How the Other Half Lives

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# PREFACE. # INTRODUCTION # CHAPTER I. GENESIS OF THE TENEMENT. # CHAPTER II. THE AWAKENING. # CHAPTER III. THE MIXED CROWD. # CHAPTER IV. THE DOWN TOWN BACK-ALLEYS. # CHAPTER V. THE ITALIAN IN NEW YORK. # CHAPTER VI. THE BEND. # CHAPTER VII. A RAID ON THE STALE-BEER DIVES. # CHAPTER VIII. THE CHEAP LODGING-HOUSES. # CHAPTER IX. CHINATOWN. # CHAPTER X. JEWTOWN. # CHAPTER XI. THE SWEATERS OF JEWTOWN. # CHAPTER XII. THE BOHEMIANS--TENEMENT-HOUSE CIGARMAKING. # CHAPTER XIII. THE COLOR LINE IN NEW YORK. # CHAPTER XIV. THE COMMON HERD. # CHAPTER XV. THE PROBLEM OF THE CHILDREN. # CHAPTER XVI. WAIFS OF THE CITY'S SLUMS. # CHAPTER XVII. THE STREET ARAB. # CHAPTER XVIII. THE REIGN OF RUM. # CHAPTER XIX. THE HARVEST OF TARES. # CHAPTER XX. THE WORKING GIRLS OF NEW YORK. # CHAPTER XXI. PAUPERISM IN THE TENEMENTS. # CHAPTER XXII. THE WRECKS AND THE WASTE. # CHAPTER XXIII. THE MAN WITH THE KNIFE. # CHAPTER XXIV. WHAT HAS BEEN DONE. # CHAPTER XXV. HOW THE CASE STANDS. PREFACE. 1. THE belief that every man's experience ought to be worth something to the community from which he drew it, no matter what that experience may be, so long as it was gleaned along the line of some decent, honest work, made me begin this book. With the result before him, the reader can judge for himself now whether or not I was right. Right or wrong, the many and exacting duties of a newspaper many life would hardly have allowed me to bring it to an end but for frequent friendly lifts given me by willing hands. To the President of the Board of Health, Mr. Charles G. Wilson, and to Chief Inspector Byrnes of the Police Force I am indebted for much kindness. The patient friendship of Dr. Roger S. Tracy, the Registrar of Vital Statistics, has done for me what I never could have done for myself; for I know nothing of tables, statistics and percentages, while there is nothing about them that he does not know. Most of all, I owe in this, as in all things else, to the womanly sympathy and the loving companionship of my dear wife, ever my chief helper my wisest counsellor, and my gentlest critic. J. A. R.

Customer Reviews:

  • How the Other Half+ Still Lives
    Essential classic to refresh past and current thinking on urban development and inequality. History is repeating itself all too comfortably....more info
  • Photojournalism: The original and the best
    As others have noted, this book was the beginning of photojournalism, and remains an accurate but depressing look into the lives of poor New Yorkers in the early part of the 20th century.

    This book never fails to amaze me. I read it in college, then ordered it for someone else recently.

    If you have never read it - or, if you have not read it recently, give it a look.

    In these times when the rich are increasingly wealthier than they've been since the 19th Century - the middle class is shrinking - and the poor are becoming poorer, it is wise to look and remember how socially aware and socially responsible we must be....more info
  • A classic work that still holds power
    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 alike, which continued to swell the city's population. In order for them to have had the chance of becoming productive American citizens, they must first have been given the opportunity at a fair start, which the abject state of the tenement buildings were unable to provide.

    The first problem was the tenement itself. Usually a building, four to six stories high, intended for the occupancy of just a few families, soon had over a hundred people packed into every nook that could fill a human body. Most interior rooms never saw the light of day. Fresh air was a rare commodity, leaving most residents to breathe the same stale air day and night. The maze of tight, blind passageways created to fit each family made it impossible for firemen to reach helpless victims trapped on the upper floors, compounded by the fact that most fire escapes were blocked with residents' furniture, trapping more even still. Overall, the filth of the structures proved most offensive to the senses. One such building was so dubbed the "Dirty Spoon" because the grime on the walls had effectively made it fire proof (Riis 30). Rear tenements, built in empty courts behind the street buildings, were usually worse, little more than dilapidated hovels cut off from light by the surrounding structures.

