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Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class Paperback – September 1, 1990

ISBN-13: 978-0060973339 ISBN-10: 0060973331 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; Reprint edition (September 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060973331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060973339
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #838,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ehrenreich charges that the U.S. middle class (especially professionals) has retreated from liberalism to a meaner, more selfish outlook. "In an analysis that should be a starting point for future debate, Ehrenreich exposes many myths and shibboleths . . . and urges the middle class to join America's working-class majority in an effort to redistribute wealth and power downward to those who need it most," remarked PW.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The "central character" in this breezy foray into popular sociology is the "professional middle class," a loosely defined group the author castigates as elitist, self-absorbed, and selfish. Other players include the lower and working classes, the New Class (the liberal wing of the middle class), and yuppies, who are passionately denounced and, oddly, spoken of only in the past tense. Ehrenreich, an active socialist and author of The Hearts of Men ( LJ 7/83) and For Her Own Good ( LJ 8/78), concludes that the middle class needs to become more caring and inclusive ("welcoming everyone, until there remains no other class"). An interesting but ephemeral book.
- Kenneth F. Kister, Poynter Inst. for Media Studies, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

BARBARA EHRENREICH is the author of fourteen books, including the bestselling Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She lives in Virginia, USA.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 90 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is exactly the kind of sociology text that every person in America, those in the middle class in particular, should read and discuss. Barbara Ehrenrich does a fascinating and completely absorbing job of tracing, explaining and analyzing the history/rise of the professional middle class in America from post-WWII through the Reagan Era. She also points out quite perceptively how pervasive middle class ethos are in shaping our culture, politics and the media, and how as a result the working poor, who constitute the majority of U.S. citizens, are often ill-defined and underserved. Her thoughts on everything from the media to student revolts to yuppies to the fitness craze are razor sharp, in addition to being a very telling mirror to hold up to America's excess and increasing social stratification. I sincerely hope that Ehrenreich decides to update this book and look at this last decade of our social/class history. A must read.
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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on June 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
I read "Fear of Falling" out of curiosity. Can a book published in 1989 about the American middle class still be relevant? Sadly -- for reasons that will be detailed below -- it still can be. The middle class in 2004 is still as selfish, self-seeking, and elitist as it was when Ehrenreich wrote this book. There are quaint features to the book. The author speaks indignantly of business executives earning $1 million per year -- a big salary in 1989, but chump change for the CEO of 2004.

Ehrenreich defines the middle class as the professional and managerial workers -- the doctors, lawyers, professors, and mid-level executives -- of our society. In 2004, members of the professional middle class would have incomes of at least $60,000 up to about $250,000 per year. They would comprise nearly one half of the American population. Over the middle class would be the rich, two or three percent of the population, and below would be the lower or working classes, comprising about one half of the population.

Ehrenreich provides a mini-history of the professional middle class from 1960 up till the late 1980s. What one sees over these three decades is increasing distance between the middle and the lower classes -- plus increasing disinterest in addressing problems of poverty and social injustice in the U.S. The middle class "is too driven by its own ambitions, too compromised by its own elite status, and too removed from those whose sufferings cry out most loudly for redress." She attributes the middle class's anxiety to "fear of falling" into the nether-world of Walmart workers and trailer park living. Her (vague) prescription for wholesome social change is expanded educational opportunity and removing "artificial barriers.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 27, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really learned so much from this book. The unfortunate thing is that she wrote it in 1989 and I don't think she's planning another one... but it's amazing to just read the history from the perspecive of a person in 1989. She spots some very bad trends in corporate america / industrial society which have subsequently worsened now that it's 15 years later. A lot of her predictions (or subtle suggestions at what might go wrong) have come true - and it's not surprising because her hypotheses and analyses are based on solid data. There was some passage where she talked about CEOs getting paid absurd salaries like 650k and she didn't see an end to the rise... well, she hit that nail on the head.
In "nickel and dimed" you really heard her voice, but this book is very very factual - and she interjects with her everpresent wit now & again - but not as often as her recent work. Her writing style is an absolutely beautiful combination of wry wit, confidence, vast intelligence, humor, and deep understanding of the issues (through research). I would LOVE to read a 2004 version of this book but I don't know if it's top of mind for her these days. Either way - you still learn a lot from this book. I love it. I wish I were a sociology major in college now so I'd have someone to talk about this book with! It's DEFINITELY worth finding someone with an out of print copy to buy from. The book is priceless.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By "martinaluise7" on May 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I hope that with the success of her acid dipped expose of what's really going on in the marketplace of the working poor( Nickel and Dimed) all of Barbara Ehrenreich's books will be back in print because she is a species of writer on the verge of extinction. Unabashedly pro union and anti compassionate conservatism and faith based charity and decidedly not glamorous in her pursuit of topics and people to interview she does the grind work of looking statistics in the eye and debunking some of our more vigorously pandered myths. This volume in particular does a fantastic job in holding a mirror up to the paranoias and greed of the middle class who suspects every contrarian to be after what they have accrued and fenced in and considers its possessions and spouses( is that one category or two?) its natural born right as long as the community is drawn with an infantile crayon and nobody knows who works the sewers.
It illustrates a society where everyone wants to purchase their own fringes of good taste, the rich beg more than the poor because they can always afford the bail for atonement and where every transgression spawns a fresh bombardment of analysts trying to mine the national soul, subtlety is never profitable medicine and the chosen few worry about the calories in walnut raspberry dressing. In the honored tradition of Studs Terkel Ms Ehrenreich points out that there is one airwave for the brash winners, the losers of all stripes remain unseen unless they are truly interesting criminals but the large portion of the silent middle class is stuck in a morass of anger, fear and wall building to leave everybody out who can't be labelled with a corporate golf pass, a church membership or a Neiman Marcus preferred customer I.D. The result is that they have mortgaged about every particle of their humanity to one vendor or another.
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