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From the adolescent thrill of getting a driver's license to the dreaded commutes of adulthood, from vintage muscle cars to electric vehicles, this groundbreaking book reveals the outsized impact the car has had—and will continue to have—on the lives of women.
Since their inception cars have defined American culture, but until quite recently car histories were largely written by and about men—with little attention given to the fascinating story of women and cars.
In this engaging non-fiction narrative, Nancy A. Nichols, the daughter of a used car salesman, uses the cars her father sold and the ones her family drove to tell a larger story about how the car helped to define modern womanhood. From her sister’s classic Mustang to her mother’s Chevy Convertible to her own Honda minivan, Nichols tells a personal story in order to shed light on a universal one.
Cars helped women secure the right to vote, changed the nature of romance, and influenced both fashion and child rearing customs. In the just over 100 years since their inception, cars have created possibilities for commerce and romance even as they exposed women to new kinds of danger.
Women Behind the Wheel explores the uniquely gendered landscape of the automobile, detailing the many reasons why cars are both more expensive and more dangerous for women drivers.
The automobile is on the cusp of momentous change. As we advance into the era of electric, connected, and autonomous vehicles, Nichols shows us why we should hit the brakes and look back in the rear-view mirror at this long and fascinating history.
What is the role of the car in our lives? Should we be more skeptical of technology in our society? In Women Behind the Wheel, Nichols argues convincingly that only by understanding the many ways the car has changed us, can we hope to prepare ourselves for this brave new era.
About the Author
Nancy A. Nichols is the author of Lake Effect: Two Sisters and a Town’s Toxic Legacy. She is a journalist, editor, and former broadcaster whose writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Book Review, The Harvard Business Review, The Nation and more.
“A unique and captivating history of women and the automobile. Nichols interweaves meticulous and intriguing research into engineering and advertising history with poignant reflections on how automobiles have played an outsized role in her own family. Marked by the author’s keen eye for detail and irony alike, this perceptive study will compel readers to reevaluate their own relationship with cars.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Nichols has engineered an engaging book about how the invention of the automobile both liberated and limited women. She smoothly shifts gears between nostalgia and narrative, family memoir and muscle cars. Evocative and powered by facts. Eager to get behind the wheel, women were still arrested by stereotypes of women drivers and societal expectations about how far and fast they could go. For men cars promised the open road; for women it meant errands and carpools. As a ‘motown girl,’ whose first car was a Mustang, I enjoyed Women Behind the Wheel very much.”
— Elisabeth Griffith, PhD, author of Formidable: American Women and the Fight for Equality, 1920-2020, a New York Times Editor's Choice
“Women Behind the Wheel is a joyous combination of autobiography, history and romance. Nancy A. Nichols celebrates the way cars made the modern world and defined the lives of modern women. Witty, moving and impassioned, this book leads women triumphantly into the once male-dominated automotive space.”
— Bryan Appleyard, author of The Car
Praise for Nancy A. Nichols and Lake Effect
"A chilling indictment of how government and big business prized profits over health and a moving tale of one woman's struggle to understand why."
"Engaging and well-told."
— The Washington Post Book World
"I read this book like a desert hiker drinks water—in great, thankful gulps. It's a scientific investigation of the most intimate sort. It's a family memoir with public policy implications. 'Stories matter,' says Nancy Nichols. And then she proves it."
— Sandra Steingraber, biologist and author of "Living Downstream"
"A fast-moving, urgent narrative.
— Publishers Weekly