BUILDING THE DREAM: A Social History of Housing in America by Gwendolyn Wright

BUILDING THE DREAM: A Social History of Housing in America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It is not a novel thought that dwellings reflect the lives and aspirations of their inhabitants, or that dwelling-patterns reflect the social clime--from colonial New England villages to post-WW II Levittowns. But Wright (Moralism and the Model Home) hardly advances beyond those commonplaces. Under fancy, play-on-word rubrics (""Foundations for Social Order,"" ""Structures of American Nationalism,"" etc.), she has grouped 13 dwelling types and some of the accumulated thinking about what each represents, along with a good deal of description (in some cases) of exteriors and interiors, types and uses of rooms, and so on. But in only one case, slave quarters, does even her description prove informative--the siting of slave cabins, the nature or urban slave housing--and even then her discussion is heavy-handed, with much stress on ""the slave's desire to maintain some vestige of an African heritage and a slaveowner's desire to assert his control."" Evidence of slave/slaveowner conflict as regards housing is so scant, however, that Wright is soon talking about the whole of slave life (names, family bonds, etc.). The lack of concrete examples of anything that is not virtually self-evident is a recurrent problem: ""the rural cottage,"" for instance, is said to embody ""privatism."" From that point, moreover, and through multiple-dwellings and Victorian suburbs, Wright is simply outclassed by David Handlin's fuller, more particularized The American Home (1979); while her discussion of later developments focuses far less on dwelling types than on housing schemes (about which the literature is super-abundant). Altogether, the book is less a social history of housing than a spotty, often feeble social perspective on housing--with some sensible final thoughts on solving the present housing crisis by considering all the available types.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1981
ISBN: 0262730642
Publisher: Pantheon