    Despite this vision of abject poverty, and indeed starvation was prevalent, many in the tenements were not what would have been considered poor. Some, in fact, earned a decently living for the era. So why didn't they move? The real question to be asked is, to where would they move? Tenement houses were the norm in New York, each as good (or lousy) as the next. Additionally, the rents paid by most of these residents (especially blacks) were very high, often amounting to more than a week's wage. Only the abundantly wealthy could afford better, while the middle and lower classes were left to the stink of places like "The Bend" on Mulberry Street, which Riis considers the heart of slum depravity.

    Predictably, these conditions bred all types of criminal activity. Faced with constant hunger and only the streets to call home, many resorted to gang violence or controlled substance dependency. Children, who sometimes never saw beyond their squalid block, with a family that could not provide for their basic needs, soon created gangs of their own, making their way as they could. Other children toiled with their families in the sweatshops, for which the tenements were the main housing. Perhaps the most regrettable victims of the tenements were the infants, who were regularly victims of abandonment, left on wealthy doorsteps with vain hopes by desperate parents, or given up to "Baby-farms" where they were left to starve to death (Riis 148). These conditions Riis blames squarely on tenements: "The product is our own" (Riis 171).

    However, all hope was not lost to Riis. Already airshafts had been implemented in new building designs to allow ventilation (to what effect can be debated) and new windows punched into walls, so that "air and sunlight" could "have a legal claim" (Riis 211). Rear tenements, too, were quickly disappearing. He felt that by writing How the Other Half Lives, the wealthy and influential of the city would come to the aid (Riis 131). In this respect he was correct, when through his book he found an ally in Theodore Roosevelt, who began implementing many of the suggestions that Riis proposed. He urged people to look beyond the building facades (which were admittedly nice on some buildings) to the teeming filth that they masked (Riis 209). Perhaps the most intimidating argument for his more fortunate peers was the possibility of spreading disease, for to him public sentiment had "slumbered peacefully until... a dreaded epidemic knocked at our door" (Riis 212). He called for laws to be imposed against the current tenement conditions, for the buildings to be renovated or new "model tenements" built in their place (Riis 223). Likewise, tenants should have received the quality accommodations their high rents were entitling them to. Riis endorsed the park system (City-Beautiful influence?) as a way of relieving crime in congested districts, for reasons such as this elegant observation: "I have seen an armful of daisies keep the peace of a block better than a policeman and his club, seen instincts awaken under their gentle appeal" (Riis 138). Children, Riis felt, were the "key" to rescuing the city from poverty and corruption (Riis 143).

    The other contribution for which Riis has been immortalized, and no doubt thanked repeatedly by modern historians, is the treasure trove of photos he took while on his outings, one hundred of which are found in the Dover edition. (His original publication did not include the photos for technological reasons). The impact of the strikingly bleak images caught on film far outweighs any of the emotional condemnations he wrote. The reader, thankfully, is also treated to many of the stories behind these images, adding yet another dimension, such as the young paupers on page 157 who claimed that they "Didn't live nowhere." Another, probably unintentional, effective element to the photos is the pained grimace on many faces (like the "Street Arab" on page 152), as though they are writhing in agony from hunger, although it is no doubt just a reaction from the camera's blinding flash in dark quarters. The street dwellers and criminals, even those presumably embarrassed by their situations, seem willing to have their pictures taken. Perhaps it is the only such opportunity many had.

    Despite Riis's commendable crusading and fight for the underprivileged, he was still in many ways a man of his time. The modern reader cannot help but be struck by the prejudices running through his commentary. The groups that receive the most of the brunt are the Italians and Polish Jews. The Chinese also pay a price for their differences, and Riis tells us that his "senseless idolatry, a mere grub-worship" have made nothing strong about him, except his passions when aroused" (Riis 77) and speaks of opium addiction as a form of white slavery (Riis 80). At least he commends them for being clean. Surprisingly, however, he looks fondly on African-Americans (along with Bohemians), who he treats with sympathetic respect. He sees their hardships, and the causes (ironically), that "the blame is born by prejudice and greed that have kept him from rising under a burden of responsibility to which he could hardly be equal" under those circumstances. That after only twenty-five years of freedom, he "may be seen to advance much farther and faster than before suspected, and to promise, with fair treatment, quite as well as the rest of us, his white-skinned fellow-citizens" (Riis 119). When he wished, it seems, Riis was quite able to see beyond differences.

