August 20, 2015

14 End of Summer Reads for the Preservation Buff

  • By: Gwendolyn Purdom

After a summer packed with historic site visits and family roadtrip house museum detours, busy season is winding down for us preservation fans. But that’s no reason to slow our search for inspiring stories about saving places.

So, with your help, we’ve put together a list of favorites—new titles and classics—on history, architecture and the power of place to carry you into fall and beyond. Happy reading!

Title:The Making of Home
Author: Judith Flanders
Why we dig it: OK, this one doesn’t come out for a few weeks, but bestselling author Flanders is already getting buzz for her expansive but accessible look at how the structures we live in, and the roles they play in our lives, have evolved.
Best for: Historic scholars and HGTV fans alike
Where to read it: Curled up on a couch in your own living room, of course

Title:The Past is a Foreign Country
Author: David Lowenthal
Why we dig it: Originally published in 1985 (with a new edition to follow-up “The Past is a Foreign Country Revisited” coming out this fall), Lowenthal’s exploration of our fixation on the past and its impact on the present is essential reading for history fans.
Best for: Big-picture seekers
Where to read it: On a bench outside the mattress store hocking Presidents’ Day discounts

Title:John Nolen: Landscape Architect and City Planner
Author: R. Bruce Stephenson
Why we dig it: Nolen, thought to be the first American to identify himself solely as a town and city planner, and his firm were behind more than 25 comprehensive city plans across the country, and this new biography offers a look at the ways his sustainable vision still holds up.
Best for: Urban enthusiasts
Where to read it: Under a tree in a city park


Title:Restoring Women’s History through Historic Preservation
Author: Gail Lee Dubrow (editor) and Jennifer B. Goodman (editor)
Why we dig it: This collection of essays and academic insight shows we’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go in the field of honoring women’s history and female contributions to the preservation movement.
Best for: Anyone looking for a more inclusive perspective
Where to read it: In the company of your favorite woman

Title:Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington
Author: Ellen Weiss
Why we dig it: Tulane professor emerita Weiss uses Taylor’s work with the Tuskegee Institute to frame this award-winning biography of the first professionally trained African-American architect.
Best for: Those who like their history with a heaping helping of social context
Where to read it: On the quad of an academic campus

Title: "Time Honored: A Global View of Architectural Conservation"
Author: John H. Stubbs
Why we dig it: Like the title says, it looks at conservation efforts around the world and how their approaches differ.
Best for: The internationally inclined
Where to read it: On a plane

Title:The Houses of McKim, Mead & White
Author:  Samuel G. White, Elizabeth White, and Jonathan Wallen (photographer)
Why we dig it: Aside from the story of the firm behind some of the most prestigious residential projects of the Beaux-Arts era, this book offers striking interior and exterior eye candy of more than 30 houses.
Best for: Gilded Age aficionados
Where to read it: On the sprawling veranda of a Vanderbilt estate


Title:Recording Historic Structures
Author: John A. Burns
Why we dig it: It’s an exhaustive guide and go-to resource on the built environment and how to study it.
Best for: Readers who don’t mind getting a little technical
Where to read it: At your local library, with a notebook handy

Title:The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey
Author: Rinker Buck
Why we dig it: Not to be confused by the ’90s computer game by the same name, this critically acclaimed “Oregon Trail” follows Rinker’s bold and entertaining modern day journey, covered wagon and all, on the famous -- and famously treacherous -- path forged by thousands of 19th-century pioneers.
Best for: Adventurers
Where to read it: On a cross-country roadtrip (by car or covered wagon)

Title:Ghosts Along The Mississippi
Author: Clarence John Laughlin
Why we dig it: This haunting photo-heavy classic captures the charm and mystery of Louisiana’s old houses (many of which no longer stand).
Best for: Fans of Welty and Faulkner
Where to read it: On a porch swing with a cold glass of sweet tea

Title: "Preserving the World's Great Cities: The Destruction and Renewal of the Historic Metropolis"
Author: Anthony M. Tung
Why we dig it: Author Anthony M. Tung’s visits to 22 cities around the world (18 of which he describes in the book) reveal how the tearing down and building back up of historic cities continues to shape their cultures.
Best for: Curious world travelers
Where to read it: On vacation in Europe


Title:Bldg. 51: A Collection of Historically Important American Architectural Artifacts
Author: Eric J. Nordstrom
Why we dig it: Glossy full-page photos capture remnants, from stained glass windows to hardware, of architecturally significant Chicago buildings.
Best for: The detail-oriented
Where to read it: After a visit to the Windy City and a trip to Nordstrom’s museum and gallery

Title:Wrestling with Moses
Author: Anthony Flint
Why we dig it: Flint’s David and Goliath story paints a portrait of the battle between New York master builder Robert Moses and preservation advocate Jane Jacobs in the 1950s and ’60s.
Best for: Anybody who likes a good underdog story
Where to read it: New York’s Washington Square Park (or somewhere that evokes it)

Title:How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built
Author: Stewart Brand
Why we dig it: It offers a unique perspective on the positive effect time has on buildings  when occupants and architects work to keep them relevant.
Best for: The psychological sort
Where to read it: In a restored building

Announcing the 2019 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

See the List