Science writer Emily Anthes began working on her most recent book long before the pandemic — “quarantine was not something I foresaw,” she said — but it’s turned out to be surprisingly relevant in today’s world.
“The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behaviors, Health, and Happiness” looks at everything from domestic ecosystems (including the “tens of thousands of species of bacteria that lived in homes”) to designing offices, schools, prisons, and space stations. “There’s a rich world to be explored inside,” she said.
Many of Anthes’s findings feel extremely useful today. “I do not want to suggest that being stuck in our homes is akin to being in solitary confinement,” she said. But she added: “I found myself thinking about some of the research I talk about on confined environments and extreme environments.”
For instance, Anthes said, “the big lesson from solitary confinement is that humans are social animals, and to deny us social interaction and contact is just downright cruel.” On the other hand, “in addition to finding ways to connect with others you really also need to find a way to carve out some privacy and personal space.”
What can today’s quarantined reader take from the book? “My hope is that people look at their homes and all the buildings they spend time in in a new way and appreciate their richness and complexity,” Anthes said. “I also hope people find one or two things in the book they can apply in their own lives” — lessons as simple as bringing home a houseplant, raising their blinds each morning, and cutting back on antimicrobial cleaning products — “there are a lot of small actions we can all take to make our homes and buildings healthier.”
Emily Anthes will read 7 p.m. Monday in a virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store. More information: www.harvard.com.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.