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The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  2,337 Ratings  ·  423 Reviews
Faced with the sale of the century-old family summer house on Cape Cod where he had spent forty-two summers, George Howe Colt returned for one last stay with his wife and children. This poignant tribute to the eleven-bedroom jumble of gables, bays, and dormers that watched over weddings, divorces, deaths, anniversaries, birthdays, breakdowns, and love affairs for five gene ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Scribner (first published 2003)
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May 01, 2007 Sam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Yes!
This book really hit home for me. As my Dad said after reading this book, EVERYONE has a 'Big House' whether it is an actual house, people, a place, or just a time of your life that is ephemeral. This chronicles the story of a house that has been a part of the New England Colt family for several generations and how once their family fortune was squandered after many many years, it became impossible to keep this house in which so many memories were born. It is at times hysterical, tragic, heartwa ...more
Aug 04, 2008 Cammy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was unpacking books today and found this great books in the bottom of a box. It is written by a man whose family has owned a home on cape Cod for 100 years and now, because of the cost of upkeep and the number of family members, it is being sold. He begins the book with his last visit to the house he has been going to all his life and then goes back to the memories of all the years it has been in the family. It is a poignant book about family, legacies, memories, and how to say good-bye to a p ...more
Oct 08, 2008 Kris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Reading G.H. Colt's The Big House you may find yourself shutting the book at page 150, and thinking to yourself, "Wait, why do I feel sorry for this dude -- in the original sense of the word -- who summers every August in Wings Neck? Because he's losing his summer home? Errr ..."

Yet, you can't help but be intrigued by Colt's well-written book. He has tale after tale to tell about his time spent at his summer home, built many generations ago by his great-great-great ... great grandfather, Ned At
The Big House has been part of the Colt family history since it was built by the author's great grandfather, Ned Atkinson in the very early years of the 18th century. Build on Bluff overlooking Cape Cod, it is the epitome of a bygone era, during which time all the old Boston families were building summer homes as an escape from the city. And though large and rambling, one time staffed by a host of maids and boasting a separate cottage to house the chauffeur, like other summer homes of it's era i ...more
Feb 04, 2010 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book for three reasons:

1. His wife, Anne Fadiman, is one of my most favorite authors, so it was fun to see her from another perspective.

2. We had a summer house up until 2003 that I loved loved loved. (We called it "camp"). Sadly, unlike The Big House, it did not get sold to a member of my family, and I miss it terribly. I do not think there will ever be another place as good. The Big House made me miss it all over again (and feel better about being so emotional over a house).

3. H
Mar 11, 2016 Sallee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I found this memoir interesting as the author took us through the life of a huge summer house shared by several generations of his very large family. House history and family histories made this part memoir and part biography a bittersweet story, slowly moving to the story's close.
Jul 04, 2012 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I have read few books so desperately in need of editing as George Howe Colt's The Big House. Colt tells the story of the grand old summer house on Cape Cod that has been in his family for over a century. If he had stuck to the story of that house, this would have been a very fine book. But the endless meditations on the peculiarities of Boston society are profoundly wearying. I can't even imagine a proper Bostonian putting up with page after page after page of his blather.

That said, there are s
Jul 27, 2013 Judy rated it it was amazing
I started reading this book in much the same way the author's family used The Big House - as a vacation get-away - though in their case it was an extended summer stay. I read what I could on weekends. But I became so eager to learn what became of the house that I could no longer relegate my reading to weekends.

George Colt writes a history of the house that his great-grandfather built on Cape Cod in 1903 and that the family has enjoyed as a summer retreat for four generations. He skillfully weave
I was disappointed with this book. It was mainly the author's incessant whining about all the wonderful events in their "summer lives," on Cape Cod as opposed to their winter lives in Boston and of course dispersed around the world in wonderful places: London, New York, Greenwich, Montreal. It reminded me of a certain columnist in the York Sunday News who wrote about his kids college experiences as though they were the only two teenagers to ever go away to college. The author writes as though he ...more
May 18, 2011 Debbie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I need a map! And a geneology chart!! And what the heck is a Brahmin?? How have I not heard that term before? Granted, I am no Bostonian, but I did spend most of my life in the northeast... I'm so glad I'm past the architectural history and into the family's stories. I'm now able to keep my eyes open for more than 2 pages at a time! :)

