Book Review: Last Best Hope, America in Crisis and Renewal

Cover of Last Best Hope by George Packard
Cover of Last Best Hope by George Packard
Book cover.

Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021-06-15) is an essay on the meaning of the year 2020. If the gift of the virus was to interrupt us, author George Packer uses the interruption to take a close look at America, a “long middle-aged stare in the mirror.” Packer’s examination puts our particular year in Portland into a larger context. His general analysis doesn’t perfectly fit our specifics, but it is a sharp lens through which to look at ourselves, and it helped me better understand our local issues.

The book is a cross between tough-love and a bad diagnosis from the doctor. This month’s Atlantic magazine excerpts a section in which Packer describes the fracturing of America into four parts, each with its own narrative and idea of what our country should be. He calls the parts Free, Real, Smart and Just America. Treat yourself and read this piece, it looks like it is available online free of charge.

Read more

Book Review: ‘Calling Bullshit’ will help you be a better advocate

Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World (Penguin Random House, 2020) is a much-needed guide for folks awash in numbers who are just trying to make informed decisions. Anyone working or advocating in transportation should read it.

The preface begins with a definition of bullshit and a discussion of its different types. The authors, Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West, a biologist and a data scientist at the University of Washington, distinguish between old-school and new-school bullshit. Their book focusses on the new-school type which “uses the language of math and science and statistics to create the impression of rigor and accuracy,” and they introduce the concept of “mathiness,” their analog to comedian Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.” Mathiness refers “to formulas and expressions that may look and feel like math—even as they disregard the logical coherence and formal rigor of actual mathematics.”

Each chapter guides the reader through topics like causality, selection bias, data visualization, and big data, with examples from contemporary news. The result is a topical, fast-paced and laugh-out-loud funny book.

Read more

Book Review: Policing the Open Road

The idea that cars = freedom is a pervasive American myth. The truth is that the rise of the automobile — and rampant illegal behaviors that have always accompanied it — helped give rise to an armed street security force that too often acts as judge, jury, and executioner.

Sarah Seo’s book, Policing the Open Road (2019, Harvard University Press), is a cultural history of how we arrived at the system we have today, told through the lens of jurisprudence and law enforcement. It’s about how governments scrambled to regulate the automobile revolution, about the overwhelming volume of laws they created, the need to make them uniform, and how the process of creating the rules of the road, and enforcing them, transformed America’s concept of privacy and freedom.

Take, for example, driving on the right side of the road. After being ticketed by a state trooper for driving on the wrong side, a man hired a lawyer who argued that there was no “wrong” side, that the law merely stated that you had to pull to the right when you met an oncoming car. That man had his day in court and won. It seems that proto-advisory shoulders were the law of the land in early 20th-century Iowa.

Read more

Book review: ‘Streetfight’ by Janette Sadik-Khan

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Our reviewer hard at work.

This is a guest post by Kiel Johnson.

A specter is haunting our cities — the specter of street life!

Our streets make up the vast majority of our public space in cities. How these spaces are designed have profound impacts on how we think about communities and the policies we create. Janette Sadik-Khan’s “Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution” is a necessary chronicle and persuasive argument for giving street space back to people. She writes “streets are the social, political, and commercial arteries of cities … These are the spaces where life and history happen.”

Last week, I presented to a group of business leaders in the Lloyd District, most of whom commute by car from the suburbs. I was talking about the Better Broadway project that will open one auto lane of Broadway up for businesses and people for one week next month.

Read more

Book Review: Our Bodies, Our Bikes

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

The cover art is a nod to The Sprockettes,
a mini-bike dance team based in Portland.

[Publisher’s note: Please welcome our new writer Jessie Kwak. She’ll be writing a range of stories, including a monthly product review. – Jonathan]

As a woman who’s been riding her bike for years, I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with my gender-specific cycling needs – mostly through awkwardly-broached conversations with other women who bike. There are a lot of questions that no one wants to ask. “Are you supposed to wear underwear under those padded bike shorts?” “Is it weird that I’m constantly starving since I started bike commuting?” And the biggie: “How do you make it stop hurting you-know-where?”

Reading Our Bodies, Our Bikes, a new book edited by Elly Blue and April Streeter (and funded via a Kickstarter campaign), is a lot like having those weird conversations. Just in loud, joyful voices using poetic turns of phrase.

