Cities in Civilization by Peter Hall (Pantheon, $40). In this hefty volume, Hall studies various cities at the height of their glory (Athens in 500 B.C.E.; Paris at the turn of the century; Memphis at the birth of rock íní roll) to see what makes them pulse with creative energy.
Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America by Jennifer Price (Basic Books, $23). How can you not like a nature book with a chapter on plastic pink flamingos? And an essay on the metaphors in Northern Exposure and Twin Peaks? This well-researched and--dare I say it?--funny book is a delight for scholars, nature lovers, and neophytes alike.
A Return to Innocence: Philosophical Guidance in an Age of Cynicism by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, with Annie Gottlieb and Patrick Buckley (HarperCollins, $22). A challenging and intimate series of letters between Schwartz and 16-year-old Buckley provides the backdrop for an instructive guide to friendship and sexuality, courage and consequence, and the terrifying journey to adulthood.
Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden. (Atlantic Monthly, $24). Bowdenís wrenching account of the 1993 battle between Somalis and Americans in the streets of Mogadishu reads like the Vietnam War on fast-forward, raising deep questions about American foreign policy and military leadership.
The Ice Palace That Melted Away: Restoring Civility and Other Lost Virtues to Everyday Life by Bill Stumpf (Pantheon, $21). The designer of the ergonomic chair shares his quirky senses of humor and humaneness in this small gem of a book, as he proposes new standards for--among other ordinary opportunities for life-enriching innovation--pubs and public potties, taxicabs and jails.
Less Is More
A case for smaller houses
There are dozens of sound reasons why smaller houses make more sense than the monstrous 14-room, five-bath McMansions now rising on the outskirts of almost every North American city. Ecology, energy efficiency, and compact urban design are three.
But Minneapolis architect Sarah Susanka offers other arguments in The Not So Big House (Taunton, $30): Small houses are more comfortable, charming, and functional. She points out that these days hardly anyone ever sets foot in formal living rooms, dining rooms, and grand foyers. Even at the swankiest parties, most guests still wind up in the kitchen.
So why not skip the cost of building or buying a gigantic house with rooms you rarely use and invest instead in a really nice kitchen, family room, and bathroom? The book is full of practical plans on how to do just that by using space more efficiently and elegantly. Hundreds of photos clinch the case that not-so-big is beautiful with inspiring shots of bookshelves tucked under stairways, bedrooms equipped with lofts, and gorgeous window seats, fireplaces, cabinetry, woodwork, tile, and windows.