    Riis, through How the Other Half Lives, awakened a society that had once turned a blind eye to the hardships prevalent in the tenements. He showed them effectively that the struggle was not theirs alone, but that its reach was felt for many miles in ways not readily apparent. His photographic images, forever capturing the lowest moments in people's lives, begged for intervention. Whatever Riis's shortcomings, future generations in New York and cities around the country would be better off because of what he did, and benefit from the experiences of those who did not live long enough to see those changes occur. Unfortunately, the images in Riis's work are still a common sight in many developing countries, making his century-old ideas of relevant, present power....more info
  • NOT the right edition - get the DOVER
    Riis was before all else a photojournalist, and this his major body of work. As such, the fact that there even exist editions which do not contain quality reproductions of the photos astounds me. This edition only contains a few, and they are small, pixelated, two-tone reproductions. The Dover edition is the one to get. ...more info
  • Wrong edition.
    We all know the story, which can be found in any edition of this book-- and yes, they will all have typos, as the book was never originally put through a rigorous editing process. That's part of it's 'charm.'

    The problem, though, is this specific edition--many images are left out, and the images really make the book; after all, Jacob Riis was one of the first muckraking photojournalists... wouldn't you want to see those pictures? They add incredible depth to the story. Luckily I had to read this for a class, and didn't mind it, but... for someone reading it for personal purposes, spend the few extra dollars for an edition with photographs. It is SO worth it....more info
  • Wrong edition.
    We all know the story, which can be found in any edition of this book-- and yes, they will all have typos, as the book was never originally put through a rigorous editing process. That's part of it's 'charm.'

