by Tracy Kidder

Paperback, 1999

Call number




Mariner Books (1999), Edition: 1st Mariner Books Ed, 352 pages


Home Design & Déco Nonfictio HTML: The Pulitzer Prize??winning author brings "clarity, intelligence and grace" to the tale of building a home in this New York Times Bestseller (TheNew York Times Book Review). It's 1983 and Jonathan and Judith Souweine are ready to build their forever home on a four-acre lot just outside of Amherst, Massachusetts. A lawyer and a psychologist, neither has much experience with the process. In this New York Times bestseller, Tracy Kidder leads readers through the grand adventure of building the American dream. In his portrayal, constructing a staircase or applying a coat of paint becomes a riveting tale of conflicting wills, the strength and strain of relationships, and pride in craftsmanship. With drama, sensitivity, and insight, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of the New Machine takes us from blueprints to moving day. In the process, he sheds new light on objects usually taken for granted and creates a vivid cast of characters you will not soon forget. "Tracy Kidder has done it again. . . . What might seem like ordinary work takes on an extraordinary, unpredictable life of its own. The subject is fascinating, the book a remarkable piece of craftsmanship in itself." ??Chicago Tribune Book World "Kidder makes us feel with a splendid intensity the complex web of relationships and emotions that inevitably comes into play in the act of bringing a work of architecture to fruition." ??The New York Times Book Revi… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member name99
I know everyone thinks Soul of a New Machine is a great book, but personally I hated it. House has many of the same flaws, but is rather more interesting, though probably not in the way the author intended.

I picked up this book in the hope that I would learn something about how houses are built,
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the construction industry, history of building, that sort of thing but, like Soul of a New Machine, it's mostly the specific story of specific individuals and their personalities.
While not teaching much about building, it was, however, very interesting as a political statement. The take-home message is that white-collar Americans are complete pricks when it comes to dealing with blue-collar Americans.

The buyers of the house, their parents, the architect, all seem to live in some happy fairyland where nothing is ever their fault, other people's feelings don't matter, and whatever they want they should be able to have, no matter how often they're told they can't afford it. The husband buying the house views every disagreement not in terms of "what is a just resolution", but in terms of "how could I argue this legal point in court"; that's a fine attitude for a lawyer while working but it's a lousy attitude for a human being.

As for the builders, while I felt sympathy for them, that sympathy was tinged with frustration --- they see vaguely that the practical consequences of lack of book-learning are that they repeatedly get screwed by people like these buyers, but they can't seem to gin up the initiative to do something about it and protect themselves, perhaps by contracting with accountants and lawyers and having them draw up some standard contracts and disclaimers for them.

All in all a sad tale of how flawed human beings are, reminding me once again why I don't much like to read books about "real" human beings --- I just don't like "real" human beings very much.
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LibraryThing member janemarieprice
“The art of civilization is the act of drawing lines.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

In [House], we follow the process of building a typical architect-designed American home from initial design phases to construction. Now, as an architect, this book drove me crazy. The clients give a friend who is
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an architect his first commission. The contractor starts working without a contract. The architect does most of the design after the start of construction and then gets upset about changes that happen. The clients force the contractor to reduce the total contract price by $660 (psst…if you do this to a contractor at the start of a job, they aren’t going to be very willing to take care of little things that come up during the course of construction). So, I spent a good bit of my reading time variously cursing under my breath and throwing the book across the room. I had to put it down for several weeks during which work was very stressful for me, and this was only exacerbating it. However, if you are not in the industry I would actually recommend it highly – especially if you are planning on doing any construction/working with an architect. While I didn’t enjoy reading [House], I do think it is a very good book.

The book was originally published in 1985, which makes for some interesting foreshadowing of our current housing predicament. For instance, when speaking about borrowing the money for the construction, the wife comments “It’s us against the world, you know.” I think this kind of attitude is part of what got us here. The idea that as an American you are owed a new home by right and any builder/bank/city zoning ordinance that stands in your way is somehow infringing on this right somehow replaced the idea of a new home as a luxury.

