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

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Scribner, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 327 pages
171 Reviews

In this intimate and poignant history of a sprawling century-old summer house on Cape Cod, George Howe Colt reveals not just one family's fascinating story but a vanishing way of life. Faced with the sale of the treasured house where he had spent forty-two summers, Colt returned for one last August with his wife and young children. The Big House, the author's loving tribute to his one-of-a-kind family home, interweaves glimpses of that elegiac final visit with memories of earlier summers spent at the house and of the equally idiosyncratic people who lived there over the course of five generations.

Built by Colt's great-grandfather one hundred years ago on a deserted Cape Cod peninsula, the house is a local landmark (neighboring children know it as the Ghost House): a four-story, eleven-bedroom jumble of gables, bays, sloped roofs, and dormers. The emotional home of the Colt family, the Big House has watched over five weddings, four divorces, and three deaths, along with countless anniversaries, birthday parties, nervous breakdowns, and love affairs. Beaten by wind and rain, insulated by seaweed, it is both romantic and run-down, a symbol of the faded glory of the Boston Brahmin aristocracy.

With a mixture of amusement and affection, Colt traces the rise and fall of this tragicomic social class while memorably capturing the essence of summer's ephemeral pleasures: sailing, tennis, fishing, rainy-day reading. Time seems to stand still in a summer house, and for the Colts the Big House always seemed an unchanging place in a changing world. But summer draws to a close, and the family must eventually say good-bye.

Elegant and evocative, The Big House is both magical and sad, a gift to anyone who holds cherished memories of summer.

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Beautiful writing, interesting subject. - Goodreads
So far, this is very slow and very little plot. - Goodreads
I was happy with the ending. - Goodreads
I was disappointed, the premise was intriguing. - Goodreads

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

User Review  - Tom - Goodreads

It was a nice book and one that I think my sister Pat would like. The author's discussion of society, and family, interwoven with his memories and the story of the house was richly done. Read full review

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

User Review  - Jane - Goodreads

Traces a families history with their summer house from the late 1800s thru 100 plus years. Reminds me how our history is a part of what makes us who we are. Read full review


Part One I Arriving
The Family Tree

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About the author (2003)

George Howe Colt is a former staff writer at Life magazine whose articles have been published in The New York Times, Civilization, and Mother Jones, among other publications. The author of The Enigma of Suicide, a critically acclaimed work of nonfiction, he lives with his family in rural western Massachusetts.

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