Okay - finished reading it this morning. (Obviously we are finished in the playoffs, or I never would have had that kind of time...) It did get a little bi
Mar 10, 2008 Lori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this will be one of those quiet books whose impact doesn't really hit you until after you've finished. It's a slow mover, lots of history and details (some of which I bypassed or skimmed, especially the sailing parts, but I looked forward to reading it every day and I'll probably thinking about it quite a bit now that I'm done. The family tree stuff gets confusing and by the end I couldn't remember who was who, but the family history is interesting. I wish the author had included picture ...more
Jul 16, 2012 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am really enjoying this book written about a place I am not at all familiar with. The history is so interesting and I love picturing the house with all it's additions and nooks and crannies. But the edition I have really needs a map and a picture of the house (from the ocean side). I used Google map to find out where Wing's neck is and try to identify the house but it is still not satisfying.

Now that I finished it, I find it's one of those books where you
miss the people and the place. I would
Rach Ashby
Mar 27, 2009 Rach Ashby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although it took me all summer to read - I thoroughly enjoyed the vivid pictures that were created through word. I can relate to Colt's attachment to a Big House.
Aug 25, 2009 Lizz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Clearly brings back the atmosphere of summers on New England beaches. Wonderfully romantic read.
Apr 22, 2017 Jan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a story to be rushed along, rather, it should be savored and contemplated. Imagine, an 8 gabled, 8,000 sf house set on 13 acres of waterfront in Cape Code, built in 1903 with 11 bedrooms that housed members of the Boston Colt family for four generations. Called "The Big House", I could see that house and its surroundings in my mind so vivid were Colt's descriptions and felt like I knew each family member by name and sight. Truly a historic piece.
Sarah Whitney
A few quotes that stuck out....

It is a house without memories, a house without ghosts, a house waiting to become a home.
Page 77

Even a Bostonian’s manners are a form of self-denial. There have been occasions in the Big House when I – and everyone else in my family – have let the last ear of corn on the platter languish uneaten rather than suffer the ignominy of appearing selfish. Back to the kitchen it will go, at which point someone will surreptitiously gobble it up: in the Brahmin hierarchy of
Kristie Helms
Feb 17, 2014 Kristie Helms rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every so often the right book comes along at the right time and just touches the exact right personal chord. This book came along about 6 months before I actually decided to read it, but I feel now as if it were just waiting for me to be in the headspace to be moved by it.

Good job, book.

I've lived in Boston almost 13 years. And while I love it dearly, I am very decidedly not from Boston. Not anywhere even close to being from Boston. There is a way I think Boston gets into the very bones of the p
George Howe Colt's great-grandfather, a wealthy Bostonian, built a large shingled house on a peninsula overlooking Buzzard's Bay at the entrance to Cape Cod. After several additions to accomodate a growing family, it was a nineteen room house full of gables, dormers, and secret places for the grandchildren to hide. The author writes about four generations of his family enjoying wonderful summers at the Big House. As an adult, he also finds out about the difficulties and complications in some of ...more
Jan 15, 2013 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1859 Boston was the centerpiese of what Van Wyck Brooks caller "the flowering of New England": the nation's literary and artistic headquarters, the city where future presidents were educated, the fertile breeding ground for all the new isms - Unitarianism, Trancentalism, abolitionism, feminism.

"No person could be really well, no person... could be really in a state of secure and permanent health without spending at least six weeks by the sea every year." -Jane Austen

