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Class: A Guide Through the American Status System

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  2,270 ratings  ·  319 reviews
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.
Paperback, 208 pages
Published October 1st 1992 by Touchstone (first published 1983)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  2,270 ratings  ·  319 reviews

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Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: owned
This is a fascinating look at what really makes up class distinctions in American society. It has nothing to do with wealth and everything to do with self-awareness and how one is raised, he effectively argues. It's a real eye-opener. I found myself analyzing what class I belonged too and am convinced that my family is not as middle-class as my mother led us to believe. The only downside to this book is the end. The author argues that there is a new class being formed in America, one made of ...more
Oct 23, 2007 rated it it was ok
This book is a good (if outdated) exploration of class in the US. It takes all of our ideas about ourselves and offers tongue in cheek anecdotes meant to take us all down a peg. I spent most of the book laughing and rolling my eyes while trying to figure out which class this guy belonged to. I think he is a high prole who has tried to escape into the class x category (that he made up himself).

Given the state of education and the downward spiral of the economy, I totally understand what he is
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
I don't like to throw around the word "dated" when it comes to reading older books. It reflects badly on the reader. Oh, you mean a book written in the early 1980s does not 100% hold up in the 2010s? What a surprise. What's that? Technology and trends have changed over the past 30 years? You don't say. If that's your biggest concern while ignoring other facets of a book well then, my friend, YOU. ARE. LAZY. Judging by the comments for this book on Goodreads there are a lot of lazy and literal ...more
Elisabeth Wallace
Dec 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
The greatest drawback to this witty little volume is that it was written over twenty years ago. Since it is a backhanded social commentary, it has lost some of its application. However, the writing of Fussell has lost none of its lustre. No matter how ridiculous the observation, it is justified with a voice full of entitlement. Here he expounds on his posit that the dog surpasses the cat as the pet preferred by the upper classes:
" Rousseau:'Do you like cats?'
Boswell: 'No.'
Rousseau: 'I was sure
Apr 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing

So admittedly this has Problems. It's dated, it's hideously white, and it's actually not social science—it's social criticism without the science part. Still I found it refreshingly bitter and cruel. Also uncomfortably DEAD-ON. Galvanizing to see how many (i.e. ALL) of the life choices I've justified as being aesthetic, etc., actually came straight out of crippling class anxiety. Excellent. And for my next self-excoriating experience....

There could have been no David Brooks, no
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully persnickety dissection of the American class system, from "Top Out-of-Sight" through professionals and workers, all the way down to "Bottom Out-of-Sight," that is bound to raise smiles and hackles alike. Though Paul Fussell gained his academic reputation from THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY in 1975, this bijou he called CLASS established him as an essayist in the early 1980s and remains the best of his social analyses. (In fact, thirty-five years later, these observations are just ...more
Sep 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who can take criticism
One of the few books I have read that is a life-changer. Explodes the myth that one can change one's social standing in America at all - you can go from poor to rich, yes, but if you are born middle-class you will die middle-class.

Fussel both romanticizes and skewers each social stratum in America. Be prepared to cringe when he ridicules something YOU do. While many of the specifics used to illustrate his points are somewhat dated by today's standards, the broad concepts are spot on.

Once having
Graeme Roberts
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Paul Fussell proposes nine classes for the United States instead of the obviously simplistic three or sociology's five: Top out-of-sight, Upper, Upper middle, Middle, High proletarian, Mid-proletarian, Low proletarian, Destitute, and Bottom out-of-sight. He explains, importantly:
One thing to get clear at the outset is this: it's not riches alone that defines these classes. "It can't be money," one working man says quite correctly, "because nobody ever knows that about you for sure." Style and
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing

Part of the project I'm working on has to do with social class, and for some reason or other, I think a random look at the library bookshelves, I found this 1983 treatise by Paul Fussell, an American literary and social critic.

