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The Great Indoors

The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness

Emily Anthes


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ISBN10: 1250798817
ISBN13: 9781250798817

Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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An Architectural Record Notable Book

Modern humans are an indoor species. We spend 90 percent of our time inside, shuttling between homes and offices, schools and stores, restaurants and gyms. And yet, in many ways, the indoor world remains unexplored territory. For all the time we spend inside buildings, we rarely stop to consider: How do these spaces affect our mental and physical well-being? Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors? Our productivity, performance, and relationships?

In this wide-ranging, character-driven book, science journalist Emily Anthes takes us on an adventure into the buildings in which we spend our days, exploring the profound, and sometimes unexpected, ways that they shape our lives. Drawing on cutting-edge research, she probes the pain-killing power of a well-placed window and examines how the right office layout can expand our social networks. She investigates how room temperature regulates our cognitive performance, how the microbes hiding in our homes influence our immune systems, and how cafeteria design affects what—and how much—we eat.

Along the way, Anthes takes readers into an operating room designed to minimize medical errors, a school designed to boost students’ physical fitness, and a prison designed to support inmates’ psychological needs. And she previews the homes of the future, from the high-tech houses that could monitor our health to the 3D-printed structures that might allow us to live on the Moon.

The Great Indoors provides a fresh perspective on our most familiar surroundings and a new understanding of the power of architecture and design. It's an argument for thoughtful interventions into the built environment and a story about how to build a better world—one room at a time.


Praise for The Great Indoors

"[Anthes] gamely reports on smart offices and smart homes and floating cities and proposed villages on the moon and the new field of 'indoor ecology' (the study of subjects like the mites to be found in your pillow) . . . The recommendations of that research? 'Open a window. Get a dog.'"—Jill Lepore, The New Yorker

"An engaging survey of the science of buildings and a reported account of the quest to improve life by deliberate design . . . Anthes astutely distinguishes between design’s anticipated potential and demonstrated benefit . . . A compelling, science-based argument for the wisdom of intelligent design."—David A. Shaywitz, The Wall Street Journal

"The Great Indoors is a rollicking exploration of how everything from lighting to ventilation, noise levels to stairwells, shapes our physical health and mental well-being."—Christina Larson, Washington Monthly

"Anthes encourages readers to reconsider the places where they spend most of their time and to ask themselves whether those places serve their needs. At a point when we are spending even more time than usual indoors, all of humanity could likely benefit from confronting such questions."—Barbara Brown, Science

"After months spent inside, The Great Indoors is uncannily relevant . . . [The] cool facts come fast and furious . . . The New York City subway, for example, is smothered in microbes associated with bare feet . . . Another WTF moment: Pillowcases and toilet-seat surfaces are apparently 'strikingly similar' from a microbiological perspective."—Molly Young, Vulture

"If you’re bored by the idea of spending yet more time locked down in your home, let science writer Emily Anthes convince you that it’s at least an interesting place to be. Her new book, The Great Indoors, explores all manner of things that happen between walls, from the microscopic creatures that live in shower heads to the reasons it’s healthy for bedrooms to have windows."—Shannon Palus, Slate

"Anthes has taken on a wide-ranging topic, which she has turned into an accessible and delightful read . . . The Great Indoors is perfectly paced and well-researched, packed with compelling stories."—Christie Aschwanden, Undark

“What an eye-opening journey into a world we so often take for granted: our indoor spaces. From the tiniest indoor occupants (did you know just how many microscopic critters share your home?) to the largest (us), The Great Indoors is a study of how the elements of design can work to enhance our well-being and sense of self, from our homes, to our offices, to our schools, hospitals, and prisons. As we spend more and more of our lives inside, The Great Indoors is a perfect guide to this next frontier.”Maria Konnikova, New York Times–bestselling author of The Confidence Game

"Many of us spend our days inside, but we don't realize how profoundly our lives are shaped by the places that contain us. Emily Anthes takes us on an astonishing and witty tour of indoor science, from schools and prisons, to workplaces and our future space colonies. Along the way, she reveals how much our health and well-being depend on little details, like the position of a window or the arrangement of food in a lunch room. But ultimately Anthes is asking the big questions, like how we want to organize our lives, and what it takes to rebuild our world for the better. A delightful, well-informed book that will utterly transform the way the way you see the complicated world that lurks behind every door."—Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous and Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

"The Great Indoors is that rare book that remains both honest and optimistic about the problems we face, from pandemic disease to social isolation, and—even better—is ambitious enough to identify real potential for change surrounding us in the architecture of our daily lives. Inspiring."Geoff Manaugh, The New York Times–bestselling author of A Burglar’s Guide to the City

"A trip into the great indoors with Emily Anthes is a journey into fascination, dismay, and the occasional jolt of pure wonder."—Deborah Blum, author of The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the 20th Century

"[F]ascinating and well worth pondering. A sharp, eye-opening assessment of urgent architectural needs being fulfilled."Kirkus Reviews

"[Emily Anthes] explores cutting-edge innovations in architecture and interior design in her enjoyable and educational work of pop science . . . This thoughtful work will prompt readers to more carefully consider the spaces they commonly inhabit but may rarely think about."Publishers Weekly


Read an Excerpt


IN MITAKA, JAPAN, on a busy street crammed with squat beige buildings, a strange apartment complex jolts the skyline. From the outside, the nine-unit residence resembles a set of child’s blocks, with the same kaleidoscopic...

About the author

Emily Anthes

Emily Anthes is an award-winning science journalist and author. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Wired, Nature, Slate, Businessweek, Scientific American, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and elsewhere. Her previous book, Frankenstein’s Cat, was long-listed for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

Nina Subin