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How the Other Half Lives

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,602 Ratings  ·  152 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
Jun 23, 2014 Ken rated it really liked it
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
Larry Bassett
Aug 13, 2016 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was published in 1890 and gives a detailed view of poverty and tenement living in New York City in the 1880s. I experience the book as both an e-book and an audible book. But I feel like I barely scratch the surface of the e-book because there are so many footnotes that through highlighted links lead to extensive in-depth information. There are also some photographs in the e-books though it seems possible there are more in the actual paper books. The author was apparently on the cutti ...more
May 03, 2012 Sean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“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
Jun 24, 2013 Melanie rated it it was ok
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
Aug 02, 2012 Megan rated it it was amazing
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
Russell Bittner
Aug 22, 2015 Russell Bittner rated it it was amazing
“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
Feb 26, 2015 Marti rated it really liked it
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"
Jun 24, 2014 Marks54 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 15, 2013 Jocelyn rated it liked it
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
Jul 27, 2009 Frank Stein rated it really liked it
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
Aug 13, 2008 Tara Lynn rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
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 really liked it
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
Aug 26, 2014 Bob Schnell rated it liked it
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 did not like it  ·  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.

May 06, 2016 Nancy rated it it was amazing
I must admit, I didn't so much "read" this book as I just flipped through it slowly, looking carefully at each photo, and reading a line or two of text from each page. These stark, black and white images are haunting and disturbing. Families of 5 or 7 children all crammed into a one room tenement with hardly any furniture; all gathered around working for a living making fake flowers or sewing men's ties or making pants.

Children piled on top of each other in alley ways, sleeping like puppies, whi
Sep 18, 2015 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Read for my writing class
Feb 02, 2014 Lorri rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 14, 2014 Holly rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 27, 2016 Clare rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This one was hard to rate. For a moment I thought of giving it only 3 stars because at times the writing was tedious, but in the end decided on 4 stars because of the subject matter itself. Written in the late nineteenth century, this book takes a scathing look at New York City's tenement district. Though the author does describe different ethnic groups in unfavorable terms, he is even more harsh (and rightly so) in berating the landlords who preyed on the poor working class. In his expose of ho ...more
Jan 18, 2016 Suggestion_noted rated it liked it
Note: I actually have the 1971 paperback edition so it doesn't have the Luc Sante introduction.

Required reading for anyone who likes to harp on about the 'good old days'. The photographs are deeply affecting even after a gap of over 100 years. The faces look familiar - we see destitute people on the news all the time. The text contains some interesting anecdotes, once you get past the florid Victorian writing style and the of-the-time racial stereotypes (the chapter on Chinatown is particularly
John Brissette
Jul 21, 2014 John Brissette rated it really liked it
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
Marti Martinson
Mar 15, 2016 Marti Martinson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Riis was obviously dedicated to a far more just and equitable distribution of employment, income, AND property. The GOP, of course, would find this comic. Riis was also obviously a racist. NOT the lynching kind, just the kind that puts White Protestants (yes, specifically Protestants) at the top of society. The GOP, of course, would find this proper. Written in 1890, you can expect this same situation under a Trumpenfuhrer presidency.

His prose was supported by stats, facts, and figures, reinforc

Interesting in places. I understand that the abundance of facts and statistics was actually the strength of the book when it was published, and that it did a lot of good, so I’m not going to hold it against the book.

The style: surprisingly okay when preaching and tearing out the hair and such, terribly irritating when trying to be amusing. Oh please.

Concerned about boys, less so about girls. More or less indifferent or hostile towards non-Americans. Benevolent toward blacks, absolutely vicious i
Merav Taylor
May 01, 2016 Merav Taylor rated it it was amazing
I read this book desiring an understanding of today's housing inequality in New York City. Specifically, I was hoping to gain insight into the absence of a true middle class in Manhattan, and why certain classes of people who lack the ability to support themselves here are housed in good neighborhoods that I myself can not afford. The latter sort being people Riis referred to as "'a class of whom nothing is expected,' and which has come fully up to that expectation."

I'm no closer to understandi
Mar 01, 2016 Marnie rated it really liked it
This is a hard book to rate. To our modern sensibilities this book seems prejudiced and full of stereotypes. Yet his muck-raking work changed so much of how the poor were perceived and treated. My edition did not have the photos but he was an early photojournalist. Fortunately you can look online and see a lot of the photos he took. They are amazing. Just having gone to Ellis Island a few months ago this was all the more poignant. People coming to America to better themselves and yet they were h ...more
James Violand
Jul 08, 2014 James Violand rated it really liked it  ·  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
Aug 08, 2008 Carolina de Goes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: photo, documentary, dark
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
Jun 07, 2012 Vincent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 25, 2013 Alger rated it really liked it
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
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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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“Oh, God! That bread should be so dear, And flesh and blood so cheap!” 5 likes
“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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