    The problem, though, is this specific edition--many images are left out, and the images really make the book; after all, Jacob Riis was one of the first muckraking photojournalists... wouldn't you want to see those pictures? They add incredible depth to the story. Luckily I had to read this for a class, and didn't mind it, but... for someone reading it for personal purposes, spend the few extra dollars for an edition with photographs. It is SO worth it....more info
  • horrendous edition
    This edition of How the Other Half Lives is astoundingly bad. It contains innumerable typos (the edition was clearly the result of scanning an old edition with sub-par OCR software). Moreover the illustrations and tables are 72dpi maximum making them a nearly illegible blur on the printed page. The blurb on the back claims the book was "first published in 1901" (in fact it was 1890). The same amount of care went into this edition as went into a New York Tenement....more info
  • Toughest Time
    Source book for Luc Sante's research into his book- Low Life:The Lures and Snares of Old New York. Current Affairs journalism in it's infancy. Tenement laws and building codes in New York were first manifested as a result of this book's original publication. Riis ruled....more info
  • excellent account of tenement life in NYC in the 19th century
    a real eye-opener. I read about this in a book on NY, and it lived up to its billing....more info
  • Immigrants & Tenements in NYC in 1890
    How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis, with Introduction by Luc Sante, is a book that paints a picture of tenement neighborhoods in New York City in 1890. Riis, himself an immigrant, made his living as a journalist. It is his gift of words that brings the slums to life, and transports the reader to the very spot that he describes. Riis was the first to include photographs to vividly capture what his words portray. His writing and photographs were forerunners to investigative reporting and documentaries. Sante referred to Riis' agenda as being restricted to the mundane because he wanted immediate achievable results that would better the lives of the other half. Although his plans were simple; proper housing, sanitary conditions, parks, and schools; they were considered revolutionary. When he left the newspaper business in 1901 he became a lecturer speaking on this topic of reform that was so dear to his heart. He made headway and convinced influential people such as Theodore Roosevelt to join his cause.
    I think Riis was extremely successful in his mission to make people aware of the conditions in the tenements. Since this book was reprinted in 1997 and the introduction was added at that time, I think it would have increased the value of the book to include a section that briefly described the current condition of the tenements in today's light, and review, with a timeline, the reforms achieved since 1890. It would be interesting because Sante says "It [the book] haunts us because so much of it remains true" (p.xiii). This book created reforms, but if after 116 years, much of it is still true, we must be missing something. Then again, perhaps not, since Riis says the poor will always be with us, and we can never get rid of either the pauper or the tenement (p.xi).
    Riis was a firm believer that education alone could make "the other half's" lives better, but he also knew their need to work long hours to have a roof over their head and food to eat made the chance of education a far flung dream (pp.95, 105, 111, 136). Without the ability to speak English they are unable to change careers. Another solution he had was to focus on the children as a way to reduce city poverty (p.139). Riis preached that besides charitable donations there needed to be people willing to step into action (pp.145, 213).
    I think the book was well written and is very descriptive. At times I thought his words tended to be racial, blunt, and opinionated, but that was his true style, even in his journalistic works (p.xvi). Even though I didn't like to read the racist words, I believe he accurately presented the views of the slums. Just as Walter Isaacson fills his readers with awe at the accomplishments of Ben Franklin in his book Ben Franklin, An American Life, Riis fills us with an ache for the immigrants coming to America to make a better life for themselves and finding it hard to do. I think anyone interested in history or the life of an immigrant would find this an informative book. It isn't one I would find on an educational reading list in terms of contributions to education, but it does give insight into living conditions in the late nineteenth century and gives a plug for a connection between education (or lack of) and living conditions within the largest city in America.
    ...more info
  • Examining Society's Social Structures
    Jacob Riis can be considered one of the greatest social reformers of modern times. He used his writing and photography to publicize the lifestyles of the lower classes in New York City in the late nineteenth through early twentieth centuries. In How the Other Half Lives, Riis described the inherent injustices and terrible living conditions of New York City tenements. He exposed the public to the evils of tenement life, portraying New York City living conditions of the lower classes for what they truly were. He successfully accomplished his goal of attracting attention to a dire situation.

    Riis wrote How the Other Half Lives to evoke sympathy to awaken the masses to the poverty in their backyards. Through his writings and photographs Riis knew people would become aware and respond to the living conditions in New York slums. Tenements were large buildings that overflowed with families living under miserable conditions. People representing many different nationalities lived in New York City tenements, and the population of immigrants grew incredibly during this time of emigration. It quickly became the most heterogeneous city in the country, and the different Europeans lived together under terrible conditions. Some immigrant groups of the same nationality lived in small separate communities together. Most settled on the East Side of New York, where the New York aristocracy had lived. The contrast between the days when the aristocracy lived on the East Side and when the immigrants moved there is quite apparent.

    Jacob Riis stated, "Homes had ceased to be sufficiently separate, decent, and desirable to afford what are regarded as ordinary wholesome influences of home and family." Tenements were overcrowded, dark, and unsanitary. Riis felt nobody should live in these conditions, and he called people to recognize the horrors of immigrant life. The homes of these immigrants were described in this way, "Large rooms were partitioned into several smaller ones, without regard to light or ventilation, the rate of rent being lower in proportion to space or height from the street; and they soon became filled from cellar to garret with a class of tenantry living from hand to mouth, loose in morals, improvident in habits, degraded, and squalid as beggary itself." One of Riis's photographs, "In Poverty Gap, West Twenty-Fourth Street An English Coal Heaver's Home" depicts a typical poor immigrant family who obviously had very little materially and lived in a dilapidated tenement. The family seems very hardened in emotion, as if they are not even real. The combination of poignant quotes and photographs such as these led people to challenge the status quo.

