read: 24 February 2017
This was a hard book to get through. The combination of the abject poverty and terrible circumstances that befell immigrants to New York in the turn of the last century combined with Riis’s weird brand of racism (maybe it was more appropriate at the time, it’s terribly not appropriate now) made a lot of this slow going. Riis was a social reformer and his story which is recounted in the long intro by David Leviatin, puts a lot of his work into a social context. This is helpful for reading the rest of it. My previous exposure to Riis was mostly just seeing his photos and hearing “He helped make things better.” Getting at the nuance of how some of this social change happened was an interesting back story, as well as hearing about the institutionalized racism and sexism that was prevalent even then (Riis recounts how Black tenement dwellers will pay more money for the same apartment as other lodgers). Glad I read this, especially in today’s uncertain times, but it was and remains a difficult read.
« top »