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Flophouse: Life on the Bowery [Hardcover]

David Isay , Stacy Abramson , Harvey Wang

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Aug 2000

"This book takes you to places you think you don't want to enter, to people you think you don't want to meet, to lives you think you don't want to live--and makes you rethink all your assumptions. It reveals the tremendous strength and humanity of those who are usually ignored. And as you pay attention, your own humanity expands."
        ---Susan Stamberg, special correspondent, National Public Radio

In its heyday, close to one hundred thousand men found shelter each night in flophouses along America's largest and most infamous skid row, the Bowery. Today, only a handful of flops are left, their tiny five- and ten-dollar-a-night rooms home to fewer than a thousand men, mostly long-time residents. In a handful of years, this world will be gone.
In Flophouse, documentarians David Isay and Stacy Abramson and photographer Harvey Wang chronicle this vanishing world through the voices and portraits of a number of those residents, interspersed with photographs of their surroundings. The men come from all manner of backgrounds, and the rich variety of the tales they tell is a testament to the number of ways the bottom can fall out of life in America, even in prosperous times. This book warrants comparison with Walker Evans and James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, but the authors were inspired most directly by Joseph Mitchell, who wrote about some of these same flophouses with an honest warmth and an acceptance of life as it's found. Shimmering with humanity and utterly devoid of false sentiment, Flophouse is a powerful reminder that even on the margins, life defies all attempts at reduction.

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From the end of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth, the Bowery was the world's most infamous skid row. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THIS IS THE STREETS OF NEW YORK 23 Aug 2000
By Michelle Blankenship - Published on Amazon.com
I just bought a copy of this book last night after attending a reading with the authors and photographer, along with some of the men who are profiled in the book. This book is so touching and achingly beautiful. It reads like poetry. The words of the men themselves are printed alongside poignant photographs that seem to capture the sentiment of their words. I feel honored to have met some of these men in person and even more honored to have had the pleasure of asking them to autograph their individual pages. The title of my review here is what one of the men, Bruce, wrote to me last night.
To be able to put a voice and a human face to those who have likely seen the best and the worst of life is a gift to all thinking and compassionate people. This book proves that every person has a story to tell and if the words don't quite express it, the photos do.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Flop 20 Aug 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Flophouse gives America a rare glimpse into the underbelly of the American Dream. With photos and personal interviews of 50 residents of genuine Bowery flophouses this book reveals the raw grittiness and humanity of those at the bottom of American society. So often politicians and other such moral crusaders seek to demonize those on drugs and welfare. The real story why these men have fallen into the abyss is often more complicated than simple explantions provide. The story of these men asks each of us to re-examine our beliefs about the least among us. I should know-I live among them and am featured in the book with my bicycle. Many of you who read this are but a few paychecks away from similar circumstances. I encourage you to buy this book and keep it as a reminder to save every dollar you can in a 401K-lest you spend your last days in a Bowery Flophouse!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A paradigm Shifting Journey 2 Nov 2000
By Yasha's Mom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought my 1st copy of this numbing book immediately after seeing Isay & Abramson interviewed on C-Span Booknotes. Since then, I've ordered 6 more copies for others. Mandatory reading! The forbidden journey through the fragile cubicles of the flop houses is an eerie dream where life's faceless are given faces, the nameless names, and the definitions of hope and hopelessness take on new dimensions. Isay & Abramson highlight the great talent and intellect of so many who have lost their way, reminding us that there, but for the Grace of God, go we. But with poignance and artistry they also show the consequenses of hope lost. Like Ghosts of Xmas Future, Isay & Abramson's work shouts at us not to let this life become an alternative for our fellow human beings. Brava!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One paycheck away... 17 Jun 2002
By A. Ort - Published on Amazon.com
The reason we are so drawn to (and, in the same breath, repulsed by) books such as this one is that they show us the truth that is locked up inside of us. They present a side of reality many do not see in pursuit of the paycheck running from the fears presented in this book. And, yes, the reasons why they are at the 'flophouse' is infinitely complicated.
The photos are stunning and the stories are minimalist which has a gripping effect. The photos and the stories open up a world that is almost mythical. Penetrating is the word that comes to mind.
Study them, feel them, connect with them, learn to love them. But do not judge them and do not run from them. Hold onto them and, in the midst of our bustle and struggle, keep them dear in our hearts. And, if one is so compelled reach out, not as veoyeurs, but with compassion, sharing with, realizing that our human wholeness is dependent upon such individuals as these whose lives may be unlike anything we could imagine.
For only when we are willing to get 'real' and walk in the valley of the shadow of death, and this with others, can we ever really become human. These characters are but a shadow of aspects of our own selves.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-Opening 3 Feb 2002
By Callie A. Collins - Published on Amazon.com
Turn away. Turn quickly away. My first instinct upon glancing at this title was consistent with Middle Class America's natural reaction to social despair. Cautiously intrigued, I reached to the top shelf in my suburban neighborhood's local library, and pulled down into my comfortable suburban world an enlightening pictorial in brief. With mixed horror and wonder, increasingly awed at these victims of circumstances, reading "Flophouse: Life on the Bowery" was a real look, a first look, into sunken faces and disheveled lives. Black and white photos say the thousand words their subjects never will. The human condition, bare, innate, is plainly presented without pretense or censoring. How very similar, how frighteningly normal, were the lives of these men before the loss of job, wife, or sanity deposited them here, teetering on the brink between life and death, heaven and hell, New York City's Bowery. Read this book, count your blessings and your spare dimes.
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