How the Other Half Lives
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How the Other Half Lives

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3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  985 ratings  ·  105 reviews
First published in 1890, Jacob Riis's remarkable study of the horrendous living conditions of the poor in New York City had an immediate and extraordinary impact on society, inspiring reforms that affected the lives of millions of people.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 1st 1997 by Penguin Classics (first published 1890)
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Evan
Had to up this rating because this book's vividness makes me SEE and SMELL and HEAR the New York City of more than 100 years ago, and because, imperfect though the book is, it is a very compelling, informative and important social document; a classic of its type and subject. (Final comments and observations at bottom of review).

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A famous early cry for reform, from the earliest days of the muckrakers, Riis' investigation of the slums of New York from 1890 has been featured in so many documen...more
Sean Oborn
“One half of the world does not know how the other half lives.” This statement is as true today as it was in 1890, when Jacob Riis wrote his groundbreaking work about the abhorrent living conditions in and around New York City tenements. In the same vein as Upton Sinclair and his book “The Jungle,” Riis airs the dirty laundry of the Public Health Department of the United States and its treatment (or lack thereof) of the tenement population in true muckraker fashion. Using his own research, whic...more
Megan
Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives is one of the most important American texts ever composed. Originally published without pictures, it exposes the statistics of how poor the Gilded Age poor really were. These numbers initially did not impress the need for change on the wealthy and middle class readers. Therefore, it was re-issued with the frightening pictures of the squalor and filth in which the poor lived. The pictures resulted in an avalanche of legislation and laws that would prevent the...more
Marks54
This book is a classic and an early example of the involved and probbing journalism that came to be known as muckraking. Riis provides a series of studies of the various aspects of tenement life in New Yorkk City in the late 1880s. Over a million people lived indire poverty in these slums and Riis proviides horrifying examples of how the "other half" lived in these conditions - often invisible to the rest of society. Riis talks about life in the buildings, the various ethnic groups among the poo...more
Jocelyn
I do generally love a good muckraking - The Jungle is an old favorite of mine - and New York is another favorite subject. On the topic of New York, Riis' book, unfortunately, compares rather poorly with the dishy and entertaining Lights and Shadows of New York Life, which covers much of the same territory and which I read a few months ago. HtOHL comes to feel repetitive, is excessively moralistic in tone, too reliant on the police for information which seems not terribly credible, and is surpris...more
Tara Lynn
This is probably one of the most remarkable books I've ever read. Having re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to the point where I can now recite whole passages from memory, Riis' photographs and first person insight into the derelict city tenement dwellings of the early part of the 20th century are a welcome visual to Smith's text. Although descired by many as a novice photographer at best, the pictures that DID develop well show Riis' ability to capture the essence of raw humanity in the struggle...more
Maya
Aug 08, 2007 Maya rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: New Yorkers, People interested in immigrants, People interested in poverty,
Shelves: shouldbuyacopy
Weird, this is one of those books they always mention in American history books, but I never even thought to read it...never really thought of it as more than part of the reforms going on of that time...but I found it online and it's FASCINATING. It makes me want to run outside and see all these places now. It's interesting too to see Riis' casual racism and just to see how while the groups have changed there is a lot of commonality in how people view immigrants now and then. It's just so much f...more
Keera
Feb 19, 2011 Keera rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Masochists
I read the 75 pages or so and then skimmed through the remainder of the book to finish the essay I was required to write on it. Since I didn't truly read it, all I can say is that I hated what parts I did read. I understand that this was written during a different time period, meaning that racist stereotypes would have been accepted at that time, but I just didn't find anything I could use from it. The photos and drawings did little for me as well. Overall, just depressing and worthless.

Riis's...more
Melanie
I'm not quite sure what to rate this. Was it a boring read? Yes. Were the prejudices and stereotypes completely inappropriate for today's culture? Definitely. Is it an important work in our country's history? Yes.

Riis describes the tenements of the late nineteenth century. It's hard for me to see how this book evoked any sympathy for the people who lived in the tenements (it did), because Riis describes the different ethnic groups with lots of negative stereotypes. His main message seems to be t...more
Lorri
The enormity of information which Jacob A. Riis compiled through documents, his own documentation (both written and photographically), interviews and questionnaires, is astonishing. The magnitude of his project is all-encompassing, and that he was able to accomplish what he did, in the late 1800s, is masterful in every aspect.

