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Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America Hardcover – September 30, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0226143781 ISBN-10: 0226143783 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226143783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226143781
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,559,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This vivid narrative succeeds in provoking new questions about the role of homelessness in shaping American history."

(Brad D. Lookingbill The Historian)

"DePastino offers a fascinating look at a little-known sector of the laboring class that often did not work. In so doing he contributes to a welcome trend in which historians are redirecting attention from the workplace to the community in order to understand more fully the texture of working-class life."
(Evelyne Savidge Sterne American Historical Review)

From the Inside Flap

In the years following the Civil War, a veritable army of homeless men swept across America's "wageworkers' frontier" and forged a beguiling and bedeviling counterculture known as "hobohemia." Celebrating unfettered masculinity and jealously guarding the American road as the preserve of white manhood, hoboes took command of downtown districts and swaggered onto center stage of the new urban culture. Less obviously, perhaps, they also staked their own claims on the American polity, claims that would in fact transform the very entitlements of American citizenship.

In this eye-opening work of American history, Todd DePastino tells the epic story of hobohemia's rise and fall, and crafts a stunning new interpretation of the "American century" in the process. Drawing on sources ranging from diaries, letters, and police reports to movies and memoirs, Citizen Hobo breathes life into the largely forgotten world of the road, but it also, crucially, shows how the hobo army so haunted the American body politic that it prompted the creation of an entirely new social order and political economy. DePastino shows how hoboes—with their reputation as dangers to civilization, sexual savages, and professional idlers—became a cultural and political force, influencing the creation of welfare state measures, the promotion of mass consumption, and the suburbanization of America. Citizen Hobo's sweeping retelling of American nationhood in light of enduring struggles over "home" does more than chart the change from "homelessness" to "houselessness." In its breadth and scope, the book offers nothing less than an essential new context for thinking about Americans' struggles against inequality and alienation.

More About the Author

I teach and write history with a special expertise in disaster, carnage, mayhem, and misery. If it's the history of peaceful, well-adjusted, mainstream, or successful people or groups that interests you, you'll probably want to look elsewhere. I'm drawn to the down-and-out, the forgotten, and the doomed. I should probably get this checked.

In addition to my teaching and writing, I'm also the co-founder of the Veterans Breakfast Club, a non-profit that gathers veterans together with their friends, families, and neighbors to share stories from their time in the military. Right now, our focus is on WWII veterans, and we regularly host 500 veterans and others at breakfasts around Pittsburgh. I'm getting quite an education at our breakfasts, which you can follow on my blog.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Young on January 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
When I finished Mystery Train and Ranters & Crowd Pleasers by Greil Marcus, I found myself dazzled by the breadth of the author's knowledge and his ability to connect ideas. I also wanted to run to my shelves of CDs and albums to re-examine Marcus's primary sources, to hear the music I already knew in dynamic new contexts.
I was no less creatively and intellectually energized by Todd DePastino's Citizen Hobo. DePastino's subject is American homelessness, not the cultural gravity of pop music a la Marcus. Citizen Hobo, though, is quick to view the issue not only through traditional scholarship, but also through literature, dime store novels, letters, the underground press and songs, material that brings DePastino's stories to life. By the time I finished Citizen Hobo I wanted to re-read On the Road and The 42nd Parallel, dive into some Whitman and Frost and burn my own CD compilation of songs about hoboes and home, spinning off from Springsteen, Dylan and Guthrie. I offer that as high praise.
As for the primary theme of DePastino's work, it's not easily summarized. Make no mistake that this is a rich, academic text that assumes a strong understanding of post-Civil War American history and political ideologies. Still, the narrative is crisp, engaging and eminently readable. Citizen Hobo traces the metamorphosis of hoboes from white men who followed the roads to work in the late 1800s to the modern men and women of various backgrounds who have become both homeless and "houseless." In doing so, DePastino delves into American racism and sexism, the failures and successes of capitalism in providing genuine opportunities for all, public perceptions versus the realities of homelessness, and the politicizing and artistic celebrations of "hobohemia.
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By Jason Rahn on September 22, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Depastino does a fantastic job bringing together the many varied historical/sociological events that helped shape transient life throughout the 20th century. A must read for anyone doing research on the Great depression.
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Format: Hardcover
Tood DePastino had a wonderful idea: explore what Americans (particularly, white American males) "have meant by home -- and by extension, its absence -- since modern homelessness first emerged in the late nineteenth century." However, he quickly expanded his goals to include "trac[ing] the history of homelessness as a category of culture as well as economy, focusing especially on how its radicalized and gendered meanings shaped the entitlements and exclusions of "social citizenship" in modern America."

Needless to say the often interesting and well-researched hobo history morphs into intellectual gobbledygook about contemporary homelessness, homosexuality, alleged gender and racial discrimination along with a host of other issues, such as the real meaning of the lyrics to "The Big Rock Candy Mountain." For example, DePastino proclaims that "[f]or workers, masculinity or "manliness" derived not so much rom sex, or the sex of sexual partners, but rather from gender status: that is, bundles of attributes, values and behaviors believed to be desirable in men." Almost needless to say, DePastino does not directly support this conclusion with any authoritative sources.

By his final chapter, the aptly titled "Rediscovering Homelessness," DePastino lapses into a seemingly endless litany of half-baked concepts spouted academic social scientists.

As DePastino puts it "[t]he singular domestic vision [of home] that once seemed to command universal allegiance -- breadwinning fathers and child-reading mothers in single-family houses -- has fractured , fallen victim to the racial exclusions, gender constraints, and narrow class assumptions that such a vision historically entailed.
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