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Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  737 ratings  ·  107 reviews
Limbo is a thought-provoking treatise on the lasting consequences of class mobility in America. Drawing on his own story as well as on dozens more from individuals who share his experience, award-winning journalist Alfred Lubrano sheds light on the predicament of some 13 million Americans: reconciling their blue-collar upbringing with the white-collar world they now inhabi ...more
Paperback, 248 pages
Published February 22nd 2005 by Wiley (first published October 17th 2003)
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We all have moments when we read a work that captures our experience in a deeply moving way. The kinds of works that leaves us shaking ours heads because someone has written what we have felt but hadn't heard someone else say before.

Every person I've recommended this to has had the same experience I did. I was grateful to have someone explain the ups and downs of moving from the working class to the professional middle class, of becoming a class "straddler."

This isn't a "woe is me" book. It's
Jan 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I am a first-generation college graduate and a complete mystery to many of my blue-collar relatives. My Mom told people my BS degree stood for "Bull Shit" and that when I achieved my Master's, it was because I was finally a Master of Bull Shit. I have a very loving family, but my college pursuits were perplexing to my family. After I left college and began my career, my income illustrated that maybe all that college stuff was worth something. My 10-years-younger brother now has the benefit of pa ...more
Jun 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favorite books. It is about how individuals deal with their own social mobility in the United States. I wondered why I felt so uneasy after moving to the city and getting a good job after putting myself through college and grad school. Lubrano gives case studies and analyzes the experiences of those people like me who came from modest roots, but got a good education, a little bit of money, and some broader cultural exposure. He writes and I agree that people like this still fee ...more
May 11, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: wishlist
Lubrano writes, “Social class counts at the office, even though nobody likes to admit it. Ultimately, corporate norms are based on middle- and upper-class values, business types say. From an early age, middle-class people learn how to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab what they need. It is as though they are following a set of rules laid out in a manual that blue-collar families never have the chance to read.”

Open expression of anger is verboten in the office workplace: “A
Mary Overton
On the morning after Trump’s shocking victory, I am reminded of this book I read in 2004. Alfred Lubrano does a good job of exploring the confused loyalties and insights that result from having been inside two different cultures. You know how each world can be deeply affirming … and you see, better than the life-long natives, the terrible darkness each holds.

While I have grown up to be a card-carrying member of Blue America, I still remember the provincial small towns in fly-over country where I
Dec 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Lubrano, a journalist from a blue-collar background, argues for the importance of paying attention to how class operates in American society. His particular interest is in what he calls 'Straddlers,' people from blue-collar backgrounds who experience ongoing duality after they cross over into the middle class, which he sees happening through their attending college. It was a broad-brush, largely anecdotal approach, and significantly shaped by the author's own trajectory, so I think it leaves som ...more
Oct 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
I started this book expecting to love it; I found it almost unreadable in places.

Lubrano clearly does not consider the idea of intersectionality, and his discussion of race is consistently painful as a result. It's probably a mercy that he doesn't even attempt to talk about gender. That was my major problem with the book, but the Boomer perspective felt really outdated and irrelevant. Not sure whether it was that perspective or something else that led to his romanticization of working class roo
Laura Jean
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, library, 2016
A fascinating look at the class divide from those who have lived in both. Straddlers are born blue collar but through higher education have entered the white collar class. This book explores the pros and cons they face. Although the author admits in the introduction that there are other factors besides education that divide the classes, he chooses to dwell almost solely on that factor. I would have liked to see others as well: joining the army for example.
Anastasia Zamkinos
Dec 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
I started reading Limbo when a professor who identifies as like the Straddlers explored in Limbo recommended it to help people in a position of privilege at the college begin to understand or at least empathize with a generally misunderstood, alienated, and under-served population. The way she put it, people in the Ivory Tower often avoid the "C" word, class, and Lubrano provides an approachable window into the struggles he explores that are often shared by people raised in blue-collar families ...more
Emilie Frechie
Jul 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I bet you consider yourself middle class. That's the safe zone which almost everyone in our culture has been told they are a part of. The truth is, class is less about money and more about mindset. Do you go fishing? Have you or anyone in your family ever said, 'You do what you gotta do' or 'it's a rough job but someone's gotta do it'? Do you eat sushi? Do you gamble at casinos? Do you vacation out of the country? Do you dress your children in gender specific clothing? Do you listen to NPR? Do y ...more
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have to say, this book made me think. At times I got impatient with the author's romanticizing working class people. It's fine to say there's a set of values unique to the group - hard work, don't take shit off of anybody, stay close to your family - and that no one always lives up to their group's values all the time. Lubrano lost sight of that nuance in his countless tales of blue collar people behaving nobly and middle class people being worthless weaklings and parasites. He is a fine write ...more
Mary Beth
Jun 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book for Buffalo kids--you know who you are. Not to mention many of the references are from UB professor Pat Finn and his sidekick Gillian. I had the pleasure of taking 2 course with Gillian in graduate school. This book rang so true on many levels.

