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Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (American Century) Paperback – August 1, 1978

ISBN-13: 978-0809001330 ISBN-10: 0809001330 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Series: American Century
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (August 1, 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809001330
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809001330
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6.8 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is what a history of popular culture should be: a delightful account of a fascinating subject and a serious contribution to our understanding of major transition in American culture."--John G. Cawelti, University of Chicago

"Because he treats our frivolities seriously, John Kasson has produced an important book which helps us all understand ourselves. His inquiry into the nature and significance of Coney Island as part of the American experience provides a brilliant device for understanding major transformations in American culture at the turn of the century...A delight to read, look at, and ponder...itself a great amusement for the mind."--Warren Susman, Rutgers University

"Not only delightful reading but a perceptive look at a familiar American institution..Social-cultural history ought to be done this way more often."--Russel B. Nye, Michigan State University

About the Author

John F. Kasson, who teaches history and American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of Houdini, Tarzan and the Perfect Man, Amusing the Million, Rudeness and Civility, and Civilizing the Machine.

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Customer Reviews

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See all 19 customer reviews
Especially nice were the many photos and postcards pictured.
Heather Donnelly
The writer's language is very descriptive and made the topic much more interesting than I anticipated.
Lindsay B. Fenn
Kasson's book was a welcomed change from most of the books required in my college classes.
mwreview

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
Despite all the books about Coney Island, there really aren't that many of substance. John Kasson here gives a serious yet extremely entertaining look at the social forces in play at Coney Island 100 years ago. This is as much about the birth of mass culture as it is about the rides and the personalities who built Coney Island.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
In these times, when entertainers bare body parts normally kept strictly covered, it is hard to believe the cover photo of this book was considered rather racy a century ago. It shows a line of girls on the beach at Coney Island where the skirts on their swimsuits have been raised to reveal the shorts underneath. Considering that they also appear to have full-length tights on underneath the shorts, to modern eyes, they look overdressed. There were many social commentators at the end of the nineteenth century that argued that the egalitarian social structure of Coney Island was debasing the social fabric of the nation.
Which was nonsense, as Coney Island was the most conspicuous example of the dramatic social changes taking place in the United States. By the turn of the century, the people were generally no longer rural tillers of the soil, having been transformed into urban tillers of the machines. Furthermore, by this time, the social distinctions between the upper and other classes were being blurred. As the author points out, at Coney Island, many of the stiff social restrictions came down. People who otherwise would not speak to each other became friendly and shared rides, beach water and other amusements.
The members of the compressed urban society craved simple and inexpensive recreation and Coney Island provided it. Therefore, as Kasson points out so well, it was a phenomenon that grew out of a social need and in many ways served as a social release. People could, for a very small fee, leave their crowded dwellings and engage in a day of escape. Everyone was equal on the rides and the beaches, so at least at that location, social distinctions disappeared.
Until I read this book, I had never considered the amusement park as a barometer for social change. However, it is now clear that Coney Island was a metaphor for a dramatic change in the social fabric of the nation and from this book, you can learn many of the details.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By cbradow@syr.edu on June 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
An enjoyable reading if you desire a history lesson on the famed amusement park. Through great pictures and words the author suceeds in telling the story of the now ancient parks at Coney Island. We learn the stories of the men behind Dreamland, Luna Park, and Steeplechase. A weel put together story making it a must for anyone interested in Coney Island!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By mwreview on March 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book for a college course on American social history. It was nice to open a book with tons of pictures and interesting, but not too intellectually stimulating, text. Kasson's book was a welcomed change from most of the books required in my college classes. The basic theme of the book is that, during the turn of the twentieth century, the American social fabric was changing with industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. These well-known changes seeped down into leisure society as well. The rigid Victorian weekend activities of museum and symphonies was giving way to less "genteel" forms of entertainment such as movies, prize fighting and amusement parks. Coney Island was "a harbinger of modernity." The book covers the history of the park including specific attractions like the Steeplechase and Luna Park as well as its demise, losing "its distinctiveness by the very triumphs of its values." What's even more valuable than the text is the wonderful photographs that really capture the joy visitors experienced. It is only 112 pages and full of these photos, so it definitely makes a light, fun introduction to early 20th century American culture in general or, specifically, to Coney Island history.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Old McDonald on September 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
I was a little disappointed with this book. NOT that it wasn't well-enough written, but it wasn't what I expected or was hoping for. I was looking for more details of the history and atmosphere of Coney Island at the turn of the century, and while this book DID provide some of that (along with some FABULOUS photography) it spent more time discussing the sociological reasons that people frequented there, than on the Island and its amusements. If that is what you're looking for, then this book will appeal to you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. DelParto VINE VOICE on July 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Amusement parks that began to exist during the turn of the century served as venues for fun and excitement as well as helped to release the repressed from the gentility of the Victorian Age of the nineteenth century. John Kasson examines the social and cultural ramifications that occurred in American society in his book, AMUSING THE MILLIONS: CONEY ISLAND AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY. In his study, Kasson shows how the American landscape became playgrounds, especially in New York, which extended the use of recreational space, New York's Central Park, and expositions that commemorated and celebrated the American historical past, Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893. They magnified the cornerstones and building blocks of the city, and the behavior that was exhibited with the rising middle class, which attracted a mass audience. The city became cosmopolitan and modern where many engaged and frolicked, and helped to unlatch social, racial, and economic boundaries that were bestowed upon many individuals; they also helped to rejuvenate cities through urban planning.

Indeed, Kasson explores the world of imagination. The amusements ran the gamut from a Barnum and Bailey atmosphere to reveling along the boardwalk amongst exotic and unusual exhibits that coveted Coney Island's Luna Park and Dreamland Park. And within the text Kasson highlights those who helped architect this unrestrained environment of excess, such as Frederick Law Olmstead, Daniel H. Burnham, George C. Tilyou, Frederic Thompson, James Gibbons Huneker, and Maxim Gorky. Undoubtedly these were elaborate and spacious constructed palatial playgrounds of pleasure full of materialism and consumption where many gathered for pure utopian enjoyment.
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