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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reissue edition (Oct. 1 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671792253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671792251
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.5 x 21.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #82,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

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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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Feb. 5 2004
Format: Paperback
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 By Amazon Customer on May 30 2002
Format: Paperback
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 By Julie A. Furstenfeld on Oct. 16 2001
Format: Paperback
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 By A Customer on March 11 2002
Format: Paperback
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 By BiCoastal on Dec 5 2001
Format: Paperback
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 on Oct. 13 2001
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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