Reading this book feels like sitting on a front porch listening to a master storyteller. Dolan begins with his own DC porch, which he resurrected from disrepair as a labor of love. Most people’s front porches open to the outside world; Dolan’s reveals a universe of cultural history that includes everything from the Italian architect Palladio to Gone With the Wind to presidential “porch campaigns”—stay-at-home strategies that landed Garfield, McKinley, and Harding in the White House and left “the human iceberg” Benjamin Harrison out in the cold for reelection.
The book chronicles American porches—real, literary, and cinematic—through cycles of construction, decay, demolition, and restoration. The porch becomes a noble protagonist, battling off nefarious trends such as the deck, the stoop, and the patio.
A journalist, documentary scriptwriter, and television producer, Dolan has written a book that could enthrall anyone, regardless of interest in the ostensible subject. I discovered the origin of the word ciao and learned that Thomas Jefferson’s “personality seem[ed] to express the overlap between the contents of American history books and those of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”
The American Porch would be rather dense beach reading, but if you’re lucky enough to have a porch, there could be no better place to read it.