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The War on Cars

The War on Cars brings you news and commentary on the latest developments in the worldwide fight to undo a century's worth of damage wrought by the automobile and make cities better. Hosted by Doug Gordon, Sarah Goodyear and Aaron Naparstek and produced by Curtis Fox. Music by Nathaniel Goodyear. Logo by Dani Finkel/Crucial D.

Oct 10, 2023

This year, 2023, marks the hundredth anniversary since chemical engineer Thomas Midgley, Jr. made the discoveries that led to the invention of leaded gasoline. Of all the many harms that the automobile has caused the environment and humanity over the last century, the effects of leaded gasoline have to be pretty close to the top of the list. Science and industry were well aware of the dangers of lead in the 1920s. But adding small amounts of it to motor fuel made internal combustion engines work better, and that made it possible to turn the automobile into a viable mass market product. As a result, pretty much every American born between 1960 and 1980 was, to some extent, poisoned by lead. In this episode, bestselling author Steven Johnson joins Aaron Naparstek to talk about Midgley, his legacy, and what his story can teach us about our technological inventions and their future consequences.  

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The Man Who Broke the World” by Steven Johnson for the New York Times Magazine, March 15, 2023. 

Find more of Steven Johnson’s work on his website.

Subscribe to Steven’s newsletter, Adjacent Possible.

Find all thirteen of Steven’s books here. War on Cars fans will enjoy The Ghost Map -- it’s a page-turner of a mystery/thriller about urban planning and epidemiology. You can buy Steven’s books at our store

Interested in digging deeper into the history of leaded gasoline? Check out Toxic Truth by Lydia Denworth. 

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