    One of Riis's major tasks was to distinguish the difference between the "haves" and "have-nots" of New York City by comparing the immigrants with the few rich. There was very little social mobility for tenement immigrants, who made up the majority of the population. He appealed to the consciousness of the rich by saying, "As business increased, and the city grew with rapid strides, the necessities of the poor became the opportunity of their wealthier neighbors." This points out the exploitation of immigrants by the wealthy class that Riis felt existed. No matter how hard they worked, there seemed to be no way out for the immigrants. "Knee Pants at Forty-Five Cents a Dozen - a Ludlow Street Sweater's Shop" is a photograph that shows an entire family working diligently in their confined tenement. This illustrates that there was no hope for immigrant families; they kept working but reaped no benefits. Riis blamed the tenement living conditions for the crimes and unethical behavior he saw among the immigrants. He blamed their poor standard of living for the abundance of crime and other abuses in immigrant neighborhoods. "A Downtown Morgue" presents us with drinking, one of the vices of the immigrants, but implies that they had nothing to encourage them to stay away from it. The photograph also reinforces the poverty and hopelessness, suggesting the immigrants had nothing to live for so they wasted their lives away on alcohol. Riis took a special interest in children because he saw them as innocent people who had become so jaded by their surroundings that they became criminals. "Prayer Time in the Nursery, Five Points House of Industry" portrays young children praying, probably indicating Riis's dream that all children would be set on the right path and stay there throughout their lives.

    A major criticism to Riis's work is that he was prejudiced and writing from a biased point of view. Riis reflected the view of the upper classes toward the immigrants and poorer classes, and readers can pick up on this through the biases in his work. He could not fully understand the plight of the people he studied because he was not one of them. Riis used terms that were crude and unflattering to the nationalities of those whom he was describing. He describes the "Chinaman" in the following way, "Ages of senseless idolatry, a mere grub-worship, have left him without the essential qualities for appreciating the gentle teachings of a faith whose motive and unselfish spirit are alike beyond his grasp." He also referred to the Chinese as a "terrible menace to society" because of their marijuana smoking. Riis wrote that "lower class" Italians were foreign, different, and therefore separate from others. Other examples of vivid language Riis used were, "the tramps, peddlers, hags, rude swains, and the really pretty girls." Since he was an outsider due to his class, he could not possibly relate to the people he was describing....more info

  • How did those immigrants survive ?
    How did our grandfathers and great-grandfathers (and great-great, I suppose) survive immigration and the slums? What was life like on the Lower East Side of New York? For those of us whose family has only been in the US for a few generations, this is a must-read. Whether Irish, Italian, Jewish, Chinese or Polish, German, Russian, hordes of refugees ended up in New York on the promise of a better life.

    Reading Riis' book reads like the newspaper in some ways; entrepreneurs lured poor people from Eastern Europe and contracted out their labor in sweat shops in the US. Sound familiar? But what is not so familiar are the living conditions in the tenements, dark, unventilated cages in blocks of buildings that rented for a surprising high rent to people who died by the thousands in the unsanitary conditions. Farm animals had it better. Why was rent so high? Supply and demand. Cheaper rent was to be had in Brooklyn and the outlying (as yet unincorporated) boroughs, but the WORK was in Manhattan, where you could get by as a tailor, a seamstress, a peddler or in some illegitimate activity.

    The conditions will make you cry; the story of foundling babies (abandoned newborns) is astonishing. A cradle was put outside a Catholic Church and instead of a baby each night, racks of babies appeared. The Church had to establish foundling hospitals run by nuns, who persuaded the unwed or impoverished mothers to nurse the baby they gave up, plus another baby (women can usually nurse two, though these malnourished women must have been hard-pressed.) The child mortality rate, especially in the "back tenements" or buildings built on to the back of others (dark and airless) was incredible.

    I wish the plates in the book were of better quality; Riis took many photographs, but the reproduction here is poor and they are hard to see. I recommend that if you are interested in this subject from seeing "The Gangs of New York" or for genealogical reasons, that you visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and see the buildings for yourself. Even cleaned up and no longer packed with unwashed people, they are heart-rending....more info

