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Class: A Guide Through the American Status System [Paperback]

Paul Fussell
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 1 1992
The bestselling, comprehensive, and carefully researched guide to the ins-and-outs of the American class system with a detailed look at the defining factors of each group, from customs to fashion to housing.

Based on careful research and told with grace and wit, Paul Fessell shows how everything people within American society do, say, and own reflects their social status. Detailing the lifestyles of each class, from the way they dress and where they live to their education and hobbies, Class is sure to entertain, enlighten, and occasionally enrage readers as they identify their own place in society and see how the other half lives.

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Class: A Guide Through the American Status System + The Great War and Modern Memory: The Illustrated Edition
Price For Both: CDN$ 28.28

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Product Details

Product Description


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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hidden Language of American Society... Feb. 5 2004
By A Customer
Reading this book in my mid-20s -- after surviving college and my first few experiments with employment -- I felt as though I had stumbled upon a Rosetta stone of sorts: a complete schema of the underlying language of American society.
Fussell's meticulous, razor-sharp, and frequently hilarious dissection of American class distinctions (and the tortured ways in which we all struggle with those distinctions) brought into focus what had previously been -- to my eyes -- a hidden language, or, perhaps, an invisible hierarchy.
Although slightly dated in its references, I can't recommend this book more highly.
Remember when you were a kid, how crazy the adult world seemed? How myopic and insane grown-ups were? How strange and inpenetrable their customs and culture? Did you ever wish someone would just sit down and explain to you what the heck was going on?
Here's a book that explains it all -- with insight, humor, and an acid-tipped sense of irony.
Fussell is no snob -- if anything, he skewers the upper classes as gleefully as he mocks the lumpen bourgeoisie. He also provides an escape hatch from the claustrophobic world of status accumulation -- his newly minted X-Class (the inspiration, btw, for Douglas Coupland's Generation X).
Very few books change the way you see the world, or, perhaps, allow you to see the world more clearly. This -- for me -- was one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining book on the class system May 30 2002
I first read Paul Fussell's Class in the early 90s and reread it recently. I find it to be an entertaining examination of the class system in America. Fussell works from the premise that the egalitarian ideal of a classless society is a myth. Further, class is not purely conveyed by money and power because status is a function of your upbringing and environment. You can determine status in everyday life from observing a person's appearance, behavior, likes/dislikes, etc. It is here where Fussell's razor sharp wit and eye for detail either offends readers (perhaps cutting too close too home), or has them rolling on the floor laughing like myself.
My main caveat is that you should not treat this book as a sociological treatise on the class system in America. While it is well written, organized, and offers Fussell's curmudgeonly witticism, it fails to address any major sociological issue or question. Fussell is (was?) a Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, and thus I am emphasizing the entertainment value of book in my review. If you would like to examine the sociological implications of class more thoroughly (especially the upper classes), I would suggest that you read the works of Fussell's colleague Prof. E. Digby Baltzell.
Overall, I still rate the book 5 stars because it is rare to see a book this well-written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let's just say I read it in 3 hours! Oct. 16 2001
This book is great if class and the dynamics of society interest you. I laughed out loud several times and even questioned my own behavior. The author, Paul Fussell, is someone whom I would consult on any variety of matters as he is obviously well educated. This book is not to be taken quite literally but nonetheless it is educational. I only wish more people would strive to be at least upper-middles.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for social climbers March 11 2002
By A Customer
An excellent summary of how the social strata in the U.S. arrange themselves by taste rather than necessarily by income.
It does show its age and could use at least a new chapter outlining the effects of social trends of the last twenty years on our class system such as the pervasiveness of personal computers and the internet, immigration, "political correctness", downsizing, etc. Fussell's description at the end of Class X sounds like an early incarnation of the Bobo class
described in David Brooks' recent book, which shows that no one ultimately escapes classification, so use the information presented in this book to at least pretend to be a class higher than you actually are.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Take a second look at yourself! Dec 5 2001
This is a delicious sardonic read that you will not forget whether you find the book shallow and deprived of real "research" findings or not. Move up (or, as the author suggests more likely, move down) in the class ladder, but above all, remember to be yourself!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By el jefe
If you count entertainment value along with insight, this is one of the best books I've read. Yes, it does come from a northeastern, Ivy, upper-class, point of view, but where else do scholars and writers come from? Fussel's book is bitchy, acerbic, etc..., but that doesn't mean he's wrong. Hell, I'm an redneck ( an educated upper-middle class cowboy from a university that Fussell takes to task, and from a town he makes fun of) but I still loved the book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, but unpalatably nasty Jan. 26 2004
The greatest irony of this admittedly meanspirited but smart little satirical study might seem initially that, in the intervening twenty years since it was published, it has become literally a social climbing guide for status-seeking readers. Many upper-class aspirants still religiously look to it to learn how, for example, to have their suits tailored (no "prole gap" between jacket and neck!) or decorate their living rooms.
But perhaps this irony isn't so great after all. Despite the often brilliant (although now dated) observations Fussell makes, the loathing he feels for the middle classes and mockery he shows towards the "proles" really isn't balanced by any similar feelings for the upper classes, or for what Fussell designates as his own class ("class X"). Just as he describes the wealthiest of the wealthy as "out of sight," so is any pointed satire aimed towards them. Worst of all, his argument (like Freudian psychoanalysis or Marxism) is neatly unfalsifiable: any criticism you might make of his argument is neatly explained away on his terms as symptomatic of your own class insecurity, which functions as a kind of false consciousness. It's an exceptionally intelligent book, but too mean-spirited and blind to its own prejudices ultimately to be as trenchant as it means to be.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Fussell's book in need of clarification
I agree with both the positive and negative comments addressed in these reviews; it's funny, observant, mean-spirited, and haphazardly written. Read more
Published on Aug. 10 2004 by Daniel Ho
4.0 out of 5 stars Can Class become a classic?
Class is a studied, hilarious, yet tongue-in-cheek dissection of the American social class system. It exposes such fundamentally American (and hence, germane) misconceptions on... Read more
Published on March 14 2004 by Yan Timanovsky
2.0 out of 5 stars funny, cruel
Fussell himself admitted that this book was possibly too mean-spirited, and his title points out that it really isn't about class but status. Read more
Published on Dec 29 2003 by Drunken Orangetree
5.0 out of 5 stars High Giggle Factor
Author Paul Fussell swings from contempt to sympathy as he observes the behavior of different classes. Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2003 by southpaw68
5.0 out of 5 stars On the money
Yes. Buy and read this book. Yes, it is over 20 years old, but it remains maddeningly correct, indeed the blueprint for Brooks's Bobos. Read more
Published on Aug. 10 2003 by E. M Massanet
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting...interesting indeed.
Interesting little book. Its not definitive in any sort of way but it still made me think about thing. Outdated though, quite shame he can't write another. Read more
Published on Aug. 10 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars A Book of Humor
The first thing that readers should know about this book is that it should be regarded as a book of humor, not a serious book about class or status in America. Read more
Published on Aug. 7 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars This book is over 20 years old
The world according to Fussell in 1982 is quite a bit different than the current century. The author himself states in an early chapter that outward indications of class change... Read more
Published on July 31 2003 by Sean Franks
2.0 out of 5 stars Note: Reviewer shares many of author's frustrations
this book makes you hate other people (and yes, i have a sense of humor).
Published on July 27 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Do You Measure Up? Does It Matter?
This is a sardonic, slightly dyspeptic view of social stratification. Taken on one level, it is a way of judging yourself and those around you; on another, it makes broad fun of... Read more
Published on July 26 2003 by Jeffrey Sommer
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