An economic interpretation of American architecture from its beginnings through the Civil War, this illustrated survey posits that all questions follow from ""Who paid for it?"" When focused on these various ramifications, the book is compelling; however, the straying threads of biographies, economic history, and aesthetic debate often refuse to weave neatly. The mass of lore surrounding the buildings, architects and clients is always interesting, though it is not all strictly relevant. Because major cities--like Boston or New Orleans--and the great public works have been so well documented, the study is largely confined to provincial and domestic architecture. The buildings are studied as symbols. Are they temples or fortresses? Monuments to progress or classic virtue? Wealth or taste? The Southern mansion, for example, which outwardly seems to represent classical ideals and permanence, is shown to be a product of economic instability and the alienation the plantation owners felt amid slave culture. Kennedy, a former banker who is currently the director of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, has undertaken a complex task, and though his points are well taken, the study seems burdened by past work. Rather than creating an independently coherent narrative, it functions to correct errors and imbalances, supplementing previous histories. Familiarity with architectural history is assumed. Nonetheless, the author marshalls his arguments steadfastly, provides helpful recapitulations, and demonstrates both good sense and scholarship.