Town Hall Seattle Livestream: Tom Standage — A Brief History of Motion

This virtual event is presented by Town Hall Seattle. Learn more here.

Horse poop propelled us into automobiles. In the early 20th century there were health concerns over all the manure taking up urban streets. That said, we shifted from an actual horse’s power to shifting into Fords and all sorts of other mechanical personal vehicles. By doing that, we reshaped cities and, further, human society.

In A Brief History of Motion, journalist Tom Standage gives a brisk, entertaining look at how we got from point A to point B throughout history. From the origins of the wheel (likely first made in the Carpathian Mountains during the Copper Age), Standage moves through the eras of horses, trains, bicycles, and the mighty automobile. In each step, he illuminates how we’ve been shaped by these inventions and asks important questions like, “Why does red mean stop and green mean go?” “Why do some countries drive on the left, and some on the right?” and “What might travel in a post-car world look like?” Our relationship with personal transportation has evolved and is ever-evolving (we’re moving into an era of rideshares and electric cars— when are we going to finally get personal jet packs?) and Standage asserts that understanding how the modern world came to be is key in moving forward.

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About A Brief History of Motion. . .

From the bestselling author of A History of the World in 6 Glasses, an eye-opening road trip through 5,500 years of humans on the go, revealing how transportation inevitably shapes civilization.

Tom Standage's fleet-footed and surprising global histories have delighted readers and cemented his reputation as one of our leading interpreters of technologies past and present. Now, he returns with a provocative account of a sometimes-overlooked form of technology-personal transportation-and explores how it has shaped societies and cultures over millennia.

Beginning around 3,500 BCE with the wheel--a device that didn't catch on until a couple thousand years after its invention--Standage zips through the eras of horsepower, trains, and bicycles, revealing how each successive mode of transit embedded itself in the world we live in, from the geography of our cities to our experience of time to our notions of gender. Then, delving into the history of the automobile's development, Standage explores the social resistance to cars and the upheaval that their widespread adoption required. Cars changed how the world was administered, laid out, and policed, how it looked, sounded, and smelled--and not always in the ways we might have preferred.

Today—after the explosive growth of ride-sharing and years of breathless predictions about autonomous vehicles—the social transformations spurred by coronavirus and overshadowed by climate change create a unique opportunity to critically reexamine our relationship to the car. With A Brief History of Motion, Standage overturns myths, considers roads not taken, and invites us to look at our past with fresh eyes so we can create the future we want to see.

Tom Standage is digital editor at the Economist and editor-in-chief of its website, He is the author of six history books, including An Edible History of Humanity, the New York Times bestseller A History of the World in Six Glasses and The Victorian Internet. His writing has also appeared in the Daily Telegraph, the New York Times and Wired. He lives in London.

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