How the Other Half Lives in an astoundingly negative testament to New York City and its history, and to all of the immigrants and individuals whose hopes were enveloped, an...more
Frank Stein
What is shocking is that this book is still lauded by history texts as part of the gradual enlightenment of American public opinion by muckrakering journalists. The book is really an endless series of crude stereotypes of different ethnic groups and Riis's often laughable attempts to improve their living conditions by kicking them out of their homes. He says it all in the book: "To fight poverty, you must fight the poor."

And does he fight them! Almost all he does in this book is tip off the poli...more
Carolina de Goes
There are some pretty funny stories behind this groundbreaking documentary on tenement life in 1880's NYC. Riis used primitive powder flash for shooting indoors, bewildering people inside and having them actually chase him out. Makes me laugh to think of it.
But this is not a funny book. Things were actually quite bad for these people at the time, and Riis went and shot it and stuck it in society's face. Not that the well-to-do weren't aware of the existence of slums, but, as we all know, seeing...more
Vincent
Few books in American history have had the social impact that Jacob A. Riis’s How the Other Half Lives had. Riis spent years crawling through the slums of New York’s Lower East Side in the later half of the nineteenth-century, always with a local guide sympathetic to his cause. He hoped, through the evolving technological advances of photography and his published, emotional plea, to rouse the well-to-do citizens of New York into helping the millions of poor and impoverished, native and immigrant...more
Alger
Oh what to say about this book?

One good place to start is to recognize the importance of Riis' contribution to social welfare and his critical role in changing the public perception of the poor and slums.

Another is the equally valid argument that Riis infantalized the poor, made them objects of pity, and reduced the complex nexus of social and political factors that perpetuated poverty in the slums to a matter of environment.

More then a century later, and in a time where the perception of pover...more
Dusty
Jacob A. Riis was born in Denmark but removed to the United States, alone and envisioning a career for himself as a carpenter, in 1870. Unable to find consistent work, he tramped about the very tenements and alleyways he would later profile in his groundbreaking work of social activism, How the Other Half Lives. If in the book Riis seems to linger on stories of the dispirited poor who throw themselves from their own windows, it's because their lives and hardships resonate rather well with his ow...more
George
A TOUGH READ

“And so it comes down to the tenement, the destroyer of individuality and character everywhere”—page 193

“The truth is that pauperism grows in the tenements as naturally as weeds in a garden lot.”—page 193

Now I know how the ‘other half’ lives: in tenement-houses, obviously. Wait. I lived in tenement-housing most of my formative years. Oh. The shame of it all. Now, at least, I know where my character and individuality went.

I’m not sure whether or not I much liked Jacob A. Riis’s ‘How t...more
Russ
With this book, Jacob Riis changed New York City, and the lives of its people, forever. Riis was a journalist and photographer whose aim was to help reform the horrible conditions in the tenements of 19th century Manhattan. He wrote "How The Other Half Lives" to make people aware of the troubles in the tenements. This book, along with his intense photographs, helped spark reform laws that cleaned up the slum areas of Manhattan and changed how tenements were built. It is not everyday that a piece...more
liirogue
This book was written in the late 19th century and was the impetus for cleaning up NYC's tenements. This book was the first to really look long and hard at the living conditions of the city's poor, and it absolutely shocked society. The writer was an immigrant and had had his share of bad times, so he was able to bring a unique perspective. If you have ever wondered what life was like in the late 19th century for the "bottom half" of society, this book gives the best, first-hand account.

The book...more
Jon Boorstin
Few books have had the influence of actual life that this one had. Riis came over from Denmark with nothing but a dog, and then a New York copper killed his dog. He had a righteous outrage that shines through, and a meticulous accuracy that portrayed the life-threatening indignities so they had to end. And thanks in large part to this book, many of them did.

Sarah
This was an interesting read, and I recommend to any downtown NYC resident. You've got to be able to put aside your reactions to the author's obvious bigotry (his take on Chinatown is probably the most offensive example) and take this for what it is: a moralizing survey written in the 1890s by a police-reporter-turned-anti-tenement-crusader. I have a slight obsession with learning, in cities, what neighborhoods used to be. I was fascinated to learn that my neighboorhood, long before it was Soho,...more
Carly
What's most depressing about this book is how 125+ years later so little has changed.

