An inviting exploration of architecture across cultures and centuries by one of the field’s eminent authors
In this sweeping history, from the Stone Age to the present day, Witold Rybczynski shows how architectural ideals have been affected by technological, economic, and social changes—and by changes in taste. The host of examples ranges from places of worship such as Hagia Sophia and Brunelleschi’s Duomo to living spaces such as the Katsura Imperial Villa and the Alhambra, national icons such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Sydney Opera House, and skyscrapers such as the Seagram Building and Beijing’s CCTV headquarters. Rybczynski’s narrative emphasizes the ways that buildings across time and space are united by the human desire for order, meaning, and beauty.
This is the story of architecture’s physical manifestation of the universal aspiration to celebrate, honor, and commemorate, and an exploration of the ways that each building is a unique product of patrons, architects, and builders. Firm in opinion, even-handed, and rooted in scholarship, this book will delight anyone interested in understanding the buildings they use, visit, and pass by each day.
Rarely have I heard of a book with a weirder title, but Grant explains this book about how animals think is actually as useful as it is interesting. “A dazzling, delightful read on what animal cognition can teach us about our own mental shortcomings,” he writes. “I tore through his book in one sitting. I dare you to read it without rethinking some of your basic ideas about intelligence.” (It’s out August 9th.)
2. The Neuroscience of You by Chantel Prat
“Move over, outer space–this book is a stunning tour through inner space. This neuroscientist has a rare, remarkable gift for making neurons sing and dendrites dance. She’s written the smartest, clearest, and funniest book I’ve ever read about the brain,” Grant enthuses about The Neuroscience of You. (Out August 2nd.)
3. What We Owe the Future by Will MacAskill
Grant isn’t the only public thinker raving about this book by an Oxford philosopher about our “moral responsibility to do right by our grandchildren’s grandchildren.” “This book will change your sense of how grand the sweep of human history could be, where you fit into it, and how much you could do to change it for the better. It’s as simple, and as ambitious, as that,” says Ezra Klein. (Out August 16th.)
4. Longpath by Ari Wallach
Next on the list is another book about long-term thinking (apparently a preoccupation of Grant’s at the moment). He explains his second pick on the topic this way: “This book is an antidote to nearsightedness. A futurist offers an actionable guide for planning multiple generations in the future.” (Also out August 16th.)
5. Both/And Thinking by Wendy Smith and Marianne Lewis
This book by a pair of business school professors is specifically aimed at leaders trying to navigate uncertain times. “Life is full of paradoxes, and too often we ignore them or try to erase them when we should be learning how to manage them. Two top scholars of paradox examine how to embrace tensions and overcome tradeoffs,” says Grant. Fellow business writer Tom Peters is more succinct: “This book is, pure and simple, a masterpiece.” (Out August 9th)
Today’s episode features two books that reach deep into the animal world. First, E.O. Wilson sits down with Robert Seigel to discuss how the narrative of war is used in his story featuring ants, called Anthill.
Then writer Ed Yong talks with Ayesha Roscoe about trying to show the experience of life through a different perspective – animals – in An Immense World.
When travel writer and novelist Mary Morris was badly injured in an ice-skating accident, she feared that her life of adventure was over. But a quote from Thomas Mann convinced her otherwise: “He would go on a journey. Not far. Not all the way to the tigers.” Thus began Morris’s three-year-quest — which does take her far, from Brooklyn to the jungles of India — to find a tiger in the wild. Like her much-lauded memoir Nothing to Declare, Morris’s latest book is a thoughtful, spiritual, genre-bending journey.
Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria
By Noo Saro-Wiwa ’01JRN (2012)
Noo Saro-Wiwa spent her childhood in the United Kingdom, traveling back to her native Nigeria only on summer vacations. But when she was nineteen, her father, a journalist and activist, was killed by Nigerian police. Saro-Wiwa returned to her homeland to reckon with her father’s legacy and try to understand the history of the nation that killed him. Part memoir, part family history, and part travelogue, it’s an intriguing (and surprisingly funny) look at a very complicated country.
Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am
By Julia Cooke ’13SOA (2021)
There’s nothing glamorous about flying these days, so it’s extra fun to tag along with Julia Cooke back to the 1960s, the golden age of air travel, when working as a Pan Am stewardess was peak cool. Cooke tells five such women’s stories, which run the gamut from the enviable (shopping sprees in Paris and beach holidays in the Philippines) to the unbelievable (evading the KGB in Moscow and smuggling a newsreel out of war-torn Pakistan).
Meyer Schapiro Abroad: Letters to Lillian and Travel Notebooks
By Meyer Schapiro ’24CC, ’35GSAS, edited by Daniel Esterman ’65CC (2009)
Meyer Schapiro is known as one of the twentieth century’s most accomplished art historians. But in 1926 and 1927, he was still a Columbia graduate student, studying abroad in Europe and the Middle East. The letters that he wrote to his then fiancée, Lillian, as well as the notebooks that he kept, are ripe with budding observations on art and politics and represent a fascinating time capsule of intellectual life nearly a century ago.
Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World
By M. R. O’Connor ’08JRN (2019)
Technology has made wayfinding — “the use and organization of sensory information from the environment to guide us” — almost obsolete. But before GPS, or even written maps, humans purposefully traveled great distances across the earth. Journalist M. R. O’Connor draws on disciplines from neuroscience to anthropology to explore how they did it. Her findings are fascinating, and so is her journey to reach them, which takes her to the Arctic tundra, the Australian outback, and the islands of the South Pacific.
Secret Brooklyn: An Unusual Guide
By Michelle Young ’12GSAPP and Augustin Pasquet (2019)
Michelle Young, an adjunct professor of architecture at Columbia, is the founder of Untapped New York, a website dedicated to the secret corners and hidden gems of America’s biggest city. So it’s no surprise that her guide to Brooklyn is equally full of treasures — things like the world’s oldest subway tunnel and a museum built into the hallway of a Williamsburg apartment building. It’s an indispensable resource for visitors and residents alike.
Tread Brightly: Notes on Ethical Travel
Edited by Sarika Bansal ’12SIPA (2021)
Editor Sarika Bansal is a true citizen of the world: she has lived on five continents, speaks four languages, and has traveled extensively. So she’s more than qualified to ask tough questions and offer wisdom about how to travel ethically. The essays and photos in her collection tackle topics like the ecological implications of cruise ships, the ways that study-abroad programs and “orphanage tourism” impact communities, and the role that privilege plays in exploration. It’s a timely wake-up call, with plenty of thoughtful ideas for the future.
The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty
By Vendela Vida ’96SOA (2015)
One of the most alluring elements of travel is self-reinvention, an idea central to Vendela Vida’s captivating, mind-bending thriller. Upon arriving at her hotel in Casablanca, Vida’s heroine is robbed of her passport and all her belongings. Strangely liberated by the crime that stripped her of her identity, she starts posing as a famous film star, which takes her on a series of mysterious adventures. Vida’s writing is full of fun twists, and any armchair traveler will delight in her portrait of the sunbaked Moroccan city.
Italy for the Gourmet Traveler
By Fred Plotkin ’80JRN (2014)
There are plenty of good reasons to travel to Italy, but for most people the food is high on the list. And Fred Plotkin — an expert on Italian opera and cuisine — is the consummate guide. He has tips on the best restaurants, gelato stands, markets, wineries, and olive-oil distilleries, from the bustling centers of Rome and Milan to tiny villages off most tourist-trodden paths. Plotkin is working with travel-guide guru Rick Steves on a new gastronomic guide to Italy, out in 2023. Until then, this fifth edition remains an excellent resource.
Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents
By Elisabeth Eaves ’99SIPA (2011)
Elisabeth Eaves lives by the notion that you can “go off into the world and let it carry you along.” Her memoir chronicles fifteen years of truly globe-spanning travel — from the busy streets of Cairo to the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Almost every new place comes with a romance, but Eaves is clearly reluctant to settle down with any of the men she meets. It’s a journey that will speak to anyone who craves the unknown and fears the mundane.