I've since discovered it was quite famous in its day, and even though some of the cultural references are inevitably dated (he laments bookstore tables being filled with Ann Landers and Leon Uris, for instance), his observation rings true when he says Americans pay
Jun 05, 2008 rated it did not like it
Wow! I'm not even sure what to say. I've had this on my to-read list for 20 years, and think very highly of Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory. This book was a huge disappointment. At times I thought it must be tongue-in-cheek, but I'm afraid it wasn't. At times it seemed to be trying to be scholarly, quoting from other scholarly works (tho never giving actual citations--no footnotes or references of any kind in the book); sometimes it was somewhat humorous; at other times it was purely ...more
Shelby Sanford
Aug 15, 2007 rated it did not like it
So, i did not like this book at all...i put it up here as a warning to others interested in the book. It sounded good...but ended up being a book about how to fake high-class. One chapter actually focuses on purple being a sign of royalty and high-class. Generally, i found this book to be dated, irrelevant, and a contributor to the problem of social inequity in America.
Omer Aziz
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
A book that started off well and then took a quick nosedive. Picking up Paul Fussell's "Class," I thought I was picking up *the* classic book on social class in America. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I opened this thinking it was the definitive work on a very important topic. The book's opening chapter, outlining a typology of social classes, and distinguishing between "economic class" and "social class" was very useful. However, rather than fleshing out the thesis and analyzing the ...more
Michael Perkins
Sep 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Unfortunately, the author's examples are outdated. I had always hoped he'd update that part of it, but he has since died.

But I think he gets at a basic illusion of American culture, i.e. that we live in a classless society. This is nonsense. Our socioeconomic status determines our class level and, unfortunately, upward mobility is not what is used to be, although the upper class likes to highlight the rare exceptions who attain it. And it's gotten harder because of the cost of college and
Jul 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Proles
Shelves: non-fiction
The book is pretty good. Written in a sarcastic tone it strives to detail the mannerisms of the classes categorized by the author, Paul Fussell. The observations are themselves pretty funny but dated, as the book was written in the 1980s. Regardless, some of them are pretty accurate. Like how the type of magazines you read can give away the class you are from - people who read Time magazine are in a higher class than the ones who read National Enquirer. And how if you can never see an ...more
Jan 03, 2008 rated it did not like it
Wow, this book is awful. Interesting topic, right? But apart from being completely dated, no insight or analysis beyond, 'proles wear trucker hats.' All descriptions of the upper middle class are culled from 'The Preppy Handbook.' I think it's supposed to be funny, but it is just obnoxious.
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
In my estimation, Paul Fussell has written a fairly humorous but now somewhat dated take on America's class system. This title was published in 1983 when I was still a high school student. I am now in my early fifties and the world has changed as dramatically as one would expect after 35 years. American society, especially recently, is, for me, like wandering into a surprisingly upsetting and charmless Twilight Zone episode. I keep imploring Rod Serling to emerge from the shadows, take a big ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A truly insightful and thought provoking book.
Will Shetterly
Jun 18, 2012 rated it liked it
"The word 'class' is fraught with unpleasing associations, so that to linger upon it is apt to be interpreted as the symptom of a perverted mind and a jaundiced spirit." —R. H. Tawney

"You reveal a great deal about your social class by the amount of annoyance or fury you feel when the subject is brought up. A tendency to get very anxious suggests that you are middle-class and nervous about slipping down a rung or two. On the other hand, upper-class people love the topic to come up: the more
Sep 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: americana
An odd little book this. The subject is a fascinating one; but Fussell isn't a Sociologist or an Anthropologist, or for that matter a decent comedy writer. Fussell is an English Lit lecturer. So what follows is strange summary of what other people have written about the American class system, lots of references to literature and popular culture plus a lot of comic opinion. That doesn't mean it's half-bad, but it does seem a bit like a book in search of a direction. The bulk of what is said isn't ...more
Jul 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Fussell argues that, despite our ideas that we are somehow above "class" in America, there are rigid class boundaries here. They aren't, as they are in Great Britain, determined by speech or dialect and aren't even really determined by economics. But language is a factor, and we betray our status by phrases we use and behaviors we have.