Another interesting sort of side issue for me is the New Englandness of the parties involved. It’s amazing to me how attitudes and personalities vary over regions which is something I never really noticed as much until I moved.
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LibraryThing member jcbrunner
The tale of an affluent couple who engaged an upstart architect and a group of hippie carpenters to build their dream home. From idea to the built house Kidder shows the protagonists, warts and all. What shines through is everybody's commitment to quality and craftwork. Troubles arise in haggling
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over finances where the hippies clearly lose out over the sophisticated couple. An engaging read.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
In this one, Kidder, a standout author in the field of creative nonfiction, tells the story of a house's of construction from design to completion. His steady, articulate narrative voice is, as usual, a pleasure to read. Kidder also works hard to understand the perspectives of everyone involved
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with the homebuiding process and takes the time to explain the finer points of home construction to readers who've never swung a hammer before. He even takes the time to provide a historical account how the craft and the role of the builder have evolved over time and to trace the origins of some of the trade's superstitions. "House" is also notable because it treats the social and economic divides between the various protagonists – builders, architects, and clients – in an intelligent and prescient way. The builders working on the house come from diverse backgrounds, but they aspire to be craftsmen very much in the old tradition. The clients they're building for are members of an emerging set of wealthy, highly-educated professionals that are new to western Massachusetts. While their personalities and their economic interests often clash, the emotional heart of this book lies in the carpenters' struggle to balance the demands of fine construction against the economic pressures they feel. "House" is, at base, a story of art versus commerce, one of the oldest ones there is, and Kidder, as usual, tells it well. This book's subject matter, and, to some extent, the personalities involved, aren't as immediately captivating as his better-known "Mountains Beyond Mountains," but this one's still very much worth reading. Construction's usually talked about as a trade, but it might convince some readers that it should be regarded it as a craft, or perhaps even an art.
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LibraryThing member pbadeer
First, picture that someone decided to write out the script of "Mr Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse" and turn it into a work of non-fiction. Now pretend that everyone in the movie hated each other. You might start getting the idea of this book.

I have had this book on my shelf for some time, and it's
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been one that I have been wanting to find the time to read since I got it. What a disappointment.

First, although it is a work of NonFiction, I am not exactly clear (still) how the author fits into the picture. He never plays a part in the book, he simply transcribes all of the events. But with that aside, this book must cause professional builders and architects migraines as they read not only how the events play out, but how much better these events could have been handled - hindsite is 20/20.

In short, a middle-aged, middle-income couple decide to build a house and have their friend, a trained architect, design it. Bill, the architect, has just hung out his own shingle, and this is his first commission. (Who sees "nightmare" coming???) The triumvirate is completed by Apple Core, the contractors who successfully (?) win the bid to build the house. While the author drifts down many (too many) side paths to discuss backgrounds of each of these participants, in general, the book progresses through the building of the house, and the problems which arose.

Because I like architecture, all of the above seemed like a perfect outline for a book, and the reason I was looking forward to reading it. What I had not planned on was the fact that each of them (in varying degrees) were morons. You be the judge. Who is at fault in the following situation. The architect does not specify what kind of staircase will be built on the inside of the house. The contractors bid on it as if there will be a "standard" staircase and allot $2,500 for the purpose. The contract is awarded, and THEN the architect decides that what is needed is a sweeping Grecian Revival staircase with ornamented balustrade. The staircase will now cost well over $2,500. Who is responsible for the cost? I won't tell you the results, but it takes two chapters to develop it - and then it's the wrong one (in my opinion).

I never got the impression that the point behind the book was to make the reader exasperated, but with a little marketing, that would be the perfect sales approach for it. The writing is very good, the actual processes of developing the house and some (I said some) of the side paths the author explored were interesting, but the main players were so frustrating and antagonistic to each other, I found it difficult to believe it all really happened. The writing saves the book, but if you tackle it, just be ready to roll your eyes and plow forward - maybe keeping a note pad with you to keep track of what you will NOT do when you build your next house.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
I think this book is wonderful. It gives an insight and expresses an appreciation for those in the building trade -- many of whom are extremely bright, talented. and quite often underappreciated.

The characters in this book are so lifelike; the conversations so real. I can feel the tension in the
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air between Jim (the builder and lead carpenter), Bill (the architect), and Jonathan and Judith Souweine (the owners). The workers are great, too. Their comments are snide and funny. I often hear stories from my husband in his concrete business of how an architect’s plans are not always practical or realistic when construction actually takes place. I love seeing how this situation plays out in the book.

