A Good House: Building a Life on the Land

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"It is a measure of the confusion of our times that the simplest words tease out the most complicated questions. Words like 'good' and 'house.' What do we mean by these? A year of my life turned on this question, a year in which I built my own house." These thoughts launch us into Richard Manning's powerful and compelling account of his building an environmentally conscious house on a thirty-eight acre piece of land in the wilds of western Montana. Concerned about our culture's disregard for the environment, and facing his own mid-life crisis,
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Overview

"It is a measure of the confusion of our times that the simplest words tease out the most complicated questions. Words like 'good' and 'house.' What do we mean by these? A year of my life turned on this question, a year in which I built my own house." These thoughts launch us into Richard Manning's powerful and compelling account of his building an environmentally conscious house on a thirty-eight acre piece of land in the wilds of western Montana. Concerned about our culture's disregard for the environment, and facing his own mid-life crisis, Richard Manning decided to rebuild what he could. First he remarried, and then, determined to adopt fully the values of conservation, he decided to build "a life on the land." We follow as Richard and his wife, Tracy, with the aid of some fascinating characters - Bruce the water dowser; Banker McKee; Trusty Dave the digger; Skinny Jim and his partner Big Jim of the concrete crew; the lumbermen, the Finlays; the carpenters Bruce and Mike; Karl the mason; Gallacher as gofer; the rockers Larry, Rick, and Steve; and numerous others - conceive, finance, and build their house. Combining lessons from the history of house construction with contemporary technologies, the Mannings immerse themselves, body and soul, into the project: from devising the exact layout of the timber-framed structure and determining the minimum amount of water they will have to draw from the arid region, to calculating the superinsulation needed for successful passive-solar heating and installing a composting toilet, they strive to match beauty with efficiency, integration with practicality. Painfully aware that his earth-sheltered dwelling requires him to cut down trees and dig up the earth, among other destructive acts, Manning compromises when necessary but holds on to an idea that seems antithetical to modern ways: "Less is better." With the first warnings of winter, the months of working around the clock begin to take their toll, and the couple near
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Newly remarried after a bitter divorce, Manning at age 40 determined to build an environmentally sensitive house with his own hands. Having found land on the edge of the Missoula Valley in Montana, his first step was to drill for water. Manning had help from friends, professionals in the building trade and casual laborers--all of them, as depicted here, distinctive characters. He leads readers on a circuitous path: topics such as tools, concrete, wood and power serve as measures of progress. In the chapter on ``Filth,'' Manning details his problems with a chemical toilet, concluding that the manufacturer's manual was too fastidious. Though he had to make compromises, Manning was satisfied with the house. Readers will be too. Photos. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Man reaches midlife, gets divorce, finds a new wife, and decides to build a house in the country. While the plot is familiar, the writing raises this above the level of most other ``country home'' chronicles. Manning, a freelance writer whose expose of timber industry practices ( Last Stand , LJ 10/1/91) cost him his newspaper job, put extensive research into his effort to produce a home in Montana that was both comfortable and relatively uninvasive to nature. Throughout the book, the reader is treated to Manning's inner musings: observations about how social pressures and material availability have affected construction methods throughout history, plumbing as a micromodel of the earth's water cycle, and cabinetwork as the neurosurgery of carpentry. The final chapter on sources contains a short, annotated list of current materials useful in planning a comfortable and environmentally friendly home. More about homebuilding than country life, this is good information for the ``planning-your-dream-home'' crowd.-- Cheryl Childress, Collegiate Sch., Richmond, Va.
Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Manning, whose Last Stand (not reviewed) was an expos‚ of the logging industry, now turns to the story of his decision to put his conservationist principles into action by building—largely with his own hands—a house that embodied the values he's espoused in his writing. We see the process literally from the ground up—anyone who wonders how a house is put together will learn a great deal here—since Manning is fascinated by the complexities of carpentry, wiring, and plumbing, and the skills of those who do these necessary tasks. Each stage of the construction gets a separate chapter, covering not only the physical process of construction, but its history and its relationship to the ecological and conservational issues that are the author's real subject: where the lumber comes from, how hydroelectric dams affect wildlife, how much water is lost with every flush of a toilet. "Less is more" becomes a central theme throughout as Manning shows alternative ways to build a house while keeping waste and energy consumption to a minimum. And he keeps the reader aware of how the house relates to the natural setting of which it is a part—from the ground squirrels that raid his vegetable garden to the trees that feed his woodstove. Nor does he neglect the human element: nearly every chapter features a sympathetically drawn portrait of some member of his Montana community—be it dowser or banker or backhoe operator—who contributed in some way to the project. Manning combines the nuts-and-bolts concreteness of a how-to book with a lively sense of history and a genuine dedication to principle and self-reliance: this one has the potential to becomea modern American classic. (Eight pages of color and b&w photos—not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802115034
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/1993
  • Pages: 238

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