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Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471263760
ISBN-10: 0471263761
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lubrano's view of the challenges that upwardly mobile children of blue-collar families (he calls them Straddlers) face in establishing themselves in white-collar enclaves could spark lively debates among Straddlers themselves, not to mention those Lubrano views as having a head start based on birth into a white-collar family. In this combination of memoir and survey, the Philadelphia Inquirer staff reporter recalls his freshman year at Columbia; he'd expected classmates to regard him as sophisticated because he was a New Yorker. However, this son of a Brooklyn bricklayer found himself on the outside of elite cliques populated by men he characterizes as "pasty, slight fellas-all of them seemed 5-foot-7 and sandy-haired." This was only the beginning for Lubrano, who came to see entry into a select educational institution as a harsh cultural dividing line between his blue-collar upbringing and his white-collar future. Becoming a journalist cost him emotionally when he felt torn between abandoning cherished values from his youth and accommodating his new profession's demands. Lubrano's interviews with other Straddlers have convinced him that ambition puts many of them in positions fraught with similar ambivalence and unexpected culture shock. With quotes from Richard Rodriguez and bell hooks, Lubrano illustrates his thesis: "Limbo folk remain aware of their `otherness' throughout their lives [and remain] perpetual outsiders." Yet he's quick to recognize individual Straddlers who've persevered in the face of those outsider feelings (though, regrettably, he doesn't share self-reflection). Straddlers' ultimate challenge, Lubrano opines, is to be as steadfast and self-possessed in reconciling their white-collar present with their blue-collar heritage as they have been in achieving their professional goals.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

This country always celebrates the idea that there is enormous opportunity here to move up from one's station in life, to achieve greatness from the most humble of roots. But for those who are the first from a traditionally blue-collar family to enter college and move into the white-collar workplace, there is a darker side to success when they find themselves alienated from both their own family and their strange new middle-class world. Lubrano, himself an Italian American son of a bricklayer who transcended his roots to become an award-winning journalist, wrote this book in an attempt to reconcile this dichotomy and explore the unique challenges of this transitional social class. Interspersed with his own story are the stories of more than 100 others whom he calls "Straddlers" because they straddle two worlds, "many of them not feeling at home in either, living in a kind of American limbo." This is an emotionally charged study of class values, a subject even touchier than race or gender. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471263761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471263760
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #817,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Patrick M. Marchman on February 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have to agree with what lots of other people have written - this book is one of the most affecting I've ever read. Not so much because of any special power or artistry in the writing, but because of an empathy that comes from Lubrano's pen for all of us who've grown up and who still live between classes in the supposedly classless society that is America.
My parents grew up in dire poverty (from Newfoundland and Georgia respectively), and reacted against it by trying to "bleach" themselves - and me - to an impossible Ozzy & Harriet standard. They never lost many of those working-class values that Lubrano talks about, however, and so the pretenses of middle-class life always coexisted uncomfortably with their fundamental beliefs and experiences. Growing up, I rejected a lot of my upbringing and tried to blend in with what I saw as "sophistication". But for all my striving, I never was taught the "secret handshake" that my peers from middle and upper-class backgrounds used daily.
As a graduate student, those class differences between me and my peers and professors are even more obvious and acute, and it made graduate school, at least for a while, seem somewhat hostile. I heard about "Limbo" on NPR at exactly the time when I felt most disconnected, and it made me feel like I wasn't alone.
If nothing else, this book lets "Straddlers" know that no, we aren't alone. There's a lot more of us than anyone realizes. And we have overcome a lot - not only our upbringing, but the corners of society we most want to join but which demand as the price of admission an abandonment of everything we are.
Maybe the blue-collar world we grew up in still has something to give - the warmth, the humor, the strength, the straightforwardness - something that all the Thai restaurants, backpacking trips to Europe and Dave Matthews yuppie-fests can't replace.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a book that really resonated with me. Having grown up in a blue-collar family, it has helped me understand an uneasy, unnameable feeling I've carried with me my whole life. As a child, they called me "encyclopedia." When I graduated from college, my working class family and neighborhood seemed more distant than ever. People called me "Professor" and made fun of the way I spoke. When I began working, that turned out to be no picnic either. Everyone around me dressed and acted differently. They seemed to have all grown up in tennis whites, having "coming out" parties, and living a far easier life. I've never spent much time thinking about "class" in relation to my career, but "Limbo" gets to the heart of what I've been feeling all these years. It's been not only fascinating, but, in an odd way, liberating as well. (You know, once you no longer feel as if you're the only one....) Few books I've ever read have offered the kind of insight that Mr. Lubrano has brought to this important subject. I thank him for this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Al Lubrano deserves the collective thanks of all of us who have crossed the formidable class divide for writing such a revealing exposition on class in America. This book is not some abstruse academic treatise on social conditions. It is a very readable insight on what it is like to cross from the working-class world to that of the college-educated professional, written by a keen-eyed, nose-to-the-ground news reporter.
The other reviews here capture well the essence of Lubrano's message on the challenges "Straddlers" face in their difficult journey across class lines. I particularly value his commentary on cultural capital -- "the collective
advantages of the middle and upper classes."
I, too, am an Italian-American rooted in the working class who transitioned to the Ivy League (also Columbia) and, from there, into the elitist, very WASPy, upper & upper middle class U.S. Foreign Service. I, too, have confronted obliqueness in professional relations and bureaucratic treachery, blatant self-promotion by colleagues and the assumption by my fellow diplomats that they are the heirs of success. But it is the class tribalism that has proven so fascinating and mysterious to me. Assignments to the choicest diplomatic posts (particularly in W. Europe) always seem to be traded among the same group of friends; fast promotions largely go a pre-selected cabal of fair-haired boys and girls who are inducted early on into a select circle of like-minded people largely from the same kind of social bacground: college-educated parents, suburban/urban-bred, upper middle class or higher, usually WASP.
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Format: Hardcover
Lubrano tells a story that has been largely ignored - well, ignored when it is not mythologized. U.S. culture loves the Horatio Alger myth, the idea of individuals who, despite lives spent in abject poverty, pull themselves up by the bootstraps and become wildly successful (and usually wealthy), more successful than the peers and naysayers who never had to grapple with such struggles.
Though we love the myth, we haven't talked much--until now--about what the class-straddling process is really like. This may be because the experience has not happened, or rather, that the conditions for the class-straddling experience have existed only rarely until now. A generation of blue-collar parents (many of them first-generation American-born or immigrants) have raised children who have attended college and/or graduate school, something of a new phenomenon.
It is fascinating to read Lubrano's work, because he describes the reality of the experience of upward mobility, but more aptly of class-straddling, and it is so different from the mythic version. Some of us knew this, but it's nice to see it in print.
"Limbo" stands on its own merits--great storytelling, poignant and critical without seeming whiney, and captured details that do more to convey an experience in one sentence than some writers can in an entire chapter--but I'd be remiss if I left my personal lens out of this review. I found this book just as I was completing my M.S. and beginning my Ph.D. I am not in the Ivy League, but do attend a very good, private university with a more-than-decent reputation. I wish Lubrano had written "Limbo" while I was in college, but am grateful that he wrote it at all.
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