From Publishers Weekly
Tapping into the American consumer's burgeoning interest in home design, cultural critic Gallagher (Pride of Place) takes on the single-family home in her latest cultural inquiry. Chapters are themed by room, beginning with the entry and living room and moving through to the basement, garage and garden; each ends with anecdotes describing how Gallagher's own family has changed its home with her new-found knowledge. Equal parts architecture, history, sociology and psychology, Gallagher's book easily makes academic discussions relevant to the general reader. The text is liberally peppered with pop culture references, though at times these appear humorously off-mark, as when she cites MTV Cribs (a hip-hop version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous) as a "popular children's show." Gallagher is not an unbiased observer — she makes a clear argument for her own preference for traditional notions of comfort and craft. Avant-garde architects and designers are often derided for their emphasis on novelty and art over homeyness and practicality. Because of this, Gallagher's text often feels like an etiquette book evoking a romantic nostalgia for propriety. She is at her most engaging when discussing notions of prestige and social hierarchy—issues particularly relevant in an age of proliferating McMansions and Martha Stewart–inspired interest in the hallmarks of good taste. (Feb. 7)
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*Starred Review* Gallagher writes fresh and nuanced interpretations of the subtler aspects of life. In her latest work of creative synthesis and interpretation, she conducts a tour like no other of the American house, excavating its fascinating history and covert psychological influences. Humans are happiest in dwellings that allow us to both nest and perch, Gallagher explains, citing Frank Lloyd Wright. To assess whether a house succeeds in providing these qualities, she performs what she calls house thinking, analyzing the ambience of each room in houses old and new, urban and suburban. To set the gold standard, she describes various architectural marvels, including Edith Wharton's Mount (Gallagher has a particular interest in writer's abodes), whereas on the practical side, she recounts her own home-improvement efforts. As she assesses every aspect of every room, she offers compelling observations regarding women's lives past and present, changing family configurations, our mania for possessions, and the dominating role televisions and computers now play on the domestic scene. As Gallagher casts our houses and private lives in a revealing new light, she reinforces our perception of home as a place that merits our keenest attention. Donna Seaman
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