One that sticks out in my mind was the use of the term "home" to describe your house. This identifies someone as a person in a middle class who is trying to
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I had read this book when it first came out (when I was still in high school), I might have likely majored in sociology. Then again, given the following passage and its importance to me, I probably would've still ended up studying linguistics:

"Regardless of the money you've inherited, the danger of your job, the place you live, the way you look, the shape and surface of your driveway, the items on your front porch and in your living room, the sweetness of your drinks, the time you eat dinner,
Feb 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: must-read
This is a wicked-funny book about Americans and social classes. Class is a touchy subject, as the author states, and this book makes the reader uncomfortable, even as the reader is laughing. The author wrote that, when interviewing people for this book, the first thing they'd tell him is that in America we do not have social classes. Then they proceed to tell him which class each of their neighbors belongs to, and why. I bought my first copy of this a long long time ago -- I think it was stolen ...more
Amar Pai
May 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up-on
Picked this up after reading a fascinating metafilter thread about class signifiers.

The book is dryly satirical and the approach is ok; however it's severely dated. This kind of humor/observation has a short shelf life; thus a lot of the observations about high/low culture and rich vs poor are no longer relevant.

Would love to see an up to date and more straight forward take on this subject though, as it is pretty interesting.
Hank Stuever
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was so late to reading "Class" that, by the time I actually did, much of it seemed old hat. That's mainly because Fussell's ideas traveled so well that so many people thought of them as their own.
Antonio Nunez
Jul 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read this book some twenty years ago, and it struck me as most humourous and overall correct.

Although I was born in South America, I have lived and studied in the US, and I have studied and worked in France and the UK. My experience in all these geographies supports Fussell's conclusions. It is true that the higher the social class, the taller and slimmer people tend to be. It is true that the traditional lower (rather than the underclass) and the higher classes have many things in common,
Jesse Kraai
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm the guy who goes through life thinking that your clothes and money aren't that important. Mostly because I've been both rich and poor and it didn't make that much of a difference. At the least though this book convinced me that class is a fundamental lens you can apply to any situation, even to stuff that has nothing obviously to do with it, e.g. what do you think about science.

Here is a way of putting it: instead of asking what a person's will to power is, you can ask 'what is their will to
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book is amusing in some ways, but I suspect that pretentious people will use it as an instruction manual or it will make them more anxiety-ridden than they already are and more self-conscious about their appearance, homes, status symbols, speech, etc.

I thought this was going to be more of a political commentary, but it's really just making fun of people based on their class status, and categorizing people based on their appearances and external identifications.

If you want more of a
Dec 27, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a fun read in some ways, frustrating in others. An updated edition would be far more interesting and applicable today.
Julie Mickens
Can't rate this with certainty as I read it back in 2000, but I definitely enjoyed learning how much my betters love threadbare woolens.
Jim Robles
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this one in:
BOOKS. -- On the Touchy Subject of Class in America

Mr. Garner writes "For the tyro reader, Fussell dispatches early the notion that class has much to do with how much money you have. Those who’ve paid any attention “perceive that taste, values, ideas, style and behavior are indispensable criteria of class, regardless of money or occupation.” Donald J. Trump is an instructive specimen in this regard."

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Paul Fussell was an American cultural and literary historian, author and university professor. His writings covered a variety of topics, from scholarly works on eighteenth-century English literature to commentary on America’s class system. He was an U.S. Army Infantry officer in the European theater during World War II (103rd U.S. Infantry Division) and was awarded both the Bronze Star and the ...more
“Americans are the only people in the world known to me whose status anxiety prompts them to advertise their college and university affiliations in the rear window of their automobiles.” 26 likes
“When ... asked what I am writing, I have answered, "A book about social class in America," ... It is if I had said, "I am working on a book urging the beating to death of baby whales using the dead bodies of baby seals.” 4 likes
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