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on May 2, 2001
This reference guide is a MUST HAVE for all writers of historical fiction. Even fans of the genre will find the contents fascinating. Here is a sampling from the Table Of Contents...a simple summation here will not do this book true justice:
Slang and Everyday Speech: even includes swear words, euphemisms and Appalachian Speech -- and examples on how to use them!
Driving Customs: different modes of transportation (including wagons, carriages, stage coaches, canals, etc.)
Home Life: types of houses, furniture, lighting and housekeeping methods, etc.
Clothing and Fashion -- including a chronology of hairstyles (what FUN it was reading this!)
Careers and Occupations: including "street vendor cries" and child labor
Money and Currency: different currencies and their values (wish they had pictures!) Confederate Money, foreign currency and exchange
Health and Medicine: aside from the usual common illnesses and their treatments also included are quack remedies, medicines, premature burial
Common foods, alcoholic beverages, how they preserved foods and what it was like to hang out in a saloon Different Pastimes, Games, sports and social customs,
Dating and marriage customs,
Slave customs and everyday life, including music and dialect. There is even a sidebar on the occupations of free blacks. I found it interesting that there were also Negro slave owners during this period -- see page 220!
The Civil War: practices, customs, weaponry, (very inclusive)
The Wild West: cowboys and their customs, regional slang, food and drink
Criminal activity, slang and common punishments
All in all everything you need to create a "filled to the brim" first draft is here. Use of this book will certainly cure any form of writer's block.
My favorite section is the Chronology of Events towards the back of the book (begins on page 283 of the hardcover edition). Here you will find very valuable timetables...from 1800-1900. Also included in this section is a Chronology of books, novels and magazines that were published during this time period; as well as inventions, songs and other noted innovations. The author then concludes the book with a resource guide to other references helpful to the historical writer.
Absolutely superb...Enjoy
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on October 9, 2005
I was disappointed when I received this book because I had assumed from the editor reviews that this book was about life in the 1800's in Europe as well as America. That's how it's marketed, but I'd say over 95% of the facts related refer to the United States. If you're looking for a reference book on America in the 1800's then this is good, but not if you're interested in European manners and customs of that time period.
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on July 26, 2005
As a writer of this time period, I thought this book would be useful to flesh-out my work and keep it as historically accurate as possible. In this respect, I think it does a marginal job.

Most of my interest centres upon Britain and this book mainly focuses on the US (and not just urban locations such as New England, but the frontier states too). So I suppose if you're looking for more European-based information it would be best to procure a different text. The book is organised in a unique way, with such chapters as "Slang," "Around the House," and "Out on the Range." Each of these chapters breaks down into a glossary of useful words and phrases pertaining to the chapter. Sadly, the glossary represents the extent of the chapter.

Little of the text works chronologically, which really doesn't make sense for such sections as "Clothing and Fashion." Block text would actually be more useful in this section. Illustrations would help too, but there really aren't any. The entries are relatively cursory and superficial; this work probably best functions as a jumping-off point, but you'll probably want to buy additional books to describe your characters' clothing.

In total, this book offers good "bite" definitions for pertinent words and historical concepts, but that's about it. It's more of a simple dictionary than an in-depth encyclopaedia.
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on January 7, 2003
This book is an essential work, not only for the writers, students, and historians, as the subtitle states, but also for genealogists. Reading this book will give the genealogical researcher an insight in the the life of our ancestors in the 19th century. Tons of great and fascinating info. The only reason for withholding the 5th rating star, is that illustrations not only would add great value to the work, but they are truly need. Mr. Varhola does his best to give a word picture of the items in the book, but the reader would greatly benefit from pictures, drawings, etc.
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VINE VOICEon March 16, 2001
Not just for writers, but historians, hobbyists, and anyone interested in the small details of life in other times. This volume, like the others in the series, includes chapters (with figures and illustrations) on food, clothing, family life, work, education, religion, leisure activities, social and political history, etc. Great for browsing, great for research. Recommended.
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on November 17, 2005
I didn't think this book really useful as is claimed for "writers, students historians" etc. It is much to broad a time period to cover all aspects of just what life was like.

This time period is just too broad with too many alterations in that time to cover everything with any real detail. With clothes it is clearly difficult, but styles of everything, even culture just changed too much over that hundred years to really effectively cover everything. Just think in the last 20 years how much dress, slang, music, and our way of life has changed? Who heard of SUV's and Gangsta Rap 20 years ago? Well the same details can translate in the nineteenth century too.

I wouldn't have minded if this had just been an overview, but to term it a guide to everyday life for 'writers etc' I just didn't think worked. There is not enough good detail to be that accurate for those purposes. As a general look to tempt the interest for general readers I think might be a more accurate description.
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on March 8, 2006
When I read the description of the book I thought that this book would actually provide information about everyday life in the 1800's; instead, it is merely a dictionary. There are no passages that describe fashion, etiquette, industry, clothing, or anything else useful to a historian. Instead, the book merely provides one sentence descriptions of objects you probabaly can already identify. This book may be useful if you come across the name of an item in a primary text and you are not sure what it is. However, it provides very little useful general information
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on December 27, 2005
It's been a few months since I read this, but I thought I might give a review.

I found this book horrid. It was not organized in a way that would be simple and easy for a reader. As a writer of historical fiction I was interested in finding out about daily life during the Civil War. But I would find references from all years thrown together so I had to fish out the important details.It was not broken down by years or decades which I think would have been much easier. I gave up on this book because I couldn't find the information I needed.

If you are a writer and are thinking about this book I suggest getting it from the library, and if you believe it will be of use to you buy it then.
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on September 9, 2008
Too much changes over a 100-year time period yet this is exactly the span of time Mr. McCutcheon attempts to define. Think of the changes in the U.S. since 1908. As a writer researching southern life in 1840, this book provided very little information for me to start from. I turned instead to Everyday Life in the United States before the Civil War 1830-1860. Of course it is also a summary, but it covers a much more specific time frame. Mr. McCutcheon's book left me frustrated and asking, "What part of the 1800s? What part of the United States?". He does provide some dates, some regional differences, but too few. If, by some stretch of the imagination, I recommended this book to anyone, I would tell them to use it's contents very carefully. There are much better sources than this.
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on June 12, 2006
This book lacks any information about education. Such an essential subject - affecting children and adults alike - should certainly be included.

Nor does it include information about art (visual/performing) or literature pertinent to the people at the time.

It also has no index, so that searching for anything is ridiculously slow.

Visuals are lacking - textual descriptions of hair or various equipment are poor substitutes for an image.

Essentially it is a poorly organized dictionary, and stating that it is "a guide for writers, students and historians" is an overstatement to say the least!
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