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How the Other Half Lives

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  1,371 ratings  ·  127 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.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 1st 1997 by Penguin Classics (first published 1890)
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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).

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
Perhaps the scariest part about reading Jacob Riis’s How The Other Half Lives is how much of it still rings true. The New York City of his time is not the New York City of today, especially with the rampant gentrification and rash of real estate development resulting in towers of glass and steel, all packed to the gills with expensive condominiums that are out of the reach of most lower and middle class families. But the conditions of the poor revealed in Riis’ text have not changed all that muc ...more
“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
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
There is no doubt this book brought about huge changes in New York City policies toward the poor and indigent in 1890 when it was published. I just finished "Five Points" which motivated me to finally read this volume even though I was already familiar with many of the photographs found herein, like the iconic "Bandits Roost" (which was bulldozed shortly after publication to make way for the park that still stands today).

Therefore, the most surprising thing for me is how "politically incorrect"
This book is a classic and an early example of the involved and probing 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 poor ...more
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
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
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 Rock
Aug 08, 2007 Maya Rock 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
Bob Schnell
Jacob Riis is a bit of a hero to my family simply by default of his Danish ancestry. This book is his observational review of conditions in New York City's tenements at the height of their infamy. What could have been a great sociological study turns into a breakdown of the inhabitants by race and nationality. The writing often comes across as bigoted and racist, even though he was considered a great progressive and social reformer. As a time capsule, it is fascinating. However, since Riis' grea ...more
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.

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
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
Russell Bittner
“When another generation shall have doubled the census of our city (NYC), and to that vast army of workers, held captive by poverty, the very name of home shall be as a bitter mockery, what will the harvest be?”

So concludes Jacob Riis Chapter 2 (“The Awakening”) of his treatise. The question – or so it seems to me at least – remains as legitimate today (2015) as it did when it first appeared in these pages (in 1890). The image of Francisco de Goya’s “Saturn Devouring One of His Sons” springs i
It's not a recent or modern book, so it's actually a little jarring to read the terms used to describe ethnic groups, but it's important to realize that those terms WERE the polite, "PC" terms at the time. It's a tertiary point, but a significant one - capturing the fact that the way we talk about each other is in constant flux.
Other than that, this is a fascinating read and one everyone needs to have in their repertoire. The first organized study of sociological organization among the American
John Brissette
I visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in NYC where I first encountered this book. Shamefully as a native New Yorker I've heard the Riis name my whole life but was unfamiliar with his work. This is an amazing exposé on inner city life in NYC. It is the hard facts & observations that are the history upon which "Gangs of New York" & other works are based. The critique is so cutting, so bare, & so honest it is shocking. Some of the social issues addressed are still so current how ...more
James Violand
Jul 08, 2014 James Violand rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any Liberal politician or emaciated professional humanitarian
Shelves: own
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 ...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
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
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
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

“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
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
Riis is certainly a preachy son of a bitch--think of him as your racist great-grandfather who is "a product of his times". If you can get past his constant moral judgment of the people he worked to reform, the book brings 1890s NYC tenement life alive. Sadly, despite labor, public health, and tenants' rights movements, America's 21st century working poor would no doubt relate to the day-to-day struggles for survival in a system that provides little hope and diminishing opportunity as the *other* ...more
Lindsay Duggan
I loved how the book started out. "One half of the world does not know how the other half lives." This book makes me so appreciative that I have a nice place to live and enough food to eat. While I appreciate the message and importance of this book during its time period, I did not enjoy it. It was very difficult to read and that usually does not bother me, but I found myself bored and unable to follow this book. I also found it very repetitive. I do applaud the author for bringing attention to ...more
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
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.

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
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.
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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.
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“In self-defence, you know, all life eventually accommodates itself to its environment, and human life is no exception.” 5 likes
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