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A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  4,059 ratings  ·  437 reviews
A room of one's own: is there anybody who hasn't at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn't turned those soft words over until they'd assumed a habitable shape?

When writer Michael Pollan decided to plant a garden, the result was an award-winning treatise on the borders between nature and contemporary life, the acclaimed bestseller Second Nature. Now Pollan turn
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 9th 1998 by Dell (first published March 4th 1997)
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Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
“Unlike any other form of thought, daydreaming is its own reward.”
― Michael Pollan, A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder

It took me a bit longer to come back and review this.


I adore Michael Pollan. Sometimes he comes across as a bit too foodie-East Coast-hipster, but his writing and perspectives keep pulling me back. His writing all seems to contain the same germ or basic theme. Whether he is writing about food, gardening, cooking, or building a house/writing room, Pollan gra
Apr 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Each time I go on an extended vacation where I have lots of time to read, it seems there's one stand-out book from the 3-4 that I book that potentially changes my life, or at least my understanding of what I want life to be.

This book, unquestionably was the one standout from my current hiatus from real life. I can't even begin to say why. It seems like a book about building a place to work would be a touch boring, but Pollan had me hooked from the first page forward...some times I
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
I like Michael Pollan. I think he's a wonderful writer, and every so often I am amazed at a sentence he writes. Unfortunately, this book stretches my tolerance for self-indulgence beyond its limits. Seriously, the only thing more more unbearable than being the kind of person who needs a "writing cabin" is being the kind of person who writes a book about needing, and building, that writing cabin. ...more
My father-in-law is a prolific reader and doesn't seem to mind the length or breadth of any subject. So when he told me he found this book to be a bit wordy, I knew I was in for a bit of a marathon when I picked it up. As much as I have enjoyed Pollan's other books ( Omnivore's Dilemmna and Botany of Desire), I did find this one to be a bit winded and in need of a good editor to cut out about 60 pages. Perhaps if I had approached the book as a condensed history of architecture, I wouldn't have b ...more
Julia Milner
If more architecture textbooks were as thoughtful, thorough, and accessible as Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own, I would have kept studying architecture. While the premise of the book is simple—a writer making his own writing hut—Pollan brings the story to life by connecting our everyday experiences of shelter to deeper musings on architecture, nature, literature, culture, and the history of building. It was a witty, insightful read that got me daydreaming.

I would recommend this book to anyone
2,5/5. Not really what I was looking for. if you're looking for a book about architecture, home made building and lot of description about the process, from choosing the right place and why based on what and quoting some people here and there, a lot of Thoreau quotes, well you might like it, it isn't a bad book. But for me the long description of analysis and factual process was way too long and boring for me. I was hoping for me thoughts about why he do it, the thinking behind that but on a psy ...more
Nov 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Ostensibly, about the design and construction of a 13' x 8' "writing house" in the authors back yard, this books deals more with the author's need to find a balance in his life between a career stringing sentences together to producing a more tangible object. In this, the author's second book, he comes to terms with this neglected aspect of his life, and we come along for the ride. The book was actually very easy to read and had many entertaining moments, while still covering some complex topics ...more
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There's a great review for this book here on goodreads wherein the reviewer makes the point that the only thing more unbearable than a guy who feels he needs to build himself a writing cabin is a guy who writes an entire book about needing and building a writing cabin. Not much more to say. That pretty much covers it. 2 stars. ...more
Aug 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: jilblu
Recommended to Ken-ichi by: John C
Shelves: learning, snoot
The problem with Michael Pollan’s books is that they are very, very hard to put down. Even on the topic of architecture, which is not one I ostensibly care about, he sucked me in from page 1. This is a wonderful, engaging, interesting book, addressing a slew of topics from man’s relationship to nature (Pollan’s recurring theme) to the timeless, bitter enmity between architects and carpenters (same applies to designers and engineers in any discipline, I think).

