Book Review: How the Other Half Lives

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How the other Half Lives is an informative book disusing the 1900’s. The author, Jacob A. Riis, counts people for the census. He saw many different aspects of life in New York City during this time. He shares some of the hidden relations of tenement housing. He discusses the many different ethnic groups and how they form group characteristics in distinct neighborhoods. Riis’s personal opinions of the value and power of these ethnic groups comes through in his writing. His ideas reflect some of the national ideas during this time period.

Blacks rank the lowest in society at this time. Riis credits this to natural selection. They are a race on the lowest level, defenseless against the woes of the landlords. Riis does not seem to hate the blacks, but accepts the fact that they are the lowest form of a person.

Riis places the Chinese right above the blacks. He discredits the popular belief that, “the Chinaman being a thousand years behind the age on his own shore”, by stating that in America, “he is distinctly abreast of it in his successful scheming to ‘to make it pay.’” Riis thinks the Chinese are repugnant people. He starts off my discrediting their “grub-worshiping” religion. The fact that Chinese practice a different religion takes many people off guard, and they begin to insult the region, saying it is unworthy compared to Christianity. Along with these insults, the dreary neighborhood and past time of gambling are also pointed out. Chinese were the most hated group of this time period.

Jews are the next group. Riis shares both positive and negative traits of the Jewish people. He notes the contrast in age groups behavior with a neutral perspective and even notes how they “honestly” stay home on holidays. Riis points out that they live in the most crowed houses that he has ever seen. Riis seems mostly neutral about this group as he discusses their desire for money.

Riis thinks the highest of the Irish. This group comes up many times throughout...
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