Books: Onion Theory Home: a Short History of an Idea

by Witold Rybczynski Viking; 256 pages; $16.95

It is strange to realize how many things that are taken for granted as natural and eternal were invented at a specific time and place. Not just objects like electrical appliances but attitudes and perceptions. Like privacy, for example. Or the need for physical comfort. What is comfort, anyway, and where did the idea come from?

Witold Rybczynski, an engaging professor of architecture at McGill University in Montreal, got immersed in such questions because he found that when he designed homes in the approved modern style, they often made his , clients feel uncomfortable. When he designed his own house in...

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