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A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder Paperback – February 9, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0385319904 ISBN-10: 0385319908
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Editorial Reviews Review

Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own might be suspiciously viewed by some readers as a text begging for interpretation. What is it that causes this man at midlife to attempt to put up a structure, an actual wood and concrete dwelling, where he can work on his own craft away from his domestic life? Arguably, Pollan's intentions are more transparent than a too clever postmodern audience can easily appreciate. The author of this fine, well-crafted book offers an explanation that seems honest and understandable: "Whenever I heard myself described as an 'information service worker' or a 'symbolic analyst,' I wanted to reach for a hammer, or a hoe, and with it make something less virtual than a sentence."

In Pollan's bestselling book Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, he illustrated his facility with both hoe and pen. In A Place of My Own he hefts the hammer and again records with great intelligence how thoroughly thought and reflection can be woven into our common lives and the patterns of a day's work. His book's subtitle, "An Education of an Amateur Builder," captures much of what this book contains: the lessons learned by a diligent student of architecture, design, and construction. The writing contains no gaps or unsightly seams, and it's full of clues to readers who share a similar desire to build something tangible in a world that prizes the evanescent. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Wanting to have a place of his own where he could think and write, Pollan decided to erect a small structure in the woods behind his house. Fancying himself a modern-day Thoreau, he wanted to build his "dream hut" with his own hands, even though he had no carpentry skills or experience. We learn very little about how to build a small structure; the majority of this book is devoted to Pollan's pretentious musings about a variety of architectural theories and about his interaction with the architect and carpenter who helped him (wasn't this supposed to be a simple structure?). Although it cost Pollan $125 per square foot and took him two and one-half years to build, ultimately it is the reader who works the hardest. Libraries serving those with a strong interest in architecture will want this title; other libraries should skip this book.?Jonathan Hershey, Akron-Summit Cty. P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dell (March 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385319908
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385319904
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Pollan is the author of five books: Second Nature, A Place of My Own, The Botany of Desire, which received the Borders Original Voices Award for the best nonfiction work of 2001 and was recognized as a best book of the year by the American Booksellers Association and Amazon, and the national bestsellers, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food. A longtime contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, Pollan is also the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. His writing on food and agriculture has won numerous awards, including the Reuters/World Conservation Union Global Award in Environmental Journalism, the James Beard Award, and the Genesis Award from the American Humane Association.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

107 of 108 people found the following review helpful By RamblingReviewer on January 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm so glad this book is once again readily available; I keep wanting to give it to friends and it had become hard to find. Pollan undertook the project of building himself a modest shelter, and used that as a jumping-off place to consider--always entertainingly--a dazzling array of related subjects. The book is a joy to read, a disquisition on everything from design considerations (site, view, feel), to descriptions of the nitty-gritty of basic shelter construction (why you don't see windows that swing inward, the right way to hammer a nail), to reflections about historical, cultural and technological influences on the evolution of structures, the divergence between design and construction that produced the profession of architect and the craft of builder and the tension between the two. Pollan's graceful writing is informed by his inquiring intellect and his wide-ranging fund of knowledge. There is something thought-provoking on nearly every page.
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84 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Jay Pique on July 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
First, I enjoyed reading this book. I'm a carpenter turned cabinetmaker that aspires to build spec homes per my own designs, from bottom to top. Given my existing interest in the field, I most enjoyed his discussion of the various architectural movements and the philosophies thereof. It provides a broad overview of different theories of design and how they result in pleasing (or not so pleasing) structures.

However, he definitely goes overboard - especially with the obnoxious use of esoteric vocabulary. Synecdoche? I'm pretty well read and I don't think I've ever even seen that word written before. It goes on and on like that, and it's unfortunate because it really distracts you from what's otherwise a pretty interesting read. He also seems to slip into a bit of stream of consciousness about the theory behind some detail of construction or another (like muntins). Be prepared.

It was also tiring to read about the conflict between the architect and the builder. If it was indeed as tense as he claims, then he's probably in large part to blame, getting wrapped up in the drama (which I believe he does).

Overall I gave it a 3, because it definitely provided a lot of good information. But I was dragging by the end, and it really felt like once he hit his quota of pages he just stopped. He takes you all the way through the process of construction, but doesn't tell you how it ends. How's the building feel? What worked and what didn't? Is it great in the spring with the windows open, or is it too buggy? Freezing in the winter? By dropping 30 pages of theory and putting in an equal amount of reality it would have made this book a real winner.
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74 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Michael Tiemann on April 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was astonished to see that there are *any* less than stellar reviews for this book, so let me speak in defense of Michael Pollan's sophomore effort: You Must Read This Book!

For those who loved The Omnivore's Dilemma, this book describes the process by which the cradle of that great work was itself brought to life. As a person married to an author, and as a person who himself writes more than the average American, Pollan's process of articulating his own dreams (and fears) for his own writing house literally brought tears to my eyes, so profound his subject and so universal its truths. It is a brilliant synthesis of abstract and concrete--the construction of a physical space *so that* greater mental heights can be imagined and obtained.

For those who celebrate the way that Pollan has helped us restore some measure of our own humanity by helping us reconnect with what is true about food (and by learning how to avoid what is false about edible food-like substances), let only those who are truly roofless cast the first stone against this book! For the rest of us, whether we own, rent, or live more transiently in some sheltering construct, this book teaches the truly multi-dimensional ways that dwellings come to be, and how the manifold relationships that condense into built forms continue to express those relationships, even to those who are not yet born.

For those who love Pollan's ways with words, this book is full of fridge-worthy sentences and page-worthy paragraphs.

For those who enjoyed meeting Joel Salatin in "Part III: Grass" of the Omnivore's Dilemma, in this book we meet the prototype from the building trade, Joe Benney.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
While some rave about the prose of Anne Rice and Michael Ondaatje, I rave about Michael Pollan! In A Place of My Own, Pollan has crafted a beautifully written book laced with intelligence, humility and humor. Attempting to escape his own "mid-life crisis," Pollan decides to build a cabin in the woods--a place where he can work undisturbed that also serves as a "shelter for daydreams." During his 2 1/2 years of building, Pollan comes to reflect on many things such as the meaning of "work" in our highly technological society, the sacrifice and celebration of nature and the borders between nature and culture. In the end, Pollan comes to the conclusion that there really is no clear division between matters of the material world and those of the spirit. A warm, witty and wise story told in prose as crystal clear as a bright winter's day. I'd gladly give it ten stars if I could.
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