  • Still the Same
    "The business of housing the poor, if it is to amount to anything, must be business, as it was business with our fathers to put them where they are. As charity, pastime, or fad, it will miserably fail, always and everywhere" (p. 201). Jacob A. Riis, in his book, How the Other Half Lives, vividly describes the human condition of the tenements of New York during the late 1800's. The author provides not only a physical description of the tenement buildings but delves deeper into the people who live there and why they don't leave the pits of filth and despair.
    Jacob Riis, presents a compelling account of the intricate business of managing the slums of New York and maintaining the status quo among the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to America to seek a new and prosperous life. After arriving they found they were trapped in a life of high rents and low wages with little hope for improvement of their circumstances. What little help was available seemed to be in the form of charity that couldn't sustain the prideful immigrants desire to succeed in this country.
    The reader is taken on a tour of the slums and introduced to the groups of immigrants nationality by nationality and given a full account of the author's stereotypical ideas about their good and bad points. Of the Italian Riis says he only spends time indoors when it's raining or he is sick. When the sun shines the entire population seeks the streets carrying on all facets of life (p. 47). He further says the Italian is a born gambler (p 44) and learns slowly, if at all (p. 42) so that his job of working the ash carts is simply suited for him. On the positive side Riis says the Italian is as honest as he is hot-headed (p. 45).
    The Chinese are a stealth and secretive group with all activities going on behind closed doors (p75). They are also attributed with stealing the women of the white man and leading them into the grip of opium giving them up only to the Charity Hospital or the Potter's Field (p76). On the positive side the Chinese are noted for their scrupulous neatness (p 78).
    The Bohemians are an honest group but rumored as being anarchists. They are fond of beer and will live at the highest means available thus they have nothing saved for a rainy day (105). He is caught in a tough position of working for poor wages and facing rising rents with no way out. For if he rebels against low wages and high rent he loses his home and job; the two are connected as cigar making takes place in the home utilizing supplies provided by the landlords.
    To the Jews money is their God and they work in the tenements crowding the area of Ludlow Street more densely than the crowding of Old London (p 83). They are suited to baking as bread is cheap and their love of money and the saving of it is suited to eating bread. They are also known for their work in the clothing industry. Of the Blacks, Riis stereotypes them as cleaner and better tenants but none-the-less they pay higher rents for no one else will live in a tenement after the black man has. While much of the reading is based on the stereotypes formed by the author it still provides a vivid picture of the human condition including the live's of tramps in stale beer dives and the thugs who cause fear and trouble in the streets. Both tramps and toughs profess that the world owes them a living (p64). The author also relates the degree to which the upper class try to distort the reality of life in the tenements, classifying starvation as "improper nourishment". In one case starvation led one poor man to thoughts of murdering his own children. In his madness he had only one conscious thought: that the town should not take the children. "Better that I take care of them myself ," he repeated to himself as he ground the axe to an edge.(p 127).
    Due to this book, Riis was able to draw public attention to the horrendous living conditions of the poor in New York City, and to insist on reform. The reforms he recommended were largely undertaken, although it was a very gradual process (p. ix). This may be partially attributed to political factors relating to the fact that political contests were won in the areas with the fully packed lodging houses (p 71). With this writing Riis does not allow the world to forget easily, what it does not like to remember (p196)....more info
  • The One that Started It All
    For all intents and purposes, Jacob Riis' HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES is the birth of photojournalism. And this new genre, like the first movies and radio programs, fascinated its audience. Riis' sharp essays are matched only by his sharp eye for photography. I don't know which made more of an impact on me: the text or the pictures of unspeakable misery. But I think it's a safe bet to say that Riis' contemporaries were fixated more on the photographs. (After all, Riis turned to photography AFTER his published essays seemed to have little effect.) In any event, the result, then as now, is a provocative, compassionate, and angry work that exposed to the middle and upper classes of his time the effects of their indifference, at best, or the effects of their roles as slumlords and sweatshop owners, at worst.

    The only jarring aspect of the book is Riis' use of ethnic stereotyping. He makes several not-nice remarks about Jews, Chinamen, Italians, etc. However, we must not impose our early 21st Century values on a late 19th Century man. These types of remarks were commonplace back in the pre-politically correct times. In any event, Riis' overall intention was to help these people get out of their horrid conditions and not to slur their heritages.

    One last note, Luc Sante's introduction is brilliant and serves the book very well.

    Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points Concluded, a Novel...more info

  • "...beyond the gate that shuts this world of woe off..."
    "Pitiful as these are, sights and sounds infinitely more saddening await us beyond the gate that shuts this world of woe off from one whence the light of hope and reason have gone out together" (p 193).

