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The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible! Paperback – October 12, 1974

4.3 out of 5 stars 92 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

This book explains why the "good old days" were only good for a priviledged few and why they were unrelentingly hard for most. Sobering, actually. Check it out.

About the Author

Otto L. Bettmann is the founder of the famed Bettmann Archive in New York, one of the world's great picture libraries. Its resources, some three million prints and photographs, are used all over the world by publishers, educators, ad men and the audio-visual media.

After acting as curator of rare books at the State Art Library in Berlin, Dr. Bettmann came to America in 1935, where he established the Archive and became well known as an expert in the graphic arts.

Among his previous publications are As We Were: Family Life in America, A Pictorial History of Medicine, Our Literary Heritage (with Van Wyck Brooks) and The Bettmann Portable Archive.

He and his wife, an interior designer, live in Pound Ridge, New York.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (October 12, 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394709411
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394709413
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Otto Bettmann's "The Good Old Days - They Were Terrible!" is really kick to the head in terms of establishing reality with folks who think everything was so much better and more simple in the "good old days."
Filled with interesting graphics and drawings, this book covers all the bases from food safety to crime to public education. Barely a sacred cow is left untouched.
I've owned this book for more than ten years and it never fails to catch my interest when I pick it up again. I've also shown it to many of my friends and even given it as a gift.
As for this notion of "anti-US," this seems a bit simplistic. The author's intention seems pretty clear - to establish 19th century America as a pretty dangerous place to live. There are few, if any, comparisons to Europe. It's not intended to be a book about how "bad the US is compared to country X." No, this is about just telling it like it is (or rather, was). Being honest about our past does us no harm. Indeed, it allows us to be become even better in the future. It's called learning from your mistakes. And Bettman's book is an excellent place to start learning.
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Format: Paperback
As a student many of my friends were required to read this book for History class, I myself enjoyed the book so much I bought a copy to keep even though I didn't take the class. Much of the book focuses on letting readers understand what society was like over a hundred years ago and how things we complain about today were just as much a problem in the past. The book features chapters on immigration, health, food, medical care and many other issues of the day.
Many of the chapters will make you cringe as you learn that horses created much more pollution then cars ever did or that meat packing companies often used diseased or sickly cows and pigs. The chapters on education bring light to modern viewers that delinquency and school violence were not unknown and in one instance a young teacher was killed by her on students.
The book features wonderfully drawn illustartions that bring life to the world of our grandparents and how we should be glad to have clean roads, safe food and laws to protect consumers from fraud and deceit. A great book that all students should read and enjoy
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Format: Paperback
I am addicted to stories about time travel and I have a collection of them. This book is wonderful in that, instead of sentimental twaddle, conjecture, and picturesque rose-colored-glasses stories of the past, you really get to know what times were like in "The Good Old Days' - and - you'll thank your lucky stars that you are living now and not then. I was fascinated and horrified at the details of everyday life a century ago. I don't know how the people of that era survived and I now know why a lot of them didn't. A real eye-opener!!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What an incredible book! Interesting, informative, eye-opening, and unflinching. Tells the grim truth about life in nineteenth century industrial America, focusing on the cities (especially New York), but touching on the hardships and unpleasantness of rural life as well. The illustrations are as valuable as the text--and Bettman's list of sources is outstanding. Social history at its best!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I recommend this for people who romaticize the past, because we often forget how far we have come. Things back then were terrible, like crime, health, liberties, and so on. You always see the "Gay 90s" portrayed in Disney films as glorious and clean and everyone is civilized to have tea at 4, but in reality, most of us were living in tepid, diseased squalor with open corruption running rampant.
This book doesn't read heavily like a stern textbook, but is very informative without being preachy. This is a great "bathroom reader" type of book with small, heavily-illustrated chapters, consice writing, and easy-to-understand narrative. It will really make you appreciate how good we have it now, even if we still have a ways to go.
This is one of my favorite books of all time in my reference shelf.
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Format: Paperback
"The Good Old Days-They Were Terrible!" is a sharp and unflinching overview of day-to-day living from the end of the American Civil War to the turn of the century, which employs contemporary sketches, cartoons and photos to make its point that these years were not the idyllic times we think them. Otto L. Bettmann uses his vast archive of illustrations to not just show us just how hard and fraught with danger this period of time really was, but also to give us a fascinating look into a vanished time. While his main purpose is to show us that these times weren't peaceful and carefree, Bettmann also illustrates the mundane aspects of any period of time, IE health, work, education, crime, housing, etc. All aspects of a routine day are covered here, which makes this social history at its best. We discover that the inhabitants of this period had the same concerns and problems that we do today. It's all here: garbage in the streets, dirty drinking water, prostitutes protected by cops, child-beating, etc. Definitely not a simple, beautiful time. It's life like any other period, and it's captured here. Bettmann's commentary is concise and mainly supports this book's real strength: it's expressive, contemporary illustrations. As journalism is the first draft of history, these illustrations serve the same purpose in telling us how things really were and how the inhabitants of these times saw their lives. Excellent social commentary.
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