A brilliant takedown of SUVs. The New Republic published it a couple of weeks ago, but only last night did I have a chance to sit down and read Gregg Easterbrook's brilliant, entertaining, and only occasionally overwrought essay on SUVs. Titled "Axle of Evil," the piece is notionally a review of Keith Bradsher's book High and Mighty: SUVs -- The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way.
But Easterbrook's essay takes on a life of its own, from original sin (Richard Nixon's decision to exempt Jeeps from environmental regulations; it always comes back to Nixon, doesn't it?); to Arnold Schwarzenegger's role in making the Humvee a commercial success ("The Hummer screams to the world the words that stand as one of Schwarzenegger's signature achievements as an actor: 'Fuck you, asshole!' Maybe this class of vehicles should be called FUVs."); to Senate majority leader Bill Frist's heroic, unsuccessful attempt to save the lives of two children in an SUV-rollover accident ("Will Frist become an advocate of SUV reform, or will he return to Washington and join his colleagues in the next round of cover-ups and exemptions?").
Weirdly, the person who may be damaged the most by Easterbrook's piece is Bradsher, even though his book is described as "dazzling," in the tradition of Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed and Ida Tarbell's The History of Standard Oil. That's because the review clocks in at just shy of 10,000 words. Having read Easterbrook's remarkably comprehensive overview of the sordid history of the SUV, I can't imagine needing to know more.
On the other hand, High and Mighty has been on bookshelves since last fall. Maybe Easterbrook will draw renewed attention to it.