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One for the Road

Paperback
, 248 pages

10 b&w photos

ISBN:
9781421407746
September 2012
$22.95

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One for the Road

Drunk Driving since 1900

Don’t drink and drive. It's a deceptively simple rule, but one that is all too often ignored. And while efforts to eliminate drunk driving have been around as long as automobiles, every movement to keep drunks from driving has hit some alarming bumps in the road.

Barron H. Lerner narrates the two strong—and vocal—sides to this debate in the United States: those who argue vehemently against drunk driving, and those who believe the problem is exaggerated and overregulated. A public health professor and historian of medicine, Lerner asks why these opposing views exist, examining drunk driving in the context of American beliefs about alcoholism, driving, individualism, and civil liberties.

Angry and bereaved activist leaders and advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaign passionately for education and legislation, but even as people continue to be killed, many Americans remain unwilling to take stronger steps to address the problem. Lerner attributes this attitude to Americans’ love of drinking and love of driving, an inadequate public transportation system, the strength of the alcohol lobby, and the enduring backlash against Prohibition. The stories of people killed and maimed by drunk drivers are heartrending, and the country’s routine rejection of reasonable strategies for ending drunk driving is frustratingly inexplicable.

This book is a fascinating study of the culture of drunk driving, grassroots and professional efforts to stop it, and a public that has consistently challenged and tested the limits of individual freedom. Why, despite decades and decades of warnings, do people still choose to drive while intoxicated? One for the Road provides crucial historical lessons for understanding the old epidemic of drunk driving and the new epidemic of distracted driving.

Barron H. Lerner is a physician, historian, and professor of medicine and public health at Columbia University. He is the author of Contagion and Confinement: Controlling Tuberculosis along the Skid Road and When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine, both also published by Johns Hopkins, and The Breast Cancer Wars: Hope, Fear, and the Pursuit of a Cure in Twentieth-Century America, winner of the William H. Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine and named a notable book by the American Library Association.

"Dr. Lerner’s account of the long relationship between the automobile and the beverage—on both a corporate and a consumer level—is dogged, comprehensive and occasionally quite surprising."

"In the libertarian society of the US, Americans acknowledge their rights, which include driving automobiles and consuming alcoholic beverages. Innocuous independently, combined they have plagued the country for over 100 years."

"Lerner has done a beautiful job of tracing the degree to which celebrity patients have reflected and shaped the modern American understanding of doctors, patients, and illness."

"Lerner has created a powerful prism through his thoughtful exploration of celebrity illness, highlighting societal and cultural forces that widely affect public and private health care decisions."

"We can learn quite a bit about our society, culture, and values from the way celebrities' illnesses are publicly portrayed... Lerner is at his best when he uses his considerable narrative skills to place these stories into their broader historical, cultural, and ethical contexts."

"In Lerner's capable hands, these dozen stories in their retelling are both colorfully dramatic narratives, ripped from the headlines (as the saying now goes) and also probing samples of historically specific contingencies and shifting attitudes."

"Well written and passionately argued, the text explores how Americans' historic "love of alcohol, love of driving, and more abstractly, love of freedom and individual liberties" spawned a complex, centurylong, and at times self-defeating battle with drunk drivers."

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