Drive On, P.J., Drive On

America's favorite rich, conservative satirist revisits his reckless youth and finds much to like.

Reviewing a book by P.J. O'Rourke is always a challenge, because the temptation is not to comment on it so much as simply excerpt from it. For example, this line from O'Rourke's most recent book, "Driving Like Crazy":

"It's time to say ... how shall we put it? ... sayonara to the American car. The American automotive industry - GM, Ford, even Chrysler - will live on in some form, a Marley's ghost dragging its corporate chains at taxpayer expense."

Or this rant against those who gain personal power by depriving others of the right to do as they please, even when that involves mixing big cars, powerful intoxicants and fast women:

"The Fun Suckers started small, with seat belts to make sure we'd be trapped inside flaming car wrecks and padded dashboards so we wouldn't injure our knuckles while pounding the dashboards in frustration as we burned to death."

And those two samples are just from the introduction.

The bulk of Driving Like Crazy is reprints of automotive essays O'Rourke penned for magazines like Car & Driver, Automobile and Esquire during what he subtitles as his "Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-bending." There are a couple of new works to bring his volume up to date, and he says that the original essays have been edited and significantly "de'car'ed" After all, who really cares what a bad job Dodge did trying to turn the K-car into a sports sedan with a cable shift 20 years ago? "You can take a lot of the car out of automotive writing and if you are any good at all as a writer what you've got left is travel writing," says O'Rourke. And a car is an active character, practically a member of the family, in most of our travels. "That's true of the blandest and most modest automobile as well as it is of the fanciest."

The essays are still wonderful time capsules, recapturing some of the mad possibilities and lost freedoms of the open road and harkening back to those days when you could drive a "nonsustainable, resource-sucking, planet-boiling, road-hogging murder wagon" - formerly known as an SUV - with patriotic pride.

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