The Good Old Days–They Were Terrible!
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The Good Old Days–They Were Terrible!

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  148 ratings  ·  30 reviews
The author asks us to face our past withour nostalgia, while he reports upon humanity's state of being in the era after the civil war. He systematically covers each aspect of life with commentary and uses artwork and engeaving from newspaper from the times. He is the founder of the largest archive of graphics; some 3 million prints and photographs. He was curator of rare b...more
207 pages
Published January 1st 1974 by Random House
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Mary JL
Jun 14, 2010 Mary JL rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: anyone with any interest in history
Recommended to Mary JL by: Found while browsing in bookstore
This book is a good intorduction to the modern reader of some of the problems that ordinary people faced from the 1820's to the 1890's.

The rich did pretty well, but despite many new inventions--telephone, telegraph, transcontinental railroads---the average person had it very hard.

There was no forty hour workweek--you worked as long as your employer decreed. No OSHA to set safety standards. Admittedly there was no polluction from car exhausts; what they had instead was hundreds of horse, producin...more
I'm being somewhat generous. It should probably be 2 stars, but there was a wealth of pictures & drawings that I've never seen elsewhere. The book did have its good points, too. Unfortunately, it tried too hard to live up to the title.

For example, the section on guns was laughable. There was 1/3 page of text that basically said kids were given toy guns. This is terrible? The other 2/3 of the page was made up of drawings. Whee! This section has no facts in it. I really don't know why it was i...more
In these days of AIDS, the Internet and nuclear weapons, it is very tempting to look back to a simpler age in American history. "The Good Old Days" lasted from approximately 1865 to 1900. This book takes a very clear-eyed look at just how "good" those days really were.

In New York City, garbage (including horse manure) was piled high on city sidewalks. In the rain, those garbage piles turned into slime beds. Western towns were dirty, with horses creating fly-infested cesspools around the hitching...more
Love the descriptions of 1800s Chicago having a rainbow of sewage floating through it or those of Pittsburgh just swimming in coal dust.
Well put together, but terribly depressing...
Nostalgia being a stubborn human sentiment, it's not surprising that once an era has passed beyond living memory, it acquires a rosy hue. Otto Bettmann's "The Good Old Days - They Were Terrible!" is an illustrated wake-up call for those who assume that domestic bliss, moral perfection, and gilded prosperity characterized the years between the Civil War and the dawn of the twentieth century.

Granted, this was a time of great technological advancement. The telephone, motion picture camera, and auto...more
Johnny D
Whenever I went to my grandfather's house as a young boy, I would inevitably take out this book. The illustrations that Otto Bettmann collected and used for this work are striking. I remember poring over the pages of this book, fascinated by every illustration of the United States of America's not so charming Gilded Age.

I was absolutely anamoured with the idea that there could be a construction of history that did not accord with reality. This was my first encounter with the concept of history b...more
Jan 27, 2011 Natalie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Natalie by: museum store
From squatters to pollution, medical care, child labor, lynching and juvenile delinquents Otto L. Bettmann takes us on a tour of the past that will keep you turning the pages while amusing you at the same time. Sort of like an illustrated The Harper's Index Book of the times gone by with a little 2 pg chapter on each topic .

The author takes the time period between the end of the civil war and the early 1900s and examines the reality of the times complete with illustrations and the occasional ho...more
The rarely-seen illustrations and photos from Dr. Otto Bettmann's famous archive are what make this book a classic. And they're rarely seen, I suppose, because most are rather gruesome, much like daily life for middle and lower class, urban and rural Americans during the latter half of the 19th century. People don't want to imagine their great-grandmothers swimming with dead dogs and other refuse, let alone eat the food that's been tainted by such horrors.

