The Book of all Books

At Mary Washington, one of the required courses in the preservation sequence was HISP305: American Building, taught by Professor W. Brown Morton, III. Professor Morton had more accolades in historic preservation than we could ever dream of, so we students tended to hang onto his words and take his advice. One book he introduced us to was Twentieth Century Building Materials: History and Conservation, edited by Thomas C. Jester of the National Park Service.jesterThis book is long out of print, but most of us cannot figure out why since it’s an incredibly rich resource with sections and chapters on metals, concrete, wood, masonry, glass, flooring, and roofing. It’s a beautiful book. Take a look at the Amazon preview pages and you’ll see what I mean. As of today it appears that Amazon is selling it for $69.95, which is barely more than it’s in-print price. If I were you and wanting this book (normally around $100) I’d buy it today!

As I had mentioned in one of the Preservation in Pink Christmas posts, this book would make an excellent gift for those interested in historic preservation and historic architecture or those involved in restoration. But, I’m mentioning it again because it is just that good. Are you writing a building description of an 18th century building, but wonder when that glass block window was added? Well, the chapter on glass block may help you a lot. Or how old is that plate glass window on that storefront? When was that terra cotta added? It’s so much fun.

Inevitably, I cracked and bought a copy of this book before starting graduate school, rationalizing the purchase by the fact that I already had some of the other expensive required texts (such as Recording Historic Structures).¬† And I will admit that sometimes I just like to flip through the pages and gaze at them. Aside from McAlester’s Field Guide to American Houses, this is my favorite book. And it’s a marvelous addition to any preservationist’s library. My point of all this? You should own this book.

What’s your favorite book? What can you not resist, even if it is a splurge on a book? What makes homework or work not so bad because you’re happy to familiarize yourself with the book?

6 thoughts on “The Book of all Books

  1. Jim Groom says:


    It is cool to see you harken back to your UMW days, and it was sad to say goodbye to Brown when he retied (did you know he had an iPhone?), but I just have to add that you are a mighty blogger and have been keeping Preservation in Pink afloat with your regular post. Fine work, I love your stuff, and had no idea you are a fellow Long Islander.

  2. Nicholas says:

    A book I’ve been recently introduced to at Belmont is

    “American Building: The Environmental Forces That Shape It” by James Marston Fitch

    Though it’s not materials-specific in a textbook sense, it provides some amazing insight into the evolution of the home in America. So it would be more the historical perspecive of the materials and American architecture. Truly truly fascinating. Rarely does a book have me whispering “WOW”. So many great explanations for things relating to American home life you never thought needed explaining. Hate to add any more required reading, but….

  3. Maria says:

    I love McAlister a Field guide to American Houses. Also a big fan of a Dictionary of Southern Architecture by Carl Lounsbury. Who knew a dictionary could be so much fun to read? There are just so many fun preservation words. My old roommate wrote me a very interesting (slightly suggestive) poem using terms from that book.

  4. Kelly says:

    I love this book too! I picked it up back at MW on Prof. Morton’s suggestion, and wow, has it ever been useful. Often the only place I find any information on gypsum block, concrete block, and other wonderful 20th century materials. Especially working out west, where so many of our significant buildings are from this era!

  5. Sabra Smith says:

    Thanks for suggesting a new resource! I’ll start scouting my favorite used book stores and see if I can find it.

    Perhaps you are polling for technical books, but I must say that one of my favorite “preservation” books is The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt. It’s a masterful weaving together of history, nostalgia for family summers at the seaside, and the question of what will become of the beloved white elephant of a building — must it be demolished? (There’s a review at my blog)

    I also have to say that I adore The Walls Around Us: The Thinking Person’s Guide to How a House Works by David Owen. I took it on vacation with me and couldn’t believe I was sitting on a beach, reading about nails, and laughing out loud!

    A nod to one of my favorite books from grad school — I adored Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States by Kenneth Jackson. Excellent overview of how we ended up where we are.

    (Oh, and there’s a book on digitizing collections that shows astounding examples of the hidden details that can be pulled out of the shadows and backgrounds of old photographs. My heart beats a little faster every time I flip through those pages just thinking of what might be revealed about the past.)

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