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


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Product details

  • Paperback: 202 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books; Reissue edition (1 Sept. 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671792253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671792251
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.5 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 57,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

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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First Sentence
Although most Americans sense that they live within an extremely complicated system of social classes and suspect that much of what is thought and done here is prompted by considerations of status, the subject has remained murky. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Jun. 1999
Format: Paperback
Paul Fussell's book CLASS is slightly tongue-in-cheek but still very informative --- on the classes it does deal with, that is. He is virtually silent about blacks, Jews, Asians, and Hispanics, choosing instead to concentrate on the white "upper" and "middle" classes, with a lot of emphasis upon the former. Taken totally seriously, it would be a discouraging read as he insinuates that the only worthwhile college education is from one of the "better" schools, the middle class is in virtual slavery (to wages and others' opinions), and so on. His chapter on "X" class is the highlight of the entire book!
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By AK TOP 500 REVIEWER on 29 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
Paul Fussell decided to unearth some of the arcana of class behaviour in the US and the result is - depending on your perspective - witty, scathing, interesting, or offensive. First building up a framework, and explaining the 'class ladder', the majority of the book then focuses on how to distinguish members of a particular class.

The classes covered - from top out of sight, over upper, upper middle, middle, prole (from high to low variety), destitute and lower out of sight - should in essence present the whole spectrum but if truth be told, more than 90% of the content focuses on the upper middle, middle and prole classes.

Depending on how you look at it, the author could be perceived as arrogant, and he is certainly scathing when it comes to describing the habits of both the middle class and proles. One also certainly gets the impression that Fussell threads much more selectively than Veblen - the upper classes coming off very lightly, for instance (a hint as to where the author would wish to be?).

However, comparing the book to something like Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class (Dover Thrift), one cannot say it is nearly of the same calibre, and Fussell focuses much more on description than on explanation (and the explanation offered is often based on Veblen's work). While not being up to scratch, when compared to 'the last man, who knew everything', one has to admit that the book is also easier to read. Both will provide entertainment, Fussell's simply being more up to date in terms of language and simplicity of expression.

The book was originally published in the early 80s and is consequently a bit dated in some aspects.
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Format: Paperback
For the most part this is a well written, witty and engaging guided tour through the American class system - and all its many accoutrements.

That said, I do have some reservations about this book.

First, I can't exactly call it insightful. With the exception of maybe a tidbit or two here and there (I confess the true value of parquet flooring as a status symbol had hitherto been lost on me) it won't tell you much that you don't know already. There are also one or two places in the book where the listing of class features starts to degenerate into... well, a list. And lists don't exactly make for entertaining reading. That said, in all fairness such moments are few and far between.

A more pervasive problem is that the author comes across as just a little too pleased with his own upper middle class status. Possibly even mildly delusional. I say that because he repeatedly groups his own claimed class as one of "the top three classes", implicitly including it among the uppers. I'm sorry Prof Fussell, but it's "upper middle", not "lower upper". Every good Marxist knows you have to look at the class's relationship to the means of production.

Part and parcel of the author's obvious pleasure in his own status (real and perhaps imagined) is that there are times where the writing verges on being smug, or even supercilious. I first came to this author via his son, who wrote Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder. On a technical level both are very talented writers. But the son has mastered one trick that the father has not: He lays bare his own secret fears and shames, his own moments of truth.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Jan. 1999
Format: Paperback
As a newly successful young professional, I thrilled in this book's ride up and down our American class ladder. Outrageously funny, you'll need a thick skin not to take umbrage at times. I am still ashamed to learn that expensive technical wrist-watches imply horrible middle class status. Probably most Americans find offensive this book's teaching that one's class is inherited at birth, with little or no recourse to change it (an exception being marriage up or down). In the final chapter of the book, "The X Way Out", Fussell argues there is a class of Americans who have risen above class. However, I think he was self-indulgently describing middle-class, well-educated people like himself, who have a strong sense of irony and a sociologists intellectual rationalization of the class system. Certainly the members of his "X" group did not graduate from the ivy leagues, or drop-out of the urban high-schools. Though written in the early 1980's, Fussell's observations are almost all still pertinent in 1999. However, his characterization of corporations as evil overlords seems quaint and archaic in this era of 5% unemployment. In summary, if you ever wondered about an American class system, this book is for you.
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