SPOILER--> I really felt for the builders when their profit was disappointingly small in the end. Kidder not only captured the nuances of interpersonal relations between those involved in all aspects of the house’s construction, but also the very essence of each character’s personality.
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LibraryThing member JoeCottonwood
Probably the best book that will ever be written about the building of a house. Not "building" a house as in a how-to-do-it guide, but "the building" of a house as a process of personalities, philosophies, histories, trends, class status, power, and economics. Mostly, personalities. As a contractor
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I read it with a sense of recognition and as a writer I read it with admiration and awe. Jim, the contractor in this project, seemed like a clone of my own personality - the drive for quality, the disdain for haggling, the over-sensitivity to the slightest insults of class warfare that seem to come with the job. I recognized all the carpenters in the crew - Vietnam vets, college grads, the likable kid clawing his way out of poverty, the equally likable one rejecting his father's bourgeois life, the dyslexic, the screwup, the perfectionist, the speedster - mix and match - and became very fond of them. But Tracy Kidder brought so much more than just the carpenters' points of view. He followed the thoughts and actions of Bill Rawn, the architect, who I came to admire. And Kidder described equally the drama of the house-building from the clients' point of view. I never warmed to Jonathan Souweine, the attorney husband, as he used his advantages and self-justifications to beat down the price, completely oblivious of the demoralizing effect it had on the workers. Meanwhile I liked Judith, Jonathan's wife. The fact that I reacted so strongly to each of the characters in this project shows how well Tracy Kidder described them. I'm not an objective reviewer here; I'm somebody who has lived through most of the scenes that he portrays. House, the book, is about the birth of one particular house, a birth filled with drama, conflict, history and hard work.
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LibraryThing member wareagle78
This book is a jewel. A non-fiction account that reads like a novel, this is the story of a house being built. Sounds boring, but it's not. It's a wonderful treat.
LibraryThing member ChrisWeir
Reading this book was fun for the most part. I'm a big time old house geek and found it very interesting to see what was going on with the building of new construction as it's out of my usual thinking or bailiwick. Some reviewers have noted that this is non-fiction, I believe in fact that it is a
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work of fiction although very detailed. The author gives numerous references in the epilogue of the book on how he did his research on building etc. That being said it's a wonderful character study with well thought out and rounded characters. I found myself with very strong feelings about most of the carpenters and even the homeowners in the story. Rooting for the builders even though I've been on the homeowner's side before and run into cost overruns and stuff.
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LibraryThing member CherieDooryard
As someone who has built [is still building] a house and who is married to a carpenter, I found the book a little too flashback-triggering to be fully enjoyable. I actually started having heart palpitations during one of the homeowner/builder fights over the contract. BUT, that aside, this is truly
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brilliant in a classic creative nonfiction way. Kidder takes a subject that seems completely mundane and imbues is with history, drama, and human intrigue.
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LibraryThing member riselibrary_CSUC
From the first nail to the final coat of paint, from contract signing to moving day, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder chronicles the complex and fascinating construction of an American dream.
LibraryThing member suesbooks
I found the relationship and personal stories much more interesting than the building details of the house. I did learn a little about architecture, carpenters, and building, but was hardly interested in the details. It felt good to learn about a topic I do not know much about.
LibraryThing member FormerEnglishTeacher
Tracy Kidder is a master of nonfiction writing. I’ve read most of what he has written including what I consider to be his masterpiece, “Soul of a New Machine.” “House” is as entertaining and insightful as any of Kidder’s books. It gave me a new appreciation for those who work with their
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hands. Over the years I’ve had many people in my houses doing various types of repairs and constructions. I’ve always respected their skill, but I don’t think I knew much about their spirit until I read “House.” I once told a plumber, “You know, Earl, what you do is amazing. What I do (teaching high school English) is nothing.” He looked at me with a quizzical look. I said, “If I don’t show up, they’ll find another person with an English degree to do what I do. If you don’t show up, people can’t flush their toilet. Now, you tell me who is more important?” He grinned and went on fixing the drain he was working on.
I have the same kind of respect for Tracy Kidder. Lots of people can write. Many of them can write well. Tracy Kidder writes the way the building crew in “House” worked: with spirit, precision, and soul.
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LibraryThing member mykl-s
Kidder guided me through the ways a housebuilding project is both simple and complex.


National Book Critics Circle Award (Finalist — General Nonfiction — 1985)




0618001913 / 9780618001910


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