I just finished reading INGENIOUS, by Jason Fagone.
The first thing that I can tell you is that it is NOT a book about the Automotive X-Prize. It’s about motivation; people and what drives them.
I’ve heard it said that “All stories are about people.” I’d take that even further and say that technology is about people as well. It’s about the objects we use to interact with the world around us. In our modern world, especially in the United States, few objects better represent that than the car.
Perhaps that’s why the X-Prize Foundation chose to create the Progressive Automotive X-Prize, because cars have such a great influence over each of us on a very personal level every day and collectively in our society in general. Changing the car would be no small thing. It would have the potential to change our society and our view of the world. In Jason Fagone’s latest book, he chronicle’s the stories of the people behind the cars.
The book primarily follows four of the X -Prize teams. It’s clear that the author did extensive research and interviews to provide a thorough background of the “characters” in the book. We begin by reading about a husband and wife in the cornfields of Illinois and then fly backwards in time to Charles Lindberg to understand the motivation for the original X-Prize and then pour into Lynchberg, Tennessee, where a very light lug-nut is only the tip of the iceberg.
The book reads like a novel, not a recent history, with colorful characters and lively dialogue. We are introduced to not just the four teams, but also the supporting cast of mechanics, designers, judges, and financiers. The detailed accounts follow these people back to their origins, their childhoods, to the places they were formed. Playing with model rockets, tinkering with toy boats. Learning life lessons playing chess against an old man. It’s almost as though through the book, we are able to read into the minds of each of these people.
I must admit that when I originally heard the announcement of the X-Prize, I was very excited. I was in the middle of my own tinkering and inventing, building an electric motorcycle and electric car in my driveway. Finally, a chance for somebody other than Detroit to have some real influence on a stagnant industry! My excitement over the contest quickly waned as I heard of on-the-fly rule changes and irrelevant requirements. Heck, my 130 MPGe Electro-Metro wouldn’t even qualify to enter because the trunk was too small! Was the contest asking too much?
The contest entrants all had to wrestle with budgets and frustrations. Finding funding. Digging up the talent needed. Late nights and cold pizza. We are dragged into a world of emotion – of highs and lows as the contest progresses.
If Reality TV was GOOD, and in a book form, this would be it. INGENIOUS is a true story, told well, about real people and events. It reveals the emotions, the desire, and the drive that humanity has to create, to improve, to invent. It’s inspirational in what we can do when challenged with a nearly impossible goal.
The book is much in the same vein as non-fictional technology stories such as THE LOST CORD, ELECTRIC DREAMS, SOLO, and WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR. If any of those are are your “to-watch”/”to-read” lists, you’ll want to check out INGENIOUS.
Have your read the book yet? Let me know what you think.