- 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: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #963,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Down and Out, on the Road: The Homeless in American History
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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 the Digital edition.
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 the Digital edition.
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.