Loved the photos included, and the author's passionate support of the struggling people in the tenements is touching. The data does get dry, but he zealously and strongly supports his case. There were some lines in this book that made me shake my head in sadness - the author would be heartbroken to know that they are still relevant today.

A good read for people who care about the less fortunate in our society.
Vered
This book offered a great insight into poor urban life and the conditions within the tenements during the final decade of the 19th century. I thoroughly appreciated Riis's use of statistics and events/descriptions to enlighten his readers to one of the main issues of his day.
Joyce Roderick
This book knocked my socks off when I first saw a badly scanned version of it on either Archive or Gutenberg. Somehow a 2012 edition on Kindle came to my attention earlier today and I haven't been able to put it down. I am talking about the edition with a forward by Charles A Madiaon. This will set you back a whole $6.80. It is simply stunning. The text is clean and delightful to the eye, however disturbing to the heart and sensibilities, and the photos are transcendent and really well rendered....more
Vicky Pinpin-feinstein
My second time reading the book; the first time in the early 80s. It is one of those books that blazed trails in its subject matter. Riis is a gifted observer of immigrant life as he himself was an immigrant from Denmark. If you ever want to know about tenement life in NYC in nineteenth and early 20 century, then this is a good book to start your education. You might find the language and the writing quite different but if information alone is what you want, go no further than this book. It is t...more
Elizabeth Desole
It's a difficult book to rate since it is so tied to its time. There are parts (sadly) still applicable today. His summations of the character of different ethnic groups can be a little rough going-it can be wildly prejudice even as he struggles to be fair to those he is writing about. One thing that surprised me was that this was written after the first round of sanitation laws-including the provision that all bedrooms must have a window. I honestly believed this book was part of the reason tho...more
Marley
I actually read a different edition of his book, published by Dover in 1971, including about 100 pictures taken by Riis. Riis was certainly a product of his culture and age, but the book, despite his obvious prejudices, is a stunning indictment of the tenement/landlord system, which bears little resemblance to what people today consider slums. (no hat they aren't bad in heir own way). The pictures are remarkable, especially considering the conditions under which they were made. And unforgettable...more
Taylor Bolls
In How the Half Lives, Jacob A, Riis gives an in depth look of the life of immigrants and lower class during the late 1800's. How the Half Lives is known to be one of the first great works of photojournalism, and it is.
Jacob Riis spares nothing from his report on the conditions under which these people lived and worked.
If you believe the industrial revolution to be a simpler and happier time, you are mistaken. How the Half Lives is filled with the grim reality of racism, over population, sexism,
...more
Janis
This classic revealed to the world in stark black-and-white photos the lives of the American poor. I learned about Jacob Riis when I took an Urban History course, and was pleased to find a copy of his book in our local library system.

The introduction was interesting--Riis and his entourage (he did not know how to photograph at first) would surprise his subjects by jumping in unexpectedly to their homes. He used a bright light to nearly blind them for the picture-taking. He nearly set a few homes...more
Wendy
A tough read. As relevant 100 years ago as it is today. Although his stereotypes about ethnicity, yes, can be chalked up to cultural norms at the time, at the same time, they shouldn't have even factored into his reporting besides the obvious observation that immigrants usually grouped together with those from the same country. Those parts aside, the vivid picture he paints of the poor in New York back then are hard to read and difficult to take. I can just imagine the feeling reading such thing...more
Hakan Jackson
I understand the historical significance of this book bringing light on the situation the poor of New York was living through, but I had no idea how it did this. The "Other Half" doesn't refer to the poor as much as it refers to non-WASPs in NYC. Be prepared to read a lot of generalizations and stereotypes. Though I figure that should be expected given the time in which this book is written. A more apt title for this book would be "How Those Who are Not WASPs Live".
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Jacob August Riis was a American journalist. This Christian helped the impoverished in New York City; those needy were the focus of much of his writing. In his youth in Denmark he read Dickens and J.F. Cooper; his works exhibit the story-telling skills acquired under the tutelage of many English-speaking writers.
More about Jacob A. Riis...
The Battle with the  Slum The Making of an American Out of Mulberry Street Stories of Tenement Life in New York City Children Of The Tenements Nibsy's Christmas

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