Friday, June 11, 2010

Healing Spaces

Healing Spaces / Esther Sternberg
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, c2009.
352 p.

This was a fascinating and informative read, one that I really enjoyed. I've been in the mood for nonfiction over the past few weeks, and have found some wonderful books. This was the first one in my winning streak of enthralling nonfiction.

This book explores various facets of what makes a space more comfortable, more healing. Sternberg begins with a look at architecture itself, referencing a classic study which showed patients in hospital rooms with a view of nature healed more quickly than those who had no outside view. She doesn't stop at a discussion of architecture, however; she goes on to discuss all our senses and how our surrounding affect each. There are wonderful tidbits in each chapter, such as the fact that identical twins have the same scent (sniffer dogs can't tell them apart).

There is also a chapter on mazes and labyrinths, a particular interest of mine, and a reason this book caught my eye in the first place. She discusses the health benefits involved in walking a labyrinth, and shows that this is an accepted belief in the medical world by virtue of the fact that major medical centres have created labyrinths for their staff and patients to walk.

The final chapters cover topics such as healing thought and prayer, the design of hospitals, cities, and gardens, and the interplay of healing and hormones. Very intriguing facts, stories and interviews complete the book, illuminating many areas of the healing potential of our surroundings.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. There was a lot of really fascinating information, and the subject is explored fully. However, it wasn't perfect; the discussion did feel a bit dry and wandering at times, and there isn't a sense of a reasoned argument and conclusion in favour of a particular kind of 'space' being more healing than another. Also, a simple tic of the author's began to drive me nuts about halfway through -- for some reason, every time she introduced a person who she'd interviewed or who was expert in the area she was discussing, Sternberg would describe their physical appearance before anything else. A few too many "tall woman with short curly blond hair and a ready smile" kind of statements and I was skipping most of those descriptions. But, quite a minor complaint for a book I found illuminating, and useful in discussions of everyday things like how to arrange the living room, or what kind of public space would be most beneficial for, say, a new library.

If you are up for a bit of an academic read with many rewards for sticking with it, try this book. If nothing else, you will discover lots of fun facts with which to dazzle people in conversation!


  1. We have a local landscape garden centre which specialises in creating labyrinths. They have two in their grounds that are available for anyone to walk and it is one of my favourite calming activities. I recommend to anyone who has one locally.

  2. Study Window - Lucky you! I love the idea of regular labyrinth walks and wish there was one close by to me...maybe I'll have to build one someday (would love to)

  3. Fun facts for dazzling people is always good. Great review!

  4. Kimberly - being able to pull out a random fact can be a very useful skill at times ;)


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