An ethereal meditation on longing, loss, and time, sweeping from the highways of Texas to the canals of Mars–by the acclaimed essayist and author of Shame and Wonder
David Searcy’s writing is enchanting and peculiar, obsessed with plumbing the mysteries and wonders of our everyday world, the beauty and cruelty of time, and nothing less than what he calls “the whole idea of meaning.” In The Tiny Bee That Hovers at the Center of the World, he leads the reader across the landscapes of his extraordinary mind, moving from the decaying architectural wonder that is the town of Arcosanti, Arizona, to driving the vast, open Texas highway in his much-abused college VW Beetle, to the mysterious, canal-riddled Martian landscape that famed astronomer Percival Lowell first set eyes on, via his telescope, in 1894. Searcy does not come at his ideas directly, but rather digresses and meditates and analyzes until some essential truth has been illuminated–and it is in that journey that the beauty is found.
“Some of the largest and most wonderful creatures in Africa have become very dear to me over the years,” Schmeisser writes. His book of portraits carries two messages. “It [is] a homage and warning at the same time—a visual message with the aim of sharpening our clouded view of the one, infinitely complex and vulnerable nature and to recognize which treasures we are about to irretrievably lose,” he writes.
There are exactly two black rhinos left in the world, a subspecies of the white rhino, the very last of their kind. In this deeply poignant tribute, photographer Joachim Schmeisser presents these rhinos as well as other wild animals in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya, where Maasai tribespeople ensure that nobody endangers them. With his breathtaking black-and-white images, Schmeisser brings us up close to these extraordinary and endangered creatures, creating a powerful document of nature’s splendor and fragility.
Vertical Living is an introduction to the architecture and interior masterminds using skillful, clever design to conquer compact living wherever there is space. As we continue to expect more of our flats and houses, unexpected approaches are necessary for the future of our urban spaces.
The era of moving to the suburbs is coming to an end. Instead, a growing movement of city dwellers are looking for grand architectural solutions in the smallest of spaces. Slender, slim, and tall structures are soaring in the limited land available, offering innovative solutions to a world with ever-growing urbanization.
The book looks at ingenious architectural solutions: impossibly skinny houses wedged into narrow plots, spacious homes built into neglected infill sites and comfortable homes created in tiny spaces. By combining inspirational projects, in-depth features and engaging profiles of architects around the world, Vertical Living will offer a new way of looking at how we live in the built environment.
For more than six centuries, the Forbidden City has awed all those who have travelled from near and far to explore its 900 golden-roofed buildings, set amid moats, gardens, and plazas, where thousands of people lived and worked in service of the world’s largest and most sophisticated pre-modern empire. Marco Polo called it “the greatest Palace that ever was;” Simon Leys praised its architectural genius; and Franz Kafka viewed it as an impressive yet alarming symbol of power.
In this compelling addition to Assouline’s Ultimate Collection, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ian Johnson guides readers through the magnificent and storied palace built by China’s Yongle Emperor to serve as the seat of the Ming dynasty. Weaving in history and events of the past six centuries and featuring more than 100 photographs, artworks, and historical artifacts, this luxury tome conjures life in this imperial sphere—a small city unto itself, in which soldiers, eunuchs, concubines, and merchants resided alongside the royalty they served. A stunning homage to the grand beauty of one of the most complex structures in all of history, Forbidden City reveals that 600 years after its construction, this royal monument endures as the physical and spiritual heart of Chinese civilization. This volume is presented in a regal, glossy red box reminiscent of traditional Chinese lacquerware, and that features a delicately carved map of the Forbidden City’s grounds.
This book explores the innovative and inspiring ways architects are using this universal building material. Spanning grand Alpine escapes to tropical getaways, plywood penthouses to mass timber high-rises, Out of the Woods documents their progressive and inspiring creations from the foundations up.
Humans have been building homes from wood for thousands of years, and yet, in a contemporary world of option and innovation, the most primitive resource could in fact be the most pertinent.
Stretching back to historic Japanese houses, becoming synonymous with resort accommodation, and intertwining itself in the modern trend of hygge, its tactility and warmth have influenced countless architectural design movements. Timber is fast emerging as a viable material of choice, a safe, sturdy, and sustainable alternative to concrete. Architects are rediscovering wood’s universal appeal, thanks to recent technological advances.