The 19th century was unremittingly grim for the laborers who kept it moving forward. Especially in England, where the Industrial Revolution brought row houses and sooty air, a backlash was inevitable.
One such backlash was called the Arts and Crafts movement, and it was led by such people as William Morris, an artist and poet - and socialist - who believed the common man's life could be spiritually improved by filling his life with beautiful and useful things."Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful," he urged.
Morris believed in handcraftsmanship, simple tastes and "a return to beauty, unity, simplicity."
He wanted the common man to be able to enjoy his life. However, most of the handcraftsmanship he advocated meant that the style became affordable only by the wealthier parts of the population.
The movement caught on in the United States, too, in the early part of this century, where such names as Charles Sumner Greene, Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright added their spin.
"I seek till I find what is truly useful, and then I try to make it beautiful," Greene wrote in 1907. "The Romans made Rome and the Americans - Well! They are making America."
The houses all seem to have exposed roof beams, stonework hearths and casement windows - a kind of sophisticated rusticity.
There are examples of the Arts and Crafts style all across America. Buildings and gardens, furniture and utensils. A wonderful new book, "Arts & Crafts, Design in America: A State-by-State Guide," by James Massey and Shirley Maxwell (Chronicle, $22.95), catalogs sites for scholar and tourist alike.
With hundreds of beautiful color and black-and-white photographs, the book gives an overview of the movement and a nuts-and-bolts tour guide to sites in each state.
Arizona, for instance, is home to El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon, the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff and the Catlin Court Historic District in Glendale.
Profile in tourage
Less artistic, but no less historic, are the destinations profiled in "America's Best Historic Sites: 101 Terrific Places to Take the Family," by B.J. Welborn (Chicago Review Press, $14.95).
Its author says she wrote it "as a tool for parents to teach their kids about history, maybe even to help them love it."
The guide runs region by region and includes not only the obvious but also some of the less well-known sites. A list of "Ten Hidden Jewels" includes Kentucky's Cumberland Gap, South Dakota's Crazy Horse Memorial and Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
She covers not only the usual Revolutionary to World Wars period but also includes Canyon de Chelly, Wupatki and Walnut Canyon ruins in Arizona.
There is something to be learned of history in almost every corner of the nation. This book will illuminate those corners.