    Like a ghost out of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Jacob Riis tours the reader through the nightmare existence in the New York City slums of the 1800's. Although, as Luc Sante states in his introduction, Riis' sole purpose for writing this book is to "call attention to the horrendous living conditions of the poor in New York City and insist on reform" (p ix), Riis also presents another underlying theme by unequivocally proving that the more people isolate themselves from the rest of the world, the better chance there is for gross victimization of those less fortunate: simplistically speaking, the rich get richer; the poor get poorer; the wider the gap grows in between (dispersion of our so-called middle class.)

    Riis' talent lies in his use of poetically descriptive language, saturated with metaphor and alliteration, alongside contrasting factual accounts of harsh reality. The reader is mesmerized by the rhythmic sound of lines such as "Down near the Battery the West Side emerald would be soiled by a dirty stain, spreading rapidly like a splash of ink on a sheet of blotting paper" (p 25), but then shocked by the stark conditions of tenement life as given in the form of personal stories, photographs, legislation, statistics, and blueprints. Riis writes about the windowless, airless rooms and the unbelievably filthy crowded living conditions. He recounts stories of bitter violence toward children and between the races, as well as degradation and oppression among women, the old, and the infirm. The reader is sickened with wretched stories of infanticide and mortality rates among the children.

    Riis unapologetically interjects his novel with stereotypical remarks and his own bigoted opinions of the people inhabiting the various ethnically divided "wards." Some of his include those such as "between the dull gray of the Jew, his favorite color, and the Italian red, would be seen squeezed in on the map a sharp streak of yellow, marking the narrow boundaries of Chinatown" (p 24), and "poverty, abuse, and injustice alike the negro accepts with imperturbable cheerfulness...He loves fine clothes and good living a good deal more than he does a bank account" (p 117).

    Through the obviously prejudicial film that covers Riis' novel from beginning to end, the reader is able to perceive a sense of his true passion of wanting to make a positive difference in society. His previous stereotypical remarks about African Americans are somewhat softened when he later comments on the injustice towards them:

    "...when the account is made up between the races, it shall be claimed that he falls short of the result to be expected from twenty-five years of freedom, it may be well to turn to the other side of the ledger and see how much of the blame is borne by the prejudice and greed that have kept him from rising under a burden of responsibility to which he could hardly be equal" (p 119).

    Riis is an example of a pioneer whose work, sacrifice, and commitment have shaped our country and our world. By educating the public through his journalistic indictments, he provided the catalyst for the ensuing slow process of reform. What places Riis on a higher level than others who have written expos®¶s is the fact that he not only provided what he thought to be the main causes for the deplorable situation of tenement life, but also provided an outline of a well thought out plan for improvement that included detailed legislation, floor plans for remodeling, and sound economical postulations. Luc Sante states that Riis does not "inquire very deeply into the causes of the conditions he describes" (p xi), but one can logically infer very plainly many individual causes and effects that ultimately affect the whole, such as greed, gross lack of education of a whole segment of society, a government and society who chose not to care (or may have felt it did not have the time or resource to care,) growth of nation that was infinitely more vast than expected, depression, oppression, and inertia (on both ends of the class spectrum.)

    Riis' book is not only a ghost from the past, but also a ghost from the present that haunts our country and our world today. One can still see economically imbalanced conditions that contribute to the growing lower class. Insightful remarks made over one hundred years ago make one disgusted to realize that seemingly little has been learned:

    "Nothing is now better understood than that the rescue of the children is the key to the problem of city poverty, as presented for our solution to-day; that a character may be formed where to reform it would be a hopeless task" (p 139).

    This book should be read for the beauty of the prose, the horror of the content, and the insight to be gained from both. Riis succeeds in showing the reader that our world is a unit existing of one: indeed one world. Riis presents an inarguably complete and comprehensive exposition of "how the other half lives."...more info

  • A story that should be revisited.
    Riis takes a look at the under world of New York much in that same way that De Tocqueville did of New England in "Democracy in America." The difference is that Riis is an American, just a rich one. He finds himself stunned and appalled that we as a people could allow our compatriots to live in such squalor. At the same time he drags out all of the tired stereotypes of the day about the different ethnic groups then living in the city (mostly: Jewish, Irish and Italian).

