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The Abrams Guide to American House Styles Paperback – April 1, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Abrams (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810972301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810972308
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 7.1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #953,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Morgan presents a sort of dummy’s guide to American architecture, dressed up in a pretty hardcover with copious color photographs and minimal, elegant descriptions. Househunters, homeowners, realtors—or anyone simply interested in what distinguishes a Victorian from a Colonial, what the difference is between Georgian and Greek Revival, or which empire inspired the Second Empire style—will love this book. Morgan aims "to simplify—in text, image and graphic presentation—what has become a complex subject to understand," and his book largely succeeds. In 15 color-coded chapters, Morgan, whose writings on architecture have appeared in The Boston Globe, The New York Times, Smithsonian and other publications, demystifies American house styles, giving a two-page overview for each, photographic examples from around the country and notes on the style’s defining characteristics. With its clear prose, comprehensive scope and excellent photos, this book will be a useful resource for all who care about American design.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

William Morgan is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated architectural historian, and has taught at Princeton University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Louisville. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, and he is the author of Abrams’ American Country Churches.

Radek Kurzaj is a travel and architecture photographer based in Poland and New York City. His books include Abrams’ Living Large in Small Spaces and Treehouses of the World

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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See all 12 customer reviews
This book is an excellent field guide to American architecture.
For my dollar, this is the best book in the genre and thus should be given a fair evaluation.
Yes, many ranches are probably more modest than they want to include, but come on?
Elizabeth Mary

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By misterbeets on March 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The color pictures are all new and the subjects very well chosen, and paging through this book is enjoyable. The concise text reviews the usual classifications in the usual ways, its academic tone partly redeemed by occasional wit.

He renames Richardson Romanesque as Richardsonian, Federal as Late Georgian, and says Queen Anne originated from Arts and Crafts rather than medieval styles, although I think there's a little of each. Like most authors, he discusses the white flat-roofed Modern examples as though they were the next in line to follow the Tudors and Colonial Revivals, despite the fact that they never amounted to more than an insignificant fraction of houses built, then continues with the Post Modern and Deconstructivist styles, pure "magazine architecture", marking an era in which architects begin to serve a new and powerful patron of the arts, the media.

But the countless postwar ranches and split-levels are never mentioned. Trying to keep it highbrow, I guess.

He returns to ordinary houses at the very end, to jump on the mock-the-McMansions bandwagon, using as examples, ironically, some of the prettiest houses in the book.

A few nits to pick:

* Medieval homes had steep roofs because they used thatch, not due to the narrow London streets.

* Le Corbusier's "machines for living" quote actually was intended to extoll creature comforts, not stark Modernism.

* The Arts and Crafts post-and-beam masterpiece, the Gamble House, is ordinary stud construction where it doesn't show.

* Beams are always horizontal, as are clapboards.

* It was Louis Sullivan who said architecture was set back 50 years by a late 19th Century exhibition, not some academic.

Still like the James C. Massey book, available used. But you may like this one for its pictures.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on January 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've always wondered how people came up with all the different names for house designs: Georgian, victorian, georgian and all the rest. I have periodically looked at a house and proclaimed it to be something, and been patiently corrected by people somewhat of a superior attitude telling me: "No, (with an implied You Fool), that's not a __________ it's a _________."

In this book Pulitzer candidate William Morgan definitively describes the fifteen house styles. Each style is presented in a short historical summary text along with a bulletid list of its distinguishing characteristics. Within each broac style, there are variations. Within Victorian, for instance he discusses stick style, queen anne, richardsonian and shingle style.

There are about 350 houses illustrated from more than 40 states so that region-specific details can be identified. Well over 400 pages, most with multiple photographs illustrate the details of the various styles.

Very enjoyable book.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By ercsz on September 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Despite the unfavorable comments in "A VERY POOR EFFORT," I decided to buy this book and try it for myself. I'm so glad I did. This reviewer seems to be confused about this book. Of all the books on the subject, this is the only one that's written by a Pulitzer-nominated architectural historian, comprised of all-color photos, inclusive of the late-20th and 21st cent styles, designed like an art book, and packaged in a compact/portable format for taking it on the road. These 5 features are completely NEW to this genre! The unhappy reviewer's other point of criticism (that there are too many trees on the property of some of the photographed houses) is simply absurd. How can a photographer remove trees and foliage from a house's property before photographing the house? These houses are important examples, not slouches. The book states clearly that each picture was taken from public property. Should the photographer have given each house a fresh coat of paint, too, before he photographed it? Such a criticism is illogical. For my dollar, this is the best book in the genre and thus should be given a fair evaluation. I'm glad I bought it. As a realtor, I need this kind of book, and this one's the easiest to use of all of them.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Marco Antonio Abarca VINE VOICE on August 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In the United States, there is a very rich history of producing field guides to American Domestic Architecture. So it was into this already crowded field that "The Abrams Guide to American House Styles" was published in 2004. In my opinion, if you are going to introduce a new book into an established field, you need to do something new.

This Guide has two features that are unique. First, all of the photos are in color. This is the first Guide that I have seen that has done this. I really enjoyed seeing the photos of the earliest American homes. Second, unlike most field guides, this Guide continues to the current day. I thought that adding examples of McMansions was a very nice touch. Most other field guides stop somewhere around 1950.

Field Guides can be divided into photo books and line drawing books. I prefer line drawing books because they help the reader concentrate on the architectural features that combine to make a style. I think photo books are less effective because they are too specific. Instead of concentrating on the stylistic details, the photos make the reader concentrate on a specific house. The other reason I do not like photo books is that photos are inherently distracting. Instead of concentrating on the architectural features, the eye is drawn to foilage, electrical poles, cars and people walking in front of the building.

The Abrams' Guides does a good job of cutting out most of the distractions but where if fails miserably is in the trees around the house. A good 10-15% of the images are ruined by trees getting in the way of the photographer. Either they block the full image or their shadow obscure key details. I can accept a few trees around a house but to have so many photos ruined is unacceptable.
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