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American Autopia

An Intellectual History of the American Roadside at Midcentury
Gabrielle Esperdy

BUY Cloth · 384 pp. · 7 × 8 · ISBN 9780813942957 · $49.50 · Oct 2019
BUY Ebook · 384 pp. · ISBN 9780813943107 · $49.50 · Oct 2019

John Brinckerhoff Jackson Prize, Foundation for Landscape Studies (2021)

Early to mid-twentieth-century America was the heyday of a car culture that has been called an "automobile utopia." In American Autopia, Gabrielle Esperdy examines how the automobile influenced architectural and urban discourse in the United States from the earliest days of the auto industry to the aftermath of the 1970s oil crisis. Paying particular attention to developments after World War II, Esperdy creates a narrative that extends from U.S. Routes 1 and 66 to the Las Vegas Strip to California freeways, with stops at gas stations, diners, main drags, shopping centers, and parking lots along the way.

While it addresses the development of auto-oriented landscapes and infrastructures, American Autopia is not a conventional history, offering instead an exploration of the wide-ranging evolution of car-centric territories and drive-in typologies, looking at how they were scrutinized by diverse cultural observers in the middle of the twentieth century.

Drawing on work published in the popular and professional press, and generously illustrated with evocative images, the book shows how figures as diverse as designer Victor Gruen, geographer Jean Gottmann, theorist Denise Scott Brown, critic J.B. Jackson, and historian Reyner Banham constructed "autopia" as a place and an idea. The result is an intellectual history and interpretive roadmap to the United States of the Automobile.


"A singular book about underexamined evidence. While many of the cultural artifacts that Esperdy discusses will be familiar, her real subject is the intellectual matrix operating in the background of these artifacts, tying them together and capturing the cultural imagination. As is the case with her other works, in American Autopia she has developed a rigorous and unique book that expertly illuminates the period of 1945-73. Esperdy provides a prodigiously researched and nuanced reading of a broad array of sources and voices in the history of the U.S. roadway."

—Keller Easterling, Yale University, author of Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space

Esperdy (New Jersey Institute of Technology) has created a comprehensive, appropriately illustrated, and masterfully researched account of the impact of the automobile on the built environment and changing American attitudes about "autopia" from the early 20th century through mid-century, and on to the more recent past.


[F]or those readers who are especially interested in theways and means through which the motorcar has intersected with built culture, thisbook is well worth your time and effort.

Society of Automotive Historian Journal

About the Author(s): 

Gabrielle Esperdy, Associate Professor of Architecture and Design at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, is the author of Modernizing Main Street: Architecture and Consumer Culture in the New Deal.

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