Synopses & Reviews
With cities across the country adding miles of bike lanes and building bike-share stations, bicycling is enjoying a new surge of popularity in America. It seems that every generation or two, Americans rediscover the freedom of movement, convenience, and relative affordability of the bicycle. The earliest two-wheeler, the draisine, arrived in Philadelphia in 1819 and astonished onlookers with the possibility of propelling themselves “like lightning.” Two centuries later, the bicycle is still the fastest way to cover ground on gridlocked city streets.
Filled with lively stories, The Mechanical Horse reveals how the bicycle transformed American life. As bicycling caught on in the nineteenth century, many of the country’s rough, rutted roads were paved for the first time, laying a foundation for the interstate highway system. Cyclists were among the first to see the possibilities of self-directed, long-distance travel, and some of them (including a fellow named Henry Ford) went on to develop the automobile. Women shed their cumbersome Victorian dresses—as well as their restricted gender roles—so they could ride. And doctors recognized that aerobic exercise actually benefits the body, which helped to modernize medicine. Margaret Guroff demonstrates that the bicycle’s story is really the story of a more mobile America—one in which physical mobility has opened wider horizons of thought and new opportunities for people in all avenues of life.
"Guroff has penned a fascinating account of how such a seemingly simple invention could have such a global impact." Baltimore magazine
"Guroff’s fluid and lively writing imparts knowledge without sounding dry or pretentious. A worthy addition to sport and sport history collections." Library Journal
"[A] dazzling cultural history of the bicycle...Guroff peppers these historical accounts with lively quotes from primary documents and her own sharp, modern insight. As she makes plain, it’s not just cyclists who have bicycles to thank for the way they get around—it’s everybody. And that makes The Mechanical Horse worth a read for the most avowed drivers, too." CityLab
"Fascinating...Guroff does an admirable job reminding us of the bicycle’s lasting influence...[Her] book provides a colorful and helpful map of where we’ve been, and where we all might go from here." The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Margaret Guroff is a magazine editor. She is also the editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick, an online annotation of Herman Melville’s classic novel. She teaches writing at the Johns Hopkins University.