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Down and Out, on the Road: The Homeless in American History Paperback – April 24, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0195160963 ISBN-10: 0195160967

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Product Details

  • Series: Homeless in American History
  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195160967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195160963
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.9 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,345,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Homelessness is not only a contemporary phenomenon in the U.S. according to this well-researched and engrossing history. While many readers will be familiar with the hobos and box-car riders of the 1920s and the post-Depression world of transient skid row inhabitants, Kusmer has uncovered a complex sociology that transforms how we view U.S. culture and history in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Kusmer examines overarching social conditions and structures such as a condemnatory U.S. Protestant work-ethic response to homelessness, and why "workhouse" solutions do not deal with underlying economic issues. The mythologies of the "tramp as criminal," "pedophile seducer" and disease carrier are examined and taken apart. But Kusmer is at his best when describing the specifics of people's lives, from "the wandering poor" and "sturdy beggars of Colonial times" to the creation of the "tramp" after the Civil War, the social position of penniless Jewish scholars on New York's Lower East Side in the 1890s, and the political ramifications of unemployment as manifested in Coxey's Army's 1894 march on Washington. Drawing upon sociological studies, reports from charitable institutions, the novels of William Dean Howell and Stephen Crane, and the music of blues writer and singer Ida Cox, Kusmer has produced a book that is highly engaging, emotionally absorbing, and historically consequential. (Dec.)Forecast: Unfortunately, homelessness is not likely to be a front-burner issue in the coming months, and the lack of substantive coverage of WWII and beyond further limits the book's contemporary reach. But its scholarly basis should make it a must for most campus libraries, particularly those strong in sociology and urban studies.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This first comprehensive treatment of U.S. homelessness from the colonial era forward (earlier works have tended to focus only on the transient hobo/tramp figure) was written at the height of the Guiliani zero-tolerance campaign in New York City, and its author is ardently sympathetic to his subject. Unfortunately, for all his statistical sophistication, Kusmer (history, Temple Univ.) insufficiently analyzes the root causes of homelessness poverty born of systemic injustice. He bases his study on records from charities, memoirs, and sociological evidence, but his prose often falls short of the vitality of the lives here chronicled. At his best in sections on the rural tramp or railroad hopper, historically often romanticized yet more frequently demonized, Kusmer rushes his concluding explanation of how homelessness became so urban, visible, and menacing from the Reagan years and on. On balance, this book is recommended for serious public and academic library collections as a good start on a crucial and astonishingly underdocumented subject. Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll., PA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kate McMurry TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Kenneth L. Kusmer teaches history at Temple University, and his scholarly background is very evident in this carefully researched work on the history of homelessness in the U.S. Though there have been examples of 19th- and 20th-century tramps romantically eschewing the world of work (Sherwood Anderson, James Michener, Louis L'Amour, et al.), over the past almost 150 years since the Civil War, most of the homeless did not voluntarily seek out their condition. There have been many waves of economic recession and depression, layoffs and industrial accidents which have predictably swelled the ranks of the homeless across many generations. Dr. Kusmer's book does an outstanding job of describing the different constituencies of the homeless in the U.S. over the years, up to and including the present day, where about a third are now women, half are people of color and many are children.
This book is well-documented enough to please the most exacting scholar, but so clearly written as to be very accessible to interested lay persons. There is not a huge body of literature on hoboes, and this book will greatly enhance what is currently out there. It helps to explain how our country which, though it doesn't (presumably) put a ceiling on potential economic and social growth of any given individual, consistently fails to put a floor beneath all its citizens.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. McManus on May 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book really opened my eyes to some common misconceptions about tramps and vagrants in American history. I found it to be erudite yet accessible. It is that rare example of a highly scholarly historical study that is as compelling as the latest mass market page turner.
I would suggest that Down & Out, On the Road is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand a fascinating, yet overlooked, piece of American social history.
I congratulate Dr. Kenneth Kusmer on this fine work. Add it to your library as soon as possible.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A. Ort on August 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is by far the best and most definitive (and perhaps the only) account of homelessness from a sociological/historical perspective. No drama here, no political agenda, no sensationalism. It is a very matter of fact documentation of the rise of homelessness in this country.
It begins simply enough with defining homelessness. Originally those we call homeless today were seen as social outcasts, called vagrants, beggars, bums, vagrants or tramps. Dr. Kusmer traces the origins of these words, something we often take for granted. The use of the word 'homeless' in the public vocabulary did not reach general use until the 1980s.
The overarching theme is that these are people and as such deserve respect no matter what they're situation. Even though it is a historical account there are many personal accounts noted and one gets a good feel for the humanity presented in this book.
As folks living in this situation, for whatever the reason and whatever the definition given, waxed and waned over time, so too did the perception of the public toward them. Factors such as wars affected this population, so too factors such as economic downturns and the rise of the train. Stereotypes are dispelled and this complex and diverse topic is laid out in a well-written style not overloaded with technical jargon.
The documentation on this book is a feast. I have literally spent hours following up on many of his footnotes, especially the accounts in the New York Times from the late 1800s. Fascinating stuff grounded in history. He has a grasp of his material and gives such a broad, though thorough, sweep of the issue that it will become the seminal resource for footnotes in years to come.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on February 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Is the open society no more than a brief era of open spaces? West of the Mississipi a man without a society can and always has survived handily in the interstices of the system,freely availing himself of the services of major railroads, there to wander the open spaces of a civil arrangement in which he was never included. One of the strange subworlds of the Great American Economy has been the realm of that curious gremlin of the reserve army of the unemployed, the hobo and rider of the rails. If you pass by a freight yard, and wait long enough, you will see the phenomenon, briefly, as departure and arrival is not announced, and the passengers will appear from out of the bushes. Much of this is tacitly condoned due to the need for cheap labor in the agricultural circuit, from Arizona to Washington, and the lines are almost the official transportation for the labor force at some times of the year.
This work is a charming, and well documented, account of the whole history, not only of the hobo, but of the homeless in American history, and also gives an interesting chronicle of the skidrow world as it flourished and then passed away after the second world war. If you are ever unemployed, don't panic. Get west of the Mississipi, find a railroad yard,and wait. People will appear who can explain the ropes. May or may not be an open society. But there are still a lot of open spaces.
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