Asymco and Judd Rubin Talk Auto History and EV-VWs

... The other thing is, Dan sold me a car...

Articles by Dan Albert