If you know anyone who seriously compla...more
A real eye-opener, especially if your ideas of what the "good old days" were like are mostly derived from movies and TV.
Ah, I love it when people bemoan the American nostalgia of yester-year "good old days." Everyone has forgotten what it was actually like at the turn of the century and how terrible it was. I'm sure in the future they will be writing books like this about how amazingly stupid we are today.
A healthy corrective for those inclined to sentimentalize the past, particularly since we seem to be heading into a replay of the Gilded Age, with our politicians and their enablers seemingly determined to plunge us once again into that era's omnipresent corruption, inequality, and hardship. I'm taking off a star for Bettmann's often overheated tone and tendency to make oversimplified blanket pronouncements about the various subjects under discussion, but for the most part the wealth of photogra...more
Brett Van Valkenburg
This was an interesting book that I think suffered a little from dry writing. After a few chapters the author's formula became very obvious, i.e. "Food: Most people think that back in the good old days people used to eat ________, but really they ate __________ and it often killed them. Travel: Most people think that back in the gold old days people would romantically travel by ____________, but really it was __________ and it often killed them. Work: etc...."
Jul 10, 2007 Rebecca rated it 3 of 5 stars Recommends it for: history buffs with a hint of sass
The author asks us to face our past withour nostalgia, while he reports upon humanity's state of being in the era after the civil war. I live in danger of being swept into the past by the romanticism of looking at life as memory; waxing about what it might be like, rather than attending to the miseries that accompany that life. This book is chock-full of rare and hilarious engravings from the time. Because I need to remember that I live HERE, IN THIS MOMENT
Although my research was for England and this books deals with New York in the Victorian age, I still found this book to be pertainant to my research. Some really good information in here along with actual illustrations for the time period. This book gives a good overview of the bleakness of the times but with only one page per subject, more indepth research may be needed by some. Over all though, a really interesting book.
My Mom wanted me to read this book. It was very interesting and filled with lots of information on how terribly hard it was to live "in the good old days". I made it through 3/4 of the book and then couldn't finish it. It was incredibly depressing and it was starting to really get to me. I give it 4 stars because it really was a very good and interesting book, but way, way, way too depressing for my taste.
This was an excellent peek into some of the realities of the Gilded Age: the dirt, the grime, pollution, crime, terrible education systems, blah blah blah. Very insightful and written with a humourous style that keeps it from being totally depressing. I also really enjoyed the period illustrations that he used that were caricatures of what the people were dealing with in those days.
This is a primer. Some of the things that are discussed in this book are familiar, and others are a little credulous, without real discussion of variant versions.

Still, it's a good start, and a useful corrective to nostalgia by people who have no real memory of the historical times chronicled (which, let's face it, is all of us, by now.)
The info was very interesting, and pieced in easily digestible chuncks. No information overload, it got right to the facts.

This book was good. However, it only focused on the years 1860-1900. Would have liked to see more Pre-Civil was anecdotes.

If anyone ever talks about the good old days, think twice. They were terrible!
Mark Singer
This is one of the first books that I ever bought for myself, sometime in the mid 1970's. Even as a mere lad I was something of a skeptic, and Bettmann wrote a fairly good, if somewhat anecdotal, revisionist look at American history between 1865 and 1910, the period often categorized in a nostalgic haze as "The Good Old Days".
An honest look into the past. It seems that the lifestyle of people depicted in "Gangs of New York' was pretty accurate. I highly recommend it for anybody, just to develop an appreciation of our modern life. Things were much worse in the "Good Old Days."
Read this book long ago and rediscovered it. Will dispel any misty illusions you have about life 'then'.

Entertaining. Probably there are better researched books than this one. Full of illustration from the 19th century.
Anyone who tells you they miss the good old days, tell them no they don't! This book discusses albeit briefly many many topics about the old days that bursts that bubble. A good read, funny at times.
Frank Chambers
A chapter book on how bad things were in the "good old days". Rather interesting; somehow uplifting to see how far we have come. Bought in Lowell, MA during our summer visit. Bought at the textile museum.
Apr 09, 2008 Mgsmith rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Anyone who wishes a different view of the past.
Recommended to Mgsmith by: Kristen
Interesting views of the "Good old days" in this read. My only caution is that the author religiously stayed within very select cities to show why these days were not so good for the whole country.
Aug 17, 2013 Eric rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Historians, Economists, Sociologists, and Teachers
Recommended to Eric by: Nobody
This retrospective is bleakly informative. It is infused with historic photographs, etchings, and sketches of the period. It would best be read by young adult and/or adult readers.
Interesting overview of the time period between 1820 to 1900. It definitely makes you appreciate what our ancestors lived through and how far we've advanced.
Good for the drawings/photos. The written bits are more like extended captions instead of providing in depth information, but it's a quick read.
My husband and I read this while driving on one of our travels. Incredibly Enlightening on how people once lived.
It's been years since I've read this book, but some of the more disturbing facts still haunt me.
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