- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Touchstone; Reissue edition (October 1, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0671792253
- ISBN-13: 978-0671792251
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 224 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Class: A Guide Through the American Status System Paperback – October 1, 1992
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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.
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That said, this book is excellent. It borders on a kind of satire, delightfully entertaining with its keen observation of how different classes display their status in America -- or their insecurities about their class, as the case may be. Perhaps one of the most fun things you end up doing as a result of this book is thinking about all the people in your life who fit the various descriptions. I easily pegged various members of my family from anywhere from prole to upper, and perhaps most painfully, those members so set on social climbing that they attempt to ape the habits of the upper class, to little worthy effect. All of them are here in this book. A few scattered illustrations will also amuse, particularly the scene of a middle class man engaged in the most middle class of activities -- the maintenance of his lawn.
I would love for Fussell to update this. It is impossible not to turn one's critical eye on everything through the lense of the class system as Fussell presents it, and even Facebook no longer looks the same to me, but basically a middle class shouting platform of neuroses with which to assuage insecurity about one's social standing. A wonderful book that provokes thinking.
While this book is a must-read, and I'm happy to have it on my shelf, the best by far was the end, in which he outlines a final class which has no place in the hierarchy -- the X-Class. I can't say with what joy it was to have myself identified at last, defining all the reasons I feel out of place in my own culture and class, only to realize Paul Fussell knows why. And I can't thank him enough for this contribution to the culture. Read this book, you won't be disappointed.
I read the whole book over a weekend, and I am not entirely sure how it is meant to be taken. Sometimes I felt like Fussell was being totally serious and honest, at other times it read like satire. He clearly has some low opinions of some of the classes that he describes. Everyone seems to want what they don't have, except maybe the lower classes which appear happily ignorant of their situation. I don't know that one can read this book and use it as an actual guide to class in America, but you can read it and perhaps use it to help you to reflect on yourself and your own situation.
It is pretty clear from reading this book that Fussell didn't buy into the American myth of societal mobility. In Fussell's telling you can move a bit, but not by much. He has pretty rich and complex descriptions of our classes and thinking that there is just upper, middle, and lower is far too facile for Fussel. Each of these thumbnails of class has several subgroups, and there is even a group above "Upper", who knew? Money has a major role to play in class, but it is clear to Fussell that money itself does not determine class. It is far more complex, it is about taste, behavior, expectations, and even what we think others think of us, or that is whether we care. The "uppers" don't care too much what others think, it is the great American middle class that is so concerned about keeping up with the "Joneses" and their concern pegs them to where they are.
If you are interested in class, or understanding American social strata, this is well worth a read. It is even fun to read, but it might challenge your view of where you fit in American society. Be prepared.