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Snobbery: The American Version Paperback – July 7, 2003

3.4 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Noted essayist and former American Scholar editor Epstein, having enlightened us on ambition (Ambition: The Secret Passion), now turns to its companion, snobbery. The topic is ripe with promise, but Epstein's observations are less revelatory than entertaining. Underneath their pretentious exteriors, he writes, snobs are insecure people who have latched onto arbitrary measures of status to prove they're worthier than those around them. It's natural fallout, he says, in a world where complete fairness is nonexistent. The best antidote to snobbery, Epstein suggests, is to treat people the same, regardless of their circumstances, and to value things for their intrinsic worth rather than their cachet. Epstein shares his own snobbish tendencies and biases at the outset. From childhood, he writes, his snob radar was fully operational, and by his senior year in high school he was already "an impressively cunning statustician." Epstein goes on to deal with a range of past and present pretensions relating to class, work, democracy, possessions, parenting, college, clubs and intellectualism. In one delicious instance, he describes an American reaction to visiting royalty. "Princess Diana, not long before she died, visited Northwestern University, where I teach," he writes. "The spectacle of the university president, a smallish man in glasses, following the Princess about the campus, yapping away, reminded one of nothing so much as that of a Chihuahua attempting to mount an Afghan hound." The chapter on name-dropping is particularly sharp, citing a variety of ways people exploit connections to well-known individuals for social profit. Epstein has a wickedly wonderful sense of humor and keen observational skills, both on display in the firsthand anecdotes scattered throughout this essayistic assemblage.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This readable but serious work examines the nature and place of snobbery and its various manifestations in America, from the country's founding to the present. Epstein (English & writing, Northwestern Univ.) defines snobbery as the practice of making oneself feel superior at the expense of others and argues that as long as people are seeking self-affirmation, it will long live on. He writes of snobbery in the workplace; of its presence in evaluating education, taste, dress, wealth, and race as factors in determining "class" inclusion; and of the snob factors involved in ranking one's status and prestige in all walks of life and situations. He identifies celebrity-level requirements in today's world, compares his own snobberies with those he discerns in others, and overviews Americans' interactions with the cultures of England and the European continent. While Epstein's argument is quite witty and thoughtful, the scant bibliographic references and conversational tone will limit this book's appeal in academic libraries. It is, however, highly recommended for all general readers and public libraries. Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (July 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618340734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618340736
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JOSEPH EPSTEIN is the author of the best-selling Snobbery and of Friendship, as well as the short story collections The Goldin Boys and Fabulous Small Jews, among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Northwestern University professor and writer Joseph Epstein's latest book, "Snobbery" is a highly entertaining and well-considered look into the world of the snob: the upward-looking, the downward-looking, the 'virtuous,' and the reverse types (to name but a few). His coverage is by no means comprehensive, for snobbery is truly a broad topic, but Epstein touches well on those aspects of "the grave but localized disease" that are frequently encountered, and that he is most familiar with.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part (chapters one through ten) seeks (and finds) a fair definition of what snobbery is, explains how it works, and traces the history of snobbery in America from its revolutionary origins, to its classist WASP height, and finally to its omnipresent state in our current "egalitarian" times. Epstein makes especially good use of his popular self-deprecating humor in the first chapter, "It Takes One to Know One." The second part (chapters eleven through twenty-three) describes several prominent varieties of modern snobbery, such as college snobbery ("Jimmy goes to Rice, Jane goes to Vanderbilt"), club snobbery, intellectual snobbery, political snobbery, name-dropping, sexual and religious prejudice, celebrity hobnobbing, food and wine snobbery, and trend-following. The book is closed with a final chapter, the "Coda," where Epstein explains why he believes that snobbery, though it is a deplorable social practice, is here to stay. The mock reviews printed on the jacket's back cover (from Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and Noel Coward) provide some good laughs for the familiar reader.
I know that I gave a rather critical review of Epstein's earlier book, "Ambition" (c. 1980), but this new volume (though it addresses a related topic) is quite different.
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By A Customer on September 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Epstein gets extra points for being an equal-opportunity skewerer of snobs. Whereas the traditional view of Snobbery was that it was an upper-class WASP phenomenon, Epstein rightly points out the endemic snobbery among left-leaning intellectuals and the various self-appointed groups of Victims as well as the country-club set. This raises an interesting dilemna for Professor Epstein. The very people who purchase and read books about ideas are the ones most guilty of intellectual snobbery. Is it wise (or, in the long run, economically viable) to point out (at times in a not very complimentary fashion) the foibles of one's target audience?
Epstein writes with humor, analytic clarity, and efficient prose.
Buy this book...but first consider if you want your own snobbery exposed to such a sharp-tongued writer.
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Format: Paperback
This is a pretty good book. Not great. Sure, he pillories the major snobbish fashions of the day. Lots of fun making fun of people who are not as sensible as you or I.
He also does a wonderful job of showing how the basis for snobbery has changed, from WASPs and elitism based on real but arbitrary standards like the name of the school you attended, or your connections to established families --- to the modern world, warped by the arbitrary winds of fashionable status, the "hotness" of market driven mania.
Still, as a reviewer of great excellence, I must say that his discussion of his attempts to overcome a life of looking down on people and to enter the "snob free zone" limps along -- does he really want us to believe that such a place exists? Who would want to go there?
So read this book if you want penetrating insights, sound social commentary, and great amusement. If those are the kinds of things that a person like YOU finds interesting. I might even have given him 5 stars, but of course, I reserve such an award for true merit, of which I am the sole judge.
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Format: Hardcover
An extremely delightful read on a subject not easily or delicately discussed in American society. (Hell, just try reading a book on snobbery in an openly public space--mine was a NYC subway car--and notice the types of curious looks you'll receive from suspecting snobs and egalitarians alike.)
Where a pedantic sociologist would've come across as a parody of his own research material, Epstein writes in disarming prose that--for purposes of sheer delight, anyway--suggests the kind of scholar you'd most want to sit next to at a dinner party. A long established personal essayist, Epstein has returned to the first person narrative, which suits him well for this book, even more so than it did for his explicitly self-reflective collection of essays, "Narcissus Leaves The Pool." After all, anyone peddling themselves as an expert on snobbery had better come clean to his own lapses into the social disgrace and Epstein frequently does so with characteristic humor and self-deprecation. And regarding the reviews that say there's *too* much entertainment here and not enough enlightenment, I'd argue that even in dealing with all the cliche notions we have about what constitutes snobbery (not to mention all the synchedotal cliches we use in place of the word itself), Epstein still manages to chart the phenomenon's peculiar and seemingly paradoxical evolution in such a sustained democratic culture as ours.
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