Summary and book reviews of The Making of Home by Judith Flanders

The Making of Home

The 500-Year Story of How Our Houses Became Our Homes

by Judith Flanders

The Making of Home by Judith Flanders X
The Making of Home by Judith Flanders
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2016, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

The 500-year story of how, and why, our homes have come to be what they are, from the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Invention of Murder and The Victorian City

The idea that "home" is a special place, a separate place, a place where we can be our true selves, is so obvious to us today that we barely pause to think about it. But, as Judith Flanders shows in her most ambitious work to date, "home" is a relatively new idea.

In The Making of Home, Flanders traces the evolution of the house from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century across northern Europe and America, showing how the homes we know today bear only a faint resemblance to homes though history. What turned a house into a home? Why did northwestern Europe, a politically unimportant, sociologically underdeveloped region of the world, suddenly became the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution, the capitalist crucible that created modernity? While investigating these important questions, Flanders uncovers the fascinating development of ordinary household items - from cutlery, chairs and curtains, to fitted kitchens, plumbing and windows - while also dismantling many domestic myths.

In this prodigiously researched and engagingly written book, Flanders elegantly draws together the threads of religion, history, economics, technology and the arts to show not merely what happened, but why it happened: how we ended up in a world where we can all say, like Dorothy in Oz, "There's no place like home."

2

A Room of One's Own

In the summer of 1978, a helicopter carrying a party of geologists across Siberia hovered over the taiga near the Mongolian border, looking for a place to land. There, almost 250 kilometres from the nearest village, in a supposedly entirely uninhabited region, the pilot saw that most domestic of sights, a kitchen garden. The scientists decided it was worth investigation, and landed. After walking 5 kilometres up a narrow path they came to two wooden-planked storage sheds on stilts, stuffed full of potatoes in birch-bark sacks. Continuing, they reached a yard 'piled up on all sides with taiga rubbish – bark, poles, planks'.

At the centre of the yard was a hut, although they thought it barely worthy of the name: weather-stained black, with a single window 'the size of my backpack pocket', it was ramshackle and altogether 'not much more than a burrow' – 'a low, soot-blackened log kennel'. ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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Throughout, Flanders notes how difficult it can be to research or understand what everyday houses and homes were like over the centuries; the versions of “home” we see depicted in classic works of art, for example, were often idealized, and there has been little impetus, historically, to preserve humble homes for posterity (she offers the particularly stark example of the incredible scarcity of authentic examples of slave quarters in the American South). She’s clearly done her research, though, and the result is an energetic, if, at times, sprawling history that touches on everything from cleaning methods to eating implements to styles of dress for children.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review (641 words).

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Media Reviews

The Sunday Times (UK)
Flanders' prose is witty and lucid, her ideas stimulating... In this clever and entertaining book she gives the everyday, from bed-making to drain-pipes, all the vivid interest of something newly made strange.

The Financial Times (UK)
Flanders is at her riveting best when she gets right down to the housework. Flanders demonstrates how nakedly the measure of our social worth is laid out in domestic consumables. She is an efficient debunker of myths about poverty, family and the past. In her search for meaning she wipes the dust, clears the cobwebs and pulls the stuffing out of the cushions. It is in the down and dirty of the home that our hopes and delusions are revealed.

The Times Literary Supplement (UK)
Magnificent... wonderfully rich and witty.

Kirkus Reviews
Covering all aspects of home life, Flanders even delves into modern architecture, popular in the house countries, which creates designs for ostentation rather than usefulness. The author's extensive knowledge of lifestyles and simple, concise writing combine for an enjoyable book showing how families have joined, separated, and rejoined over the last 500 years.

Library Journal
The content is scholarly and well researched but is presented in a manner accessible to the general reader...Recommended for social historians as well as fans of HGTV and design blogs who are interested in learning more about the history of the home

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A fascinating, eye-opening examination of just how far we've come in five centuries... It's possible to pick out any one of 100 different threads in Flanders's work and marvel at how they're all interconnected; you'll never take a fork for granted again.

Author Blurb Amanda Foreman, New York Times bestselling author of The Duchess
From the humble shack to the modern high-rise, Judith Flanders brilliantly illuminates the meaning of 'home' throughout history. The Making of Home is a fascinating and ambitious exploration into the soul of family life. We are more than what we eat, we are also how we live.

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Beyond the Book

The Thorne Rooms

In The Making of Home, Judith Flanders argues that it can be difficult to know what ordinary homes throughout history looked and felt like, in part because museums with "period rooms" tend to devote precious space to recreating the opulent homes of wealthy figures from the past. Perhaps it's much more fun to look at ceilings replete with gold leaf than rough-hewn beams?

Salon Louis XVI Thorne RoomOne museum that partially solved the space problem is the Art Institute of Chicago, whose beloved Thorne Rooms were always a must-see during my childhood visits to my grandparents in Chicago. These miniature dioramas, filled with exquisitely detailed furnishings, offered little windows into homes across centuries of history.

The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute ...

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