Of his summer ho
Sep 20, 2012 Lauriann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Oh, if walls could talk...." But they do! They speak through the voice of the author of this memoir. George Colt returns to the Cape Cod home built by great grandfather 100 years ago, to bathe in the memories it holds one last time before the house goes up for sale. His family becomes ours as we spend that summer with him. The house is well built, and so is the family, or so it seems until we learn in Part II that all was not all it seemed through his child-eyes. There is a lot of money in the ...more
Dec 28, 2016 Melinda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
First the positives. I had fun exploring the nooks and crannies of this 1903 Cape Cod family manse with the author. Love old houses and the stories they contain. I also enjoyed many of the stories about the generations who called the house home for three months in the summer. I also learned quite a bit about the Boston Brahmins which, as I understand it, are the "old money" people who had money at one time and for a long time because they were tighter than Dick's hatband, as my grandfather would ...more
Mary Simses
Aug 15, 2014 Mary Simses rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. Maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in New England (Connecticut) and have been to Cape Cod a number of times, and I'm very familiar with the area and the type of summer house and summer life the author, George Colt, describes. This book is about the a summer house that was built by the author's great-great grandfather (I think I have the right number of "greats" in there) and which was the summer destination for his family (parents and brothers) wh ...more
Feb 21, 2013 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Who can say how long we mourn for times and places past? Even though my parents had sold our summer house on Cape Cod nearly 20 years before this book was published, the grief was still too raw at the time for me to read The Big House, despite several friends' assurances that I would love it. I'm so glad that I finally got around to reading it. Thank you, George Howe Colt. This house memoir describes a family summer mindset that I thought was only my own with such gentle and specific detail, rig ...more
Jul 19, 2014 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Well done book about change and permanence in people's lives and families all through the lens of this "Big House" (as well as being most certainly about the big house itself). I thought it was wonderful. Through this house we also catch a fascinating glimpse into the fading WASP culture of the east coast, and its adaption to the world at large today. The book also gives you a strong taste and smell of summer in New England. It captures wonderfully the sights; smells and feel of summer by the wa ...more
Shonna Froebel
Nov 17, 2012 Shonna Froebel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book I picked up last summer out on Vancouver Island. It was recommended by one of the staff at Tanner's in Sidney. Colt tells the story of a summer home on Cape Cod that was built in 1903 and that he spent summers at regularly all his life. Not only is it the story of an interesting house, but it is also a social history of summer homes on the Cape and a family history. Colt talks about the last summer he spent at the house with his wife and young children, and reminisces about the ti ...more
Sep 16, 2009 Carolyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a really nice story, but took me a long time to get into it. I really wanted to like it, but I kept feeling side-tracked by the very personal details that the author went into about his family. I also found the writing style and vocabulary a little pretentious, although there were some very beautiful passages describing the house and the Cape. I kept reading because every once in a while there was a passage particularly relevant to me about summer living or Boston history (where I curre ...more
Jun 15, 2016 Pammie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this with my Contemporary Literature book group. This book was interesting, but probably wouldn't be if you didn't come from a mid-to upper-class Puritanish background. Family owns a house on Cape Cod, generations go there as a summer retreat, kids play all summer long. Bliss-bliss-bliss. Fast forward to present day, no one in the extended family has enough money to pay taxes and upkeep on a huge ancient decaying pile. What to do? Kind of melancholy, but when you think about people with REA ...more
Michelle Ritchie-haddow
I loved this book. A memoir of a family's connection to a summer house on Cape Cod, this includes fabulous descriptions of their summer activities as well as thoughtful revelations about what was going on behind the scenes in the large family. "There is nothing to do, and we do it all the time." is my favorite quote from the book, a sentence in a letter written when the experience of going to Cape Cod for the summer was new and needed definition. The author captures well the way in which summer ...more
Oct 05, 2011 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Big House is the family nickname for the summer home on Cape Cod built by the author’s great grandparents. Occasioned by his final visit with his children and wife (author Anne Fadiman), knowing that the house will soon be sold, the author reflects on his childhood summers at the beach.

By contrasting his carefree early perceptions with the greater awareness that came with age, the author brings this complicated and stoic Boston Brahmin family to life for the reader. The book has an unmatche
Carol Vuillemenot
This is not a bad book if you are interested in some of the history of the population patterns of Cape Cod, MA. I was much more interested in the people who owned the Big House, their family interactions, et al. The house itself is big (11 bedrooms, many bathrooms, a separate quest house, etc.). I really couldn't identify with that family or their property and so I got bored quickly. After page 78, I skimmed a few chapters and then just read the last chapter even though I knew the ending. All is ...more
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George Howe Colt is the bestselling author of November of the Soul The Enigma of Suicide and The Big House, which was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times notable book. He is married to the American author Anne Fadiman and lives with his family in Western Massachusetts.
More about George Howe Colt...

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“When I was growing up my mother used to tell me that the best gift parents could give their children was to have a strong and loving relationship with each other.” 2 likes
“A summer house in winter is a forlorn thing. In its proper season, every door is unlocked, every window wide open. People, too, are more open in summer, moving through the house and each other’s lives as freely as the wind. Their schools and offices are distant, their guard is down, their feet are bare.” 0 likes
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