In 2007, the X Prize Foundation announced that it would give $10 million to anyone who could build a safe, mass-producible car that could travel one hundred miles on the energy equivalent of a gallon of gas. The challenge attracted more than one hundred teams from all over the world, including dozens of amateurs. Many designed their cars entirely from scratch, rejecting decades of thinking about what a car should look like.
Jason Fagone follows four of those teams from the build stage to the final race and beyond - into a world in which destiny hangs on a low drag coefficient and a lug nut can be a beautiful talisman. The result is a gripping story of crazy collaboration, absurd risks, colossal hopes, and poignant losses. In an old pole barn in central Illinois, childhood sweethearts hack together an electric-powered dreamboat, using scavenged parts, forging their own steel, and burning through their life savings. In Virginia, an impassioned entrepreneur and his hand-picked squad of speed freaks pool their imaginations and build a car so light that you can push it across the floor with your thumb. In West Philly, a group of disaffected high school students come into their own as they create a hybrid car with the engine of a Harley motorcycle. And in Southern California, the early favorite - a start-up backed by millions in venture capital-designs a car that looks like an alien egg.
Ingenious is a joyride. Fagone takes us into the garages and the minds of the inventors, capturing the fractious yet beautiful process of engineering a bespoke machine. Suspenseful and bighearted, this is the story of ordinary people risking failure, economic ruin, and ridicule to create something vital that Detroit had never pulled off. As the Illinois team wrote in chalk on the wall of their barn, "SOMEBODY HAS TO DO SOMETHING. THAT SOMEBODY IS US."
©2013 Jason Fagone (P)2013 Tantor
Interests in Design/Engineering, Architecture, & History
Yes, that headline's a quote from an Apple advertisement, but yet somehow fit so well to describe the cast of characters gathered in pursuit of creating a 100 mpge car. The book is extensively researched, the characters so finely presented, the passion so tangibly presented, you feel as if you are listening to a movie. I almost wonder how the author was so fortunate to have ring side seats for so many teams all the way from concepts to victory, and he does a great job following up post-competition as well.
To put my opinion into perspective, I've been getting into design/engineering books lately, and I listened to the Steve Jobs bio, the Jony Ive bio, the story of the AK-47 and Glock, and books on Nikola Tesla.
If you've enjoyed any of those books, you must listen to this one - this is the best non-fiction book on engineering and design that I have read, in part because the story remains about design, and not business success, for the simple reason that most of the teams spend vast sums of money and time and perhaps have little financial gain.
The author's criticisms are fairly leveled at the X Prize Car competition itself, a competition which set out a difficult mission that ended up so demanding that at the end, only the crazy ones, the misfits and the rebels are the ones who remained. The prize asked for a 100 mpge car, and that's what they got, however it never was able to create an industry the way the first Space X Prize was able to generate corporate enthusiasm for space tourism. it does not seem there is much to show from the efforts of these people just yet. You'll feel that pain too, and yet still appreciate and respect their accomplishments.
(While Tesla seems to be doing well right now, they were early withdrawals from the competition, and their initial approach of luxury vehicles is not the approach the X Prize competition was designed to cultivate.)
This really is about dreamers. visionaries, because not all dreamers and visionaries will necessarily become financially successful or their full dream realized- and yet they'll still be out there, building their machines with passion that borders on religion.
You can't help but be inspired in some way, perhaps to become motivated to do things you've dreamt of doing but for some reason never had. And what is a better reason to get a book than that.
You don't need to be an automotive gear head or an engineer to enjoy this story. Jason Fagone has a talent for taking technical concepts and making them easy for the reader to grasp.
Much of the book reads like a novel. It has great "characters" and a real forward momentum. You feel like you are there experiencing the struggles, triumphs and failures of the competing teams.
Verner's performance captured the sound of the dialogue so well. It was wonderful to hear him read the scenes.
I did literally laugh out loud, snort, tear up, and at one point pump my fist in the air and say "yes!"
This is one of the best written non-fiction books I have read in a long time. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves cheering for the underdogs or has an interest in inventing the future they want to live in.
An interesting idea for a book, with some fascinating details about folks making wonderful cars.
But then—how much do I care about the personal habits, love life, superstitions, childhood trauma, etc. that made them what they are?
As I'm listening, I'm also thinking, "What do I care if what'shisname was engaged to what'shername in the 1070's, but it didn't work out because of jealousy over someoneelse, and not graduating high school due to motherinlaw's bla, bla,bla..."
If this were a book on building cars, which it sometimes is, it would be great. As it is, it's clogged with uninteresting detail about who lived with who, and the desires of somebody to have a child with... Oh, my! I couldn't care less!!!
Apparently, there just wasn't enough stuff about building high-efficiency cars that the author could understand to fill a book.
Good narration, though.
This is a terrific book about a bunch of underdogs doing what Detroit and Tokyo could not or would not do: build a car that gets 100 miles per gallon. It is a work of non-fiction with characters that could have stepped out of a novel, quick pacing, and dramatic tension. Fagone tells the story of the Automotive X PRIZE by highlighting four teams of inventors, entrepreneurs, and dreamers who embark on an international competition designed to set the automotive industry on a path to increased fuel efficiency. While the goal of the X PRIZE doesn't seem to have been reached, the scope of work done by the various teams is truly inspirational.
I loved all the characters, but the best drawn were Kevin Smith and Oliver Kuttner. I came away from the book with a great affection and understanding of what drove their competitive spirits and desire to build.
The narrator was wonderfully fitted to the tale of a bunch of gritty inventors.
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