The book is full of essays by women willing to delve into the most intimate parts of their lives as openly as if they were knocking back a few beers with their girlfriends.

Read more

Book review: Pedal Portland by Todd Roll

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Book: Pedal Portland: 25 Easy Rides for Exploring the City by Bike
Author: Todd Roll
Publisher: Timber Press, 2014
Price: $16.95

Reviewed by Nicholas Von Pless

Around this time of year, I’m inviting friends from afar to enjoy the summer we yearn for after a long slog of grey and rain. But with some dry spells and surprising summery days this winter, I was able to get a preview of the rides illustrated in Pedal Portland, the new book from Todd Roll. (If Roll’s name sounds familiar that’s because he also owns and runs Pedal Bike Tours (and he also happens to be the guy who commissioned the now infamous “America’s Bicycle Capital” mural.)

In Pedal Portland, Roll outlines 25 rides that cover the entire region. From familiar bikeways in the central city to regional gems in Gresham, Hillsboro, and Vancouver. Like the guided bike tours offered by Roll’s company, the skill level of the routes ranges from very easy to pretty easy, which is great for my out-of-town friends, and great for reinvigorating the fair-weather riders of our fine city.

Read more

Book Review: Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Rides in Washington

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Cover of Cycle Sojourner: Washington

Publisher’s note: Two years ago we took a look at Portland author Ellee Thalheimer’s first Cycling Sojourner guidebook that covered the best rides in Oregon. Now she’s back with a Washington edition that’s due out next month. BikePortland contributor Nicholas Von Pless received an advanced copy and shares his review below. — Jonathan

Around this time last year, I had just a couple longer distance rides under my belt: there was a two-day jaunt from Portland to Eugene (the first and last trip done without cycling shorts), and a few all-day rides within 30 miles of the city. But I wanted to get out and explore more. Fortunately, I had Ellee Thalheimer’s Cycling Sojourner, a companion for cycling through all of Oregon’s celebrated lands – from the treasured Painted Hills to the rolling vineyards of McMinnville. With Thalheimer’s expert guidance, I was turned on to some of the greatest adventures to be had on two wheels.

So on the cusp of another beautiful summer’s riding season, it was a no-brainer to again look to Ellee for guidance. And she delivers in her second installment, Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Washington.

Read more

Book Review: Cyclopedia – It’s All About the Bike

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

When a book says it’s “all about the bike” and proudly displays images of disassembled bike components on its cover I assume it will eventually be sitting on a shelf in my garage, close to a pedal wrench and a bottle of chain lube.

William Fotheringham’s Cyclopedia from Chicago Review Press is far from the repair manual its cover makes it look like. The book also is not a dry compendium as the word “cyclopedia” might imply.

Instead, it’s a deep dive into the rich knowledge of Fotheringham, built on his over 30 years of experience reporting on professional cycling. While the book includes plenty of technical information, the entries are grounded in historical context.

Read more

Book Review: How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Publisher’s note: Despite a recent BTA survey showing that 90% of respondents own a car, many people are finding that living without one (or several) is not only possible but enjoyable. Even the New York Times has noticed that in America, people are falling out of love with cars.

On that note, here’s a review of a very highly recommended book about how to take the carfree (or just car-light) plunge. It was originally published by Elisa Munoz on her Birmingham, Alabama-based blog Bike Skirt, and has been republished here with her permission. We’re looking forward to publishing more reviews from Munoz in the future.

Read more

A review of Jeff Mapes’ book, Pedaling Revolution

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
National Bike Summit - Day two-34

Author Jeff Mapes (R) speaking
with the BTA’s Scott Bricker at the
2009 National Bike Summit.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Author and senior political reporter for The Oregonian, Jeff Mapes, will be at Powell’s Books tonight to talk about his new book, Pedaling Revolution.

Mapes is riding a wave of excellent reviews and buzz about his book. The influential Library Journal (which many schools and libraries base their purchasing decisions on) gave it a coveted “highly recommended” rating. Library Journal said the book is, “a deftly drawn portrait of contemporary bike culture and politics,” is that it is “readable and engaging”. But, far from being something only the staid Library Journal could love, the Willamette Week also liked it.

Read more