- The Town Book Building
"The treasures of the world which books contain were opened to me at the right moment. The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves."—Andrew Carnegie, Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie (1920)
There was a fantastic gray stone building in my hometown that housed only books—not people.
One needed to climb a staircase and pass through two stone pillars to enter it.
Therein one discovered beautiful tiling, elegant crown molding, and other ornate features that only heightened the experience of seeking wisdom within its walls.
Its sturdy wooden bookcases held many treasures. One did not have to request them at the imposing front desk, but was rather allowed—if not encouraged—to leisurely browse the shelves.
I always managed to find through serendipity a stack of books that I excitedly brought back home for perusal.
However, for a young seeker of books, the difference between this building and our home could not have been starker.
Whereas the town book building was overflowing with amazing reading material, our home was not. In fact, there were no books in our home until an encyclopedia set purchased one volume at a time from the supermarket started to make its way into the living room.
But in this regard, our home was not very different from that of our neighbors.
None of their homes contained any books either. Moreover, even if there were a desire to purchase some, there were no bookstores—aside, that is, from the supermarket.
Thus, the gray stone building was for many of us the sole source of books in the area.
It was the only book building in our town—and as a child it felt as though it were the only book building in the world.
In the first quarter of the twentieth century, one of America's most powerful and wealthy philosophers, William Ernest Hocking, started the process of designing and constructing his own book building. It would be located just a few miles from William James's "summer" house in Chocorua, New Hampshire. To get to Hocking's building, one needed to travel to the small village of Madison, New Hampshire, and then ascend up a hill through a forest. There, among the white pine trees, one would find two Georgian-style stone buildings: one of them a large house; and the other the philosopher's book building.
Hocking was a master carpenter and once even a member of the American Federation of Labor, an early labor union. In 1906, the same year he started his professional philosophy career at the University of California, Berkeley, he also was a contract carpenter that helped to rebuild San Francisco after the great earthquake of April of that year. Ten years later, when he joined the army during World War One, he took up military engineering, where he went on to work with the US Army civil engineers on the Western Front in 1917.
Then, in 1926, Hocking and his friend Fred Frost began to gather granite from the surrounding hills that would be used in the construction of the book building he would call "West Wind." The building technique he utilized, slipform masonry, was a new one. It involved combining metal bars, concrete, and rocks between a greased wooden frame. Fittingly, he learned it from a book—its title was Build a Home: Save a Third (1924).
For most professional philosophers, let alone one that was the Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University, this all might have seemed like a major departure. But for someone like Hocking, who dreamt of being an engineer or an architect before he was bitten by the philosophy bug in high school, and who had helped to rebuild a city that was razed by an earthquake and dealt with trench construction during a grisly war, the construction of a book building in the backwoods of New Hampshire was most likely a meaningful task and joyful labor.
Hocking was the first major American philosopher to build his own book building (unless, of...