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The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840 (Everyday Life in America) Paperback – November 1, 1989

4.6 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this highly readable, informative if specialized history, Larkin, historian at the re-created Colonial Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, describes the social changes that accompanied the country's swift development in its first decades of independence. He cites statistical research and quotes contemporary observers from abroad on various aspects of day-to-day significance: the gradual disappearance of the self-contained family farm and village artisan, for example, as textile plants, shoe factories and other enterprises took "control of materials and product out of the hands of the craftsmen and put them into those of merchant capitalists." Larkin also discusses the drop in family size as land became scarcer and settlement moved westward, as well as the steady improvement in housing and available goods brought by the railroads. Readers are reminded of the lack of refinement prevalent in those timesthe dirtiness of home, grounds and person, the crudity of food and dress, the commonplace of cold-climate Americans sharing beds with strangers in roadside inns. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Virtually all human activity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries comes in for scrutiny in this compact and insightful book.""--New York Times Book Review"
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Product Details

  • Series: Everyday Life in America
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (November 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060916060
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060916060
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I wish I could give this book six stars. The Reshaping of Everyday Life took me on a delightful tour of America during its infancy and provided the sights, sounds and smells of yesterday. Each chapter unraveled the tightly wrapped threads of legend and myth that has muddied my view of our past to reveal the rich and varied layers which amazed, amused and amended my hindsight.
Since ordinary folk, doing their humdrum tasks, are both the audience and the participants in historic drama, I want to understand their ways and Reshaping has certainly helped in this quest. In this book, Jack Larkin has given me the details that will paint the scenery and add depth to my future explorations of the time period. Now when I think of Andrew Jackson, I can visualize the homes where his constituents lived and the games they liked to play and the places where they shopped. When I read about the great western migration that began in 1837, I can see the clothing the immigrants wore, the titles of the books they packed and the music that followed them west.
Jack Larkin accomplished this visual rendering of yesterday with a smooth writing style that never breaks an even and easy stride. "By the late 1830s cookstoves were coming into use among middling city families and in Northern commercial villages. In 1838, "the year we had a new cooking stove, the first one in town,' recalled Susan Blunt, who grew up in a bustling rural commercial center, `the neighbors said we would all be sick-taken off in rimmers as they called them."
In addition, the book offered many surprises that added new insight to time and place. "Phineas T.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am currently engaged in the effort of writing a family history and wanted to understand better the rythms of everyday life in New England in the early Republic.
I found Mr. Larkin's book insightful, extremely well researched, and a trove of rich anecdotes about life in this period.
I was surprised in my own research, for instance, to discover that my early ancestors had a child just five months after their wedding. I realized from Mr. Larkin's book that early births in this era were quite common. Sturbridge Village Society conducted exhaustive reviews of marriage and birth certificates in the 1780s and 1790s and calculated that fully a third of New England rural women were already pregnant when wed. This is the kind of meticulous research that enriches social history.
Equally interesting for me was his description of how TB destroyed entire families, as happened in a branch of my family in the 1870s. I was unaware tuberculosis was such a common and ferocious killer at the time.
The book proved invaluable in understanding the world of my ancestors.
A final pleasure is Mr. Larkin's confident and flowing prose. Works on social history can be ponderous, especially if well documented. Larkin achieves the rare combination of copious detail and elegant style.
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Format: Paperback
As Larkin bascially explains in his introduction: in early America, life was comprised of your existence, plain and simple. This book does an incredible job at making life, all of it, every detail, "back then" a tangible learning experience.
Meticulously researched, "Reshaping of Everyday Life" does a fantastic job of spanning all sections of America, and all facets of American life. It showcases a heap of information derived from diaries, letters, censuses, artifacts, news clippings, etc. etc. etc. It's a monumental deal of info that could easily calculate into a dry piece of reading, but it's not dry. It's very lively, and very interesting, shedding light on aspects of American life easily taken for granted today, but vitally important to their very existence. The book is wonderfully laid out in easy to access sections and index (sounds trivial, but when dealing with history books you don't know how helpful this is), with these fascinating pieces of information strewn about every single page in a humanistic fashion. But the best part of the book is it's ability to flow. It doesn't matter where you start reading, it moves quickly, with style and a sense of purpose. I must say, other than memoirs, I've never had such an enjoyable time, or felt like I immediately assimilated the material as I read it.
This is a solid and excellent book for anyone who wants to learn a great deal of quality information quickly and easily. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
The period of 1790-1840 was a time of maturation and growth for the new nation. It was an era of transition from revolutionary times to adulthood. This time saw a change in many social customs and regional ways of life. In 1790, America was a relatively small country which was mostly confined to the portion east of the Appalachians. Kentucky was the frontier. Agriculture was the occupation for most families and was done on a subsistence basis. Each farmer produced a little bit of everything that his family would need to survive. Homes were being carved out of the wilderness, and for the average family, survival was a struggle. Large families were the norm, as children were an asset to the farm. Many houses were little more than shacks. They provided little or no privacy. Travel was very slow and dangerous, and social visits were closely tied to economic negotiations. Barn and house raisings, along with haying and corn husking, were times for families to socialize, but also times to get things done. By 1840, many things had changed. The frontier was pushing westward. The people were spreading out, but at the same time growing closer together. The development of the railroad, steam boats, and canal system greatly sped up travel, although they did not necessarily make it any safer. These innovations drew the nation together and encouraged regional specialization. This was also a period of rapid industrialization. The manufacture of textiles was being consolidated under one roof and women were leaving home to work in the mills. Combined with better transportation, industrialization marked the beginning of the end for subsistence farming. Products could now be sold for profit.Read more ›
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