How the other half lives : studies among the tenements of New York

by Jacob A. Riis

Paper Book, 1997




New York : Penguin Books, 1997.


Jacob Riis's illustrated tour of New York's slums had an immediate and extraordinary impact on society, inspiring reforms that changed the face of the city. In 1890, when the book was published, the Lower East Side was a landscape of teeming streets and filthy tenements crowded with immigrants living in dreadful conditions. How the Other Half Livesbrings them to life - the Italians, Jews, Bohemians (Czechs and Slovaks), Blacks, and Chinese - in precise descriptions of their habits and traditions, jobs and wages, rents paid and meals eaten, and explores the effects of crime, poverty, alcohol, and lack of education and opportunity on adults and children alike.

User reviews

LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Riis' book is an in depth look into poverty in the U.S. in early twentieth century America, and the photographs and statistics strike a heavy impact. The organization makes it simple to look to a particular type of poverty or demographic, so for research purposes, this is a great resource that adds another level to what we generally know of U.S. history from this time period. At the same time, reading the book straight through is fairly dry, and becomes somewhat repetitive at times. For the full effect, unless you're simply reading for fact and history and not really looking to engage with the material, I'd suggest reading chapter by chapter with breaks.

On a separate note, while this edition is ideal because of the photographs, there are far too many typos to make it an ideal edition text-wise. If careful editing is one of your pet peeves (as it is mine), you might consider reading a different text, and just perusing this one for the documentary photography alone.

Still, if you're interested in the subject, this is a worthwhile resource.
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LibraryThing member OnwardToOurPast
Exceptional early look at immigrants and their condition.
LibraryThing member encephalical
The most racist book I've read. Entirely condescending and patronizing. The raw data is interesting, the description of the living conditions mind blowing, but the criticisms leveled at other cultures are painful to read. It made me think of an old National Lampoon guide to ethnicities from the 1970s or 80s, except that it was serious.

Sante, in the introduction, claims that Riis is not so bad as other writers of the time and that may be, but it was jarring, nonetheless.
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LibraryThing member JVioland
All Liberals and those who profess to be humanitarians need to read this book. Riis, a reporter for a New York newspaper, investigated the tenements and the society that calls them home. This book is the result. It shows unquestionably that government involvement is not benign, that when taking on the problem of inadequate housing by building newer facilities, only multiplies the problem by attracting the same clientele as had existed. In other words, tenements don't cause poverty, tenements are occupied by those who, for various reasons, refuse to improve their condition. The Germans were able to raise themselves out of the tenements, so too the Jews and Italians. Their culture demands improvement of one's social status. There are others who exist by living off the government's largess. Interestingly, when the tenements were torn down and the government was not involved, the crime rate decreased dramatically. Tell your emasculated, professional humanitarian friends that they should read this book!… (more)


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