If you search the Internet for an image of “the suburbs,” inevitably a certain kind of view will flood your screen: dozens of aerial photographs that position the viewer far above curvilinear streets with regularly spaced houses set on postage-stamp lots. These familiar images suggest that suburbs are places best understood as large-scale planned units to be examined from afar. In Detached America, James A. Jacobs rightly and productively brings us back down to earth with his probe into the design and marketing of postwar suburban tract houses.

In the literature addressing the impact of suburbanization on the American domestic landscape, few studies have singled out the...

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