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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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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
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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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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3 of 3 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 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, insightful and frightfully true! Aug. 5 2002
By Sharon
After reading this book I can figure out just about anyone's class background or if they are a member of category X (immune to the class system), which is quite entertaining. If this book doesn't make you more self-aware, nothing will.
Simply as a test, upon meeting several new upper-middle and upper class people, I replied "Very nice to meet you", after being introduced, and not one person responded overly favorably. However, when I replied "How do you do?" I was asked for a contact number by every single one. Just a small thing, but one out of hundreds of things that Mr. Fussell points out will subtly reveal our social background. Mr. Fussell seems to think that we cannot move out of the class bracket in which we were raised, but I believe that if desired passionately enough, one's social station can be improved, or at least one can utilize useful information in appropriate situations to his or her social advantage. This book gives you ample information to do this.
With my mixed upper prole and middle class background, I found his observations extremely accurate and hysterically funny. I recently did a bit of interior renovating but just could not bear the thought of parting with my porcelain spoon collection. Instead of considering myself a lost cause, I choose to reaffirm my belief that generally like attracts like, but that's no reason to always limit your social life.
If you are not happy merely socializing with people from your social background I see no reason why you can't "fool" (at least temporarily) those in a class above your own if you are determined to do so. What has worked best for me, though, is just to be myself, admit my weaknesses, be open to suggestion and apply whatever advice I choose.
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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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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
3.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, but unpalatably nasty
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... Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2004 by Jay Dickson
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 28 2003
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