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Class: A Guide Through the American Status System Paperback – October 1, 1992

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reissue edition (October 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671792253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671792251
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Chicago Sun-Times Highly amusing....a witty, persnickety, and illuminating book....fussell hits the mark.

The Washington Post Move over, William Buckley. Stand back, Gore Vidal. And run for cover, Uncle Sam: Paul Fussell, the nation's newest world-class curmudgeon, is taking aim at The American Experiment.

Wilfrid Sheed The Atlantic A fine prickly pear of a book....Anyone who reads it will automatically move up a class.

Alison Lurie The New York Times Book Review A shrewd and entertaining commentary on American mores today. Frighteningly acute.

About the Author

Paul Fussell, critic, essayist, and cultural commentator, has recently won the H. L. Mencken Award of the Free Press Association. Among his books are The Great War and Modem Memory, which in 1976 won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award; Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars; Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War; and, most recently, BAD or, The Dumbing of America. His essays have been collected in The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations and Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays. He lives in Philadelphia, where he teaches English at the University of Pennsylvania.

Customer Reviews

After having read this book, I look at people differently when I go out.
Amazon Customer
Very funny, but if you take things too seriously (middle class) then you may find this book slightly offensive.
W. Zwickl
This is a great book, if not for Fussell's social statement on America, at least for the humor he uses.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

528 of 556 people found the following review helpful By Antonio on September 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read this book some ten years ago, and it struck me as most humourous and overall correct.

Although I was born in South America, I have lived and studied in the US, and I have studied and worked in France and the UK. My experience in all these geographies supports Fussell's conclusions. It is true that the higher the social class, the taller and slimmer people tend to be. It is true that the traditional lower (rather than the underclass) and the higher classes have many things in common, among them a deeply ingrained conservatism and a fierce pride in their way of being. In the UK, working class men's clubs are fighting the same fight which was lost a few years ago by the gentlemen's clubs: the right to keep women away from at least some parts of their premises. Many working class people all over the world deride attempts by others of a similar origin to "pass themselves out" as middle class, and regard middle class dress, speech patterns and social habits as feminine and unsound. There is probably no significant difference in the prejudiced, deeply uncurious mindset of Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh and that of a pensioner his age living in Yorkshire. It is true that strident religious opinions, big hair of unnatural colour and painted nails, or toupees and poorly-fitting jackets are usually the predictor of lower-to lower middle class background, or that high professional qualifications, gym memberships, affiliation with environmental organizations and career ambitions normaly denote urban middle class.

It might be seen as cruel, even evil, to remark on it, but don't the following terms clearly conjure a mental image of a particular order of things?
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164 of 173 people found the following review helpful By Renee Thorpe on July 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Bitingly witty and embarassingly well focused look at the main classes within American society.
Yes, there is an American aristocracy, but they aren't driving around in Ferraris or living in Beverly Hills. There is even a sort of aristocracy amongst the working class people whom Fussell generally refers to as proles. Fussell's sharp eye has found and catalogued an amazing array of signs that indicate class in America. Try to spot these signs at your next social gathering, or even subject your own living room to the survey at the end of the book (frighteningly accurate way to determine one's class)!
This is a book based on pigeon-holing people, and that is probably what most annoyed readers can't stand about Fussell. But class distinctions do exist, like 'em or not. The middle class hope to rise in class by sending their kids to Harvard or Yale, the Proles hope to do the same by getting more money. Lucky "X Class" people don't give a hoot about such climbing, and fortunately more of us are just veering sideways into that final category which Fussell charts as a kind of class alternative.
Actually, the book could also be a helpful guide to those with a need to temporarily masquerade as a member of a given class... Unfortunate but true that you will get better service at a jeweler's or other tony shop if you dress not so much "up" but into the highest class you can accurately manage. And if you want to blend in at the truck stop, there are plenty of hot tips to be gleaned from this book.
Yes, yes, we should best judge each other only by virtues like honesty and willingness to help, but the book is about class, that dazzling (and now not so mysterious) thing.
Not without the odd mistake (I argue that books piled around the living room are not so much a sign of the upper class as an intellect), it is an excellent, juicy little book that will make you either laugh or curse at Fussell and his incisive wit.
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121 of 127 people found the following review helpful By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Class pervades American life. Each day people judge and rank others by appearance, manners, language, and "taste" in a great societal pecking order. Some of this happens by reflex. For certain people a man in a tank top carries a high "ewww" factor. Others wince at anything monogrammed (a sure sign that the wearer seeks attention). Some may even take offense at compliments while others find the lack of a compliment an affront. It's a complicated game, and not everyone chooses to participate. But for many the game goes unnoticed.

This small book provides a good overview of the rules of the American class game. Paul Fussell delineates the choices people make that cause others to judge and categorize them (since people don't choose their race that subject doesn't appear). Everything from clothes, cars, diction, consumption (conspicuous or inconspicuous), education, housing styles, and physique to pets, reading material, jewelry, food, words, sports, interior decorating, grammar, and entertainment receive brutally honest coverage. These characteristics get evaluated through an objective eye and not through the filter of a specific class. For Fussell has nasty things to say about all of the classes, even the uppers. Though the middle class receives the majority of his invective, being the class of snobbery (due to class insecurity). Regardless, none of the classes come out ahead, and none are ranked as "better" or "superior". The book doesn't aim to judge in the way the classes furtively judge each other. It more delineates while it attempts to expose the rules. And in this it excels.

While the tabulating of pros and cons continues through the first seven chapters, it slowly becomes clear that Fussell isn't condoning class climbing. "Class" won't help anyone "go up".
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Class: A Guide Through the American Status System
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