    Riis' upper-class lifestyle and upbringing are apparent throughout the book, and some of the passages would offend many of our sensibilities today, but the general point of the book is what's important here. The upper-class lives in comfortable ignorance while a significant number of Americans have to wonder where their next meal is coming from and what they'd do should they, god forbid, fall ill.

    A good book if you're looking for a more modern perspective on this problem is Barbra Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed."...more info

  • history teacher
    I have used the paperback edition in the classroom and feel it is an excellent tool. I recently purchased the e-book with the hopes that I could use the pictures in a powerpoint presentation so the class could see it better. I was very dissappointed to see that the pictures are not clear and that since the book is so heavily copyrighted that you can cut and paste or anything with this book. Please save your money or buy the hard copy of the book, the pictures are what makes this book and e-book doesn't do a good job in this regard....more info
  • Too dated to really make an impact
    Yes, the stories in this book are depressing. Yes, they are still happening even today. However, Riis's writing style is quite sensantionalist, it had me rolling my eyes every paragraph or so. And he is quite prejudice against a whole multitude of races and religions. Again, yes I know this was written in 1890, but the sheer volume of his judgement against other cultures, etc. really took me out of the core stories of the conditions of the people detailed in the book.

    A fair amount of the book had me interested, it's just the way the stories were told made me not be able to disgest their content very well....more info

  • Incredible pictures!
    I used this book along with another Riis book for a U.S. History project at school. Both this book and Low Life were an incredible help. The pictures are incredible. Riis was the first to show this side of life in NYC during the first part of the century. His books are by far the best pictoral records of the time. I highly recomend this book for anyone interested in the early part of the century or anyone who needs information for school projects....more info
  • A really fine book
    Like books by Steinbeck, How the other half lives is a eye opening expose of life for the have-nots in the late 19th century. The progression through the different areas of NYC shows that there were a lot more poorer people in the city than I thought. Riis is thorough and pulls no punches in showing how the other half true lives....more info
  • A great exposee.
    How the other Half Lives does an excellent job of bringing to light the plight and destitution of early immigrants to this nation. As Riis systematically moves from one ethnic group to another, one realizes how much discrimination was shown to newcomers. Riis' own descriptions of the immigrants provide evidence to the prevalent feelings of that era. Overall, Riis' work is eye-opening and instructive....more info
  • What a book!
    I had to chose a book to read for my AP History Class, and I thouhgt this book would be very interesting; and it was. This book made me realize how life really was in New York during the early 1900's. Riis's pictures give you a feel for it all. If you are interested in true life stories and classic pictures than I would suggest this book....more info
  • I loved this book so much
    I really think this book was interested. we had to read it in our english class and everyone seemed to like it alot.I think that what they did to the peolpe was wrong and people should not be treated in such bad manners like that. I woyld not last long in there life time i would end up dead in a few days. I wish there was something someone could of did for those helpless people. I know that I had the chance I would help them live in an enviorment best for them.

    thank you

    amanda brayton...more info

  • powerful
    Riis's work is an amazing picture of life in the New York slums. While the text in itself is quite interesting, the photos are perhaps the most gripping aspect of the book. To see the tiny, crowded rooms populated by unreal numbers of people and the eyes of hungry children that stare out of the picture and are still imploring a century later is a powerful experience; Riis's book allows one to get very close to the misery these people felt. This book is not for the soft-hearted, as it is a very grim depection of life, such as it was for these immigrants....more info
  • Sad,startling,urban pictures & reporting from 1890 NYC
    This is an extremely important work that is often difficult to find at local libraries. At the turn of the century the Danish immigrant, Jacob Riis, took pictures, and wrote, of the the NYC ghettos where many of the immigrants lived. It is very powerful, depressing and shocking; a must read for anyone interested in the study of urban human behavior/housing and photo journalism. Beware: Avoid some paperback editions that do not contain the pictures Riis took of the dismal living conditions in NYC....more info