There are many of us who feel our jobs, compared to our parents and grandparents, don't exactly constitute "work" in the blood, sweat and tears sense. Also, we feel more connected to the waitstaff and grounds crew at the country club t
Heather Denkmire
May 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone!
The only downside to this book was that there was never that "in defense of the blue-collar way" section or theme. There was some pride, but mostly the theme was people who moved into white-collar lives were "bettering" themselves. That's the only issue I had with it. Otherwise, it kicked my butt with enlightenment. Things I'd never thought about. All that racism "work" I did in the 90s, we never dealt with issues of class. I may even agree with my friend who considers class a bigger issue than ...more
Ann Clark
Apr 09, 2019 rated it liked it
While I appreciate what went into this book and the author sharing personal experiences, those personal experiences are specific to geography and culture, and at times sound like stereotypes and excuses. The book also jumps around a lot.
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting exploration of how it feels to be in a class different from the one you were raised in. That visceral sense of not-belonging, the despair of never-will-belong. The longing for the old, familiar class and yet, by education and/or profession, no longer fit there either.

On the critical side, the author does not provide as many differing perspectives as surely exist. All the ex-blue-collar folk look upon their white-collar peers with a mixture of envy and mild contempt, seeing them as to
Tom Read
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really important book - helped clarify questions I’ve always had about a lot of my own life experiences that I didn’t realize I had been asking. Social class shapes our world and it merits far more attention than we give it.

That said, the book is clearly missing important discussions of how social class intersects with other elements of identity, such as race and gender. It’s a great primer to think about class, but only the tip of the iceberg.
Zoie Schares
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was a good read! I felt validated reading the accounts from folks in this "Limbo," and felt like Lubrano definitely knows my dad. He doesn't, of course, which just speaks to how relatable the book is. I really appreciated the conversations about language barriers for folks who are trying to be upwardly mobile--I find myself struggling with that too. I sometimes found Lubrano's tone a little haughty while talking about the working class, but I think that's probably just me warring with the dua ...more
Victor Em
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As someone going through a similar transition, I really needed to read this book.
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I didn't expect a white man writing in 2003 to be able to handle race and sex so adroitly. An amazing read. ...more
Jan 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Book helped me understand the duality of class. Jut as the paradigm for race is limited in our American worldview--despite the efforts of the authors at the margins challenging popular conceptions of black versus white and other binaries--this book describes the paradigm of class in a black and white lens, as middle class and working class. So much of who we are is defined by our class and I appreciated the ability to explore this in the anthropological stories and interviews.. My good friend re ...more
Margot Note
"Social class counts at the office, even though nobody likes to admit it. Ultimately, corporate norms are based on middle- and upper-class values, business types say. From an early age, middle-class people learn how to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab what they need. It is as though they are following a set of rules laid out in a manual that blue-collar families never have the chance to read" (9).

"Ideally, a Straddler becomes bicultural: Understand what made you who you
Have been thinking more about this book since writing the somewhat dismissive review below. This book is extremely valuable for demonstrating the substantial downside of what society would generally laud as the quintessential successful life trajectory in America. Clawing your way out your hardscrabble roots into the cushy office job is not just difficult, but can carries longterm emotional punishment, both self-imposed and external.


Lubrano recounts his own and others' experiences as a white
Apr 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
When I found out about this book I was really excited to read it, but it didn't live up to what I had hoped it would be. Some aspects I really enjoyed and some I could relate to, but I found the organization of the narratives confusing and fragmented. For example, I would've liked whole chapters on one profiled "Straddler" person versus snippets scattered throughout the book related to a particular theme or topic. Or maybe separate sections for the research and then narratives; the way they are ...more
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I first read this book almost 10 years ago in college. It changed my world view back then, and it was a very powerful and emotional read for me this second time through. So much has changed in my life since the last time I read this, but I being in class limbo is not one of them. I can’t wait to read this book again in another 10 years to see what still rings true and what does not.

If you have ever felt like an outsider because of your socioeconomic class or class mobility of some kind, I cannot
Barb Baltrinic
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read this book with interest as I live in Limbo, although I have so perfected by "straddling" no one suspects it! There is much or
Ruby Payne's findings in this book....those who grow up with fewer "opportunities" handed to them do, indeed, spend a lot of their adult lives trying to fit in. I liked the variety of stories shared. I saw myself or others in many of these snippets. Here's to the "Straddlers!" As a teacher, this information helps guide the new generation of straddlers as they head
Ralph N
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Like what Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise did for bourgeois bohemians, Lubrano does for straddlers. If you’re born to a blue collar family but now live a white collar existence, this is a MUST READ.

Being a first generation low income student at Stanford who could only afford it through full scholarship and afterward a straddler in tech organizations, I saw something in every page that made me understand the struggles I have had balancing the duality of my identity - between my working class roots and
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If you grew up in the working class and are currently living a mid-to-upper class life, don't miss this book. (And if you think the USA is a classless society...for sure don't miss this book!) All sorts of things I thought were just personal quirks or problems turn out to have come from being raised in a class I no longer identify with. This book completely changed how I see myself in the world - it's the most significant thing I've read in the past 20 years. ...more
NYLon Carry On
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
So funny, and so helpful. If you are a first generation college student, this is a MUST READ!!!!!!!!!

It was so great to discover that I was not the only person who felt stuck between two worlds, and not a full part of either!
Dec 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Great content and discussions that resonated well with me. Must detract two stars for the horrendous font style, which gave me headaches and made reading this book many times harder it needed to be.
Georgia Martine
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This described many of the frustrations I have with working in an office, but couldn't put my finger on. What I hate the most is that the bullying behaviour of those in charge is enabled by this expectation that we all be non-confrontational, conflict-avoidant, preferably with a smile on one's face.

And there are endless articles and discussions and books about how you should behave in this "professional" way in work, i.e., be a doormat. It made me feel like I'm not cut out for the workplace, but
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