My favorite passages were his reiter
The version I listened to has a different title (A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Dreams). Anyway, I admit I expected this book to focus more on the impulse behind building a place of retreat ("dreams"), rather than a step by step guide (or so it seemed) to building the shed ("architecture"). The time, energy, and expense spent on this retreat . . . er . . . this folly were amazing to me. Surely castles have been built with less fanfare and drama. I was troubled by Pollan's attitude toward ...more
Jul 04, 2011 added it
Shelves: abandoned
i think michael pollan is an exceptionally good writer... i hung in there with him writing about building his little hut for 221/301 pages. it's just that he got so philosophical about this little place. he put so much deep spiritual meaning into his hut and the building of it that i just did not understand. i guess i have always thought that things are things. i am not an architect and i haven't built anything more than a table in shop class in high school, and maybe that's what it takes to und ...more
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Despite Pollan being typically overly self-deprecating, the construction/design portion of this book is interesting and worthwhile. However, the discussion of architectural movements was too theoretical for me. Seeing as Pollan's writing house was made by hand, using local materials and aided by local artisans (and thus a rather traditional construction process), it's an odd choice to spend the bulk of the book analyzing modernism v. post-modernism. Pollan has a tendency to spend much of his wor ...more
Jul 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm always a fan of Michael Pollan's prose, and this early Pollan book is on a topic that has interested me for awhile, without my being able to name it or fit it into an academic discipline. I've been calling it "the experience of place," but I didn't know who else thought or wrote about such things, if anyone. Turns out Michael Pollan does, among others. The book is about his experience designing and building a small building in which to write. He deals with the relationship between architectu ...more
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The architecture of daydreams is the subtitle, and I found myself daydreaming of the authors writing house described as two bookshelves holding up a roof. I daydreamed about learning to work with wood, although I have little interest in that, but mostly about space and the way we inhabit it. The incarnation of space. How our homes (usually) and offices make up the way we move and then respond to the way we move. The absurdity of modern architecture’s decent into art, as opposed to historical arc ...more
Nov 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
The ultimate diy might just be the construction of a shelter, which Michael Pollan writes compellingly about in A Place of My Own. Being somewhat more accustomed to the tools of pen and The Chicago Manual of Style than to a hammer and nail at the start of his project, he was somewhat apprehensive about his sudden compulsion to build himself a treehouse-library in the woods up the hill from his home. We can see what the studio did for his work: The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, two ...more
Sep 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a very introspective, philosophical book about building a small, one-room structure. I guess I enjoy reading about construction and woodworking, because despite the gory details, the book held my interest throughout. For me, the highlight of the book is the contrast in approach between the architect and the contractor/carpenter. Despite pleas to "keep the construction simple", the architect deliberately designed something that is different, and sometimes these differences led to difficul ...more
Gerald Prokop
May 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, ecology, design
This book made me wish Michael Pollan would go back to writing about things other than food.
ML Hart
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Michael Pollan’s second book is chronicled in this, his search for a writing refuge. What’s it about? Getting up from the desk and doing physical labor, architecture, history, design, writing, family, woodworking, honesty, weather, accomplishments, philosophy, craft and writing-the-second-book. For a start.

This is a leisurely read, a slow one, to be savored. Extensive chapter endnotes and a bibliography of the many books mentioned are part of the backmatter, and much appreciated for those of us
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
After hearing an inspriational interview with Michael Pollan on the "Longform" podcast (episode #347), I decided to read all of Pollan's books. He seemed to have the perfect voice, with much instruction, and a love of research. He is a perfect teacher at Berkeley and Harvard, I'm sure. I started with this book on building, since I am building too, and I was glad to hear his 8'x 10' writing shed took a long two and 1/2 years to build. Pollan had never built anything, but yet had become friends wi ...more
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a person who is working in the architecture/construction industry I thought this book was brilliant. It's true, the book is not for everyone and gets a little too wordy sometimes but is a must-read if you are interested in history of architecture.

