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Flophouse: Life on the Bowery [Hardcover]

David Isay , Stacy Abramson , Harvey Wang
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 15 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 Library Journal

From the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, nearly 100,000 men found shelter each night in places with names like the Dandy, the Niagara, the Palace, and the Grand Windsor Hotel. These lodging houses, located in the infamous skid row known as the Bowery, are almost gone now, but those that remain provide a fascinating view of old New York and a vanishing era. Isay, an award-winning radio documentary producer, and Wang, a professional photographer, have captured this world in Flophouse. To present the story of this neglected population, the authors interviewed a number of residents in each of four remaining "flops." Each short narrative is told in the resident's own words and is accompanied by one or two full-page photographs. These are stories of immigrants, drug addicts, and men who are just down on their luck. There's John, who gets up every night at three in the morning to bleach his floor; Jack, who's been shooting dice for over 50 years; and Ted, the intellectual dishwasher, who set out to be nothing and succeeded. This compelling read is recommended for all libraries.
-DDeborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"This book should be required reading in every home across the country. It tells of the lost ones, the forgotten men who have given up on the American dream, and once we enter their crumbling, derelict world, our own world will never look the same to us again. Harvey Wang's photographs are superbly honest and raw. The testimonies gathered by David Isay and Stacy Abramson are little poems of desolation, vast hymns to the paradoxes of the human heart." --Paul Auster

"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 humanity expands."
         -- Susan Stamberg, Special Correspondent, National Public Radio

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a GLIMPSE into the life of flophouses June 4 2004
By Hempist
Flophouse Life on the Bowery showcases 4 cheap hotels in the Bowery district of New York City. These places are rented out by men & they are a cubicle type room the size of a jail cell. About 100 to 200 men live side by side in these little rooms in 4 or 5 story buildings that are built over a restaurant or some other kind of business. There's a community bathroom. The book explores 4 hotels & a few residents of each. Most of these people stay inside all day & watch tv, sleep, eat, & get drunk or do heroin. The subject of flophouses is interesting, however, this book really lacked substance. There wasn't enough information about the history of the hotels or the residents. It didn't devote much space to the people who own these hotels or the people who work there. Each page has a picture of one of the residents, his name, room number, & his "story" or any statements he wanted to make. Some of them were only a couple of paragraphs long! It's just a glimpse into their lives & doesn't offer any solutions to the problems these people face either.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars attention human beings Feb. 14 2001
i walk thru the pages of this book and the breeze of karma elevates my mind gentling me in the breath of blithe reverie... hmmm... ahhh... in the darkest places there is light. what can a meager eye really discern.we see the people of skid row with the eye of wang's camera.the camera hasn't the subtlety of the human eye,thus in all critique take into your own limitations. in the buffer of that quanta i peer thru veneer,and muse... this book is a realization of all our interest in all the great scenes we heard about.a lot of us have dreams about the circus some about wandering the maze of new york's underground labrynths and of course what life is like for those who have "gone wrong".flophouse is fledgling first look at life on the skids.an important work. a needed work.but i feel it is a might taste superficial.orderves before the main course.you could say it's a bit of a tease,cheescake.i long to know more i want a real meal.flophouse leaves me hungry.i have a confession to make i am one of the people portrayed in the book. so when i read the book,it's with a more authoritative point of reference.i see the book from inside out.i've lived with all the guys, smelled their beer and nicotine breath, and know whether or not they were lying to david when he interviewed them.i have more detailed and acute focus then the average reader so necessarily my analysis has to be more intense.my opinion of the work? for it's adventurousness 5 stars.for it's motiff and aesthetique another 5 stars.for it's depth of scrutiny though it is some what lacking i rate it 2and1/2 stars.and for it's overall impact i don't even dare to rate it.why? because firstly my mind is so uneven, it changes from day to day. secondarily events are so multidimensionally significant who am i to say? Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snapshots of the underclass Oct. 26 2000
Flophouse is a collections of pictures and words by and about people (mostly men) who ive in the dwingling number of flop houses on the bowery in New York. There are some 50 or so snapshots of these man the spread throughout four hotels, The white house, the providence, the andrews and the sunshine hotel. Don't let the names of these hotels fool you they're no four seasons. The men come from various races, creeds and generations. Some are old men who've lived on the bowery for tens of years and don't want to live to younger men who have hit rock bottom and are trying to get back on their feel again. Each man featured tells his own story about how they got to the bowery. Most of their stories are sobering and the pictures are even more powerful. Many of these men were woking productive members of society until something happened to them to throw them off track. It is hard to leave a book like this one unaffected. If your only opinion of the homeless and destitute is that they are lazy, mentally deranged or drug addicted men this book may change your perceptions. I left this book feeling very somber about how fragile life is and how easily it can be taken for granted yet also feeling uplifted in a strange way. Many of these man despite their conditions still continue to keep on living their lives and keeping a postive attitude. The men in flophouse are a dying breed of america's growing underclass.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-Opening Feb. 3 2002
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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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Flophouses
I live in a modern day "flophouse", but it is a palace by comparison to the Bowery beaus. Marginalized by themselves and society, many still find community and purpose in... Read more
Published on Dec 21 2001 by Terri
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic...
This book is an intimate look at the inside world of life on the desolate Bowery. It is as much intriguing, as it is mind-blowing. Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2001 by spikebrooklyn
5.0 out of 5 stars There But For the Grace of God Go We
This strikingly beautiful book of photos of the destitute is filled with stories of talented, gifted, intelligent men who through poor fortune, poor choices, poor health, or all of... Read more
Published on Dec 28 2000 by David Kleist
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bowery life that can't be seen from the streets
An excellent glimpse inside four of the colorful flophouse hotels along the Bowery. You'll be touched by the pictures and the stories behind the men whose lives have bottomed out... Read more
Published on Dec 15 2000 by SidewalkPhotographer
5.0 out of 5 stars A paradigm Shifting Journey
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. Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2000 by Yasha's Mom
5.0 out of 5 stars A STUNNING, LYRICAL JOURNEY...
... through the heart of hopelessness and retreat. The stories read like Tom Waits songs - vivid, emotional, and full of reflections that only the tragic can truely voice. Read more
Published on Sept. 1 2000 by Brian Franklin
5.0 out of 5 stars THIS IS THE STREETS OF NEW YORK
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. Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2000 by Michelle Blankenship
This is a fantastic, ground breaking book. Both beautiful to look at with stunning black and white and color pictures next to smart, compelling text. Read more
Published on Aug. 22 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars No Flop
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... Read more
Published on Aug. 19 2000
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