Wheels of Change by Sue Macy

The subtitle of this book is “How Women the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way), which was frankly too long to type up above, but is a very accurate concise summary of this book.

Like the Leonard Bernstein book, and the Rhys Bowen novels I’ve been reading, this was a very interesting look at popular culture/daily life of a time period that I don’t know too much about (late 1800s/turn of the century.)  It’s all about how bicycling became popular in America and specifically how it became popular with women who were able to make tremendous leaps towards independence with it.  I kept being reminded of a scene in The American Heiress, which I loved (and just searched in vain for my review of -turns out I never wrote about it!! ), in which a young woman goes for a bike ride with a young man, much to the frustration of her chaperone.  That is indeed, one of the things that was suddenly happening everywhere.

I liked the setup of this book quite a bit-every several pages there would be a double page of a specific topic, and sometimes even boxed off insets within those pages. Those sections might include a profile of a particular woman, or show examples of how bicycles were used in advertising, were prominent in song (Daisy Bell, anyone?) and story, and more.  The memorabilia and illustrations were great primary sources and fascinating to pore over.

This was one of those really interesting and accessible nonfiction books that I have to wonder how often it will get checked out and read. I hope teachers and librarians will put it in the hands of kids because it’s an interesting look at a piece of American history that I never thought about, but turns out was quite significant. On that note-the forward was also very interesting, as it spoke to the role of bicycles transforming the lives of young girls in Africa (and other parts of the world) today.

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