Michael Pollan, tells us the story of himself building a "writing house" in the woods with some help from a couple of his friends and in the process explores the history of and the ideologies related to architecture and construction. From finding ou
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The reviewer who said, "the only thing more unbearable than being the kind of person who needs a "writing cabin" is being the kind of person who writes a book about needing, and building, that writing cabin," has probably never built a house. Many years ago my husband and I designed and built with our own hands a home out of native rock gathered from our property. As we listened together to this audio book, there were so many moments that Michael Pollan put into words our ineffable experience. H ...more
Jamie Donovan
Nov 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
A whimsical examination of architecture and what it means to build with your own hands. Another book that holds Thoreau up as a God of all things natural, it is quite dense at times and I'm glad I listened to it as an audio book. Pollan has a brilliant eye for detail and for explaining how architecture has changed. Main takeaway is that building your own little writing house is neither cheap or easy, but deeply rewarding, in a way that digital labour rarely is. ...more
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, memoirs
Love, love, love this book, and it makes me want to go build something of my own. I really wish there had been more description or illustration or even a glossary of building terms - descriptions of parts of a window sill, for example, use a lot of terminology I wasn't familiar with, and I had to put the book down often and wade through Wikipedia to try and figure out what was going on. ...more
Mar 10, 2020 rated it liked it
His journey trying to make his own writing cabin. His reflections on learning and geeking out on the architecture and craftsmanship of the whole process. So probably a bit dry of a topic for most. I found it refreshing and something a bit different to read.
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars
Melanie Ullrich
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Michael Pollan never disappoints.
Of course, now I want to built a place of my own for myself.
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my favorite Pollan book. Interesting, personal, deeply researched, and compelling, this book explores so much more than just the construction of a writer’s shack.
Jesus Areyano
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite reads of his. As someone who works and has been around construction most of their life I truly appreciate the care that he has taken with such a simple build.
Dec 26, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was good, but could have been 100 pages shorter. His small writing house becomes the context for architectural philosophy: nature vs culture, Hereness vs Thereness. That part had me snoozing. I did like how he mirrored that dichotomy in his book- each chapter begins with him and his carpenter and architect working in the actual house (here), and evolving into discussions of architects I had to look up, and historical contexts for design features or lack thereof (there).
Robert Walkley
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Michael Pollan is an interesting writer. He gets me interested in things I didn’t think I had much interest in. “A Place of My Own” is sort of a modern day version of Thoreau building his hut on Walden Pond—only with much better appliances and wood, as well as a higher standard of living (if money is your standard.) Pollan throws everything into his story except maybe the kitchen sink. It’s almost too much information and in spots can be a slow read. (I think Pollan once advised about writing: " ...more
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Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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“Daydreaming does not enjoy tremendous prestige in our culture, which tends to regard it as unproductive thought. Writers perhaps appreciate its importance better than most, since a fair amount of what they call work consists of little more than daydreaming edited. Yet anyone who reads for pleasure should prize it too, for what is reading a good book but a daydream at second hand? Unlike any other form of thought, daydreaming is its own reward.” 14 likes
“People have traditionally turned to ritual to help them frame and acknowledge and ultimately even find joy in just such a paradox of being human - in the fact that so much of what we desire for our happiness and need for our survival comes at a heavy cost. We kill to eat, we cut down trees to build our homes, we exploit other people and the earth. Sacrifice - of nature, of the interests of others, even of our earlier selves - appears to be an inescapable part of our condition, the unavoidable price of all our achievements. A successful ritual is one that addresses both aspects of our predicament, recalling us to the shamefulness of our deeds at the same time it celebrates what the poet Frederick Turner calls "the beauty we have paid for with our shame." Without the double awareness pricked by such rituals, people are liable to find themselves either plundering the earth without restraint or descending into self-loathing and misanthropy. Perhaps it's not surprising that most of us today bring one of those attitudes or the other to our conduct in nature.” 9 likes
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