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Snobbery: The American Version

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  625 ratings  ·  79 reviews
A national bestseller, Snobbery examines the discriminating qualities in all of us. With dishy detail, Joseph Epstein skewers all manner of elitism in contemporary America. He offers his arch observations of the new footholds of snobbery: food, fashion, high-achieving children, schools, politics, being with-it, name-dropping, and much more. Clever, incisive, and immensely ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published July 7th 2003 by Mariner Books (first published 2002)
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Average rating 3.39  · 
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Kelly
Sep 03, 2018 rated it liked it
As the child of two parents who migrated hugely up the American class ladder very quickly, I grew up interacting frequently with overt snobbery towards both me and members of my family. This also means I didn’t have much of a road map to how to navigate a lot of it, just a frequent sense something was wrong with what I did a lot of the time and I couldn’t figure out what or why. While some of that awkwardness was just about me being a bookish, overly enthusiastic/passionately-nerdy-about-stuff k ...more
Mary Fons
Jan 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Mr. Epstein!

This was a fantastic book. I'm a snob. If you've got a GoodReads profile, there's a real good chance you're a snob, too. We're all snobs about something: food, culture, music, fashion, lifestyle, etc. "Snobbery" breaks down the why and how behind American snobbery and provides a funny, intelligent read.

What amazed me most was the history of snobbery that Epstein lays out. It had never occurred to me that the U.S. used to have a high Society (with a capital "S") and that times were a
...more
Bob
Oct 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Every decade or two someone takes on the class system of the putatively classless American society, which is generally entertaining reading and good for building up a minor bibliography of (mostly pop) sociology. The formative text for me of this sort is Paul Fussell's "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System" from 1983, which led me to Thorstein Veblen and Vance Packard and the like.

Epstein footnotes both the last two, but dismisses Fussell as an Anglophile snob in one paragraph that
...more
Lize
May 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Read in 2002. Incredibly pompous, ponderous and pedantic (Epstein was clearly the right choice to expound on this particular topic), but I did learn a thing or two.

The Snobbery Test: Are you taking pleasure in a thing or activity for itself, or is the pleasure because most people are excluded from it? The Elitist wants the best, the Snob also wants to make sure other people know he has the best.
Aubrey
Aug 27, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
A very cute read, Epstein talks about the curiosity he finds in that though democracy, by its very nature touts itself as anti-snobbery, seems at the same time, by its very nature, to breed it.

By taking away the social solidarity of class, getting rid of any true aristocracy, and even by eliminating the society columns, Americans are left with the need to find some way of distinguishing themselves from their fellow countrymen.

We do this by becoming snobs: Job-snobbery, school snobbery, intellec
...more
Milkman3367
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Spin, stir, crackle, sizzle and buzz,
How quickly the Land of Oz turns to Was."
-Anonymous

I think that this epigram expresses perfectly the fickle nature of fame and celebrity. The author does a fine job of trying to define the nature and boundaries of snobbery, and unintentionally (and as it turns out, humorously) engages in grammatical foreshadowing with a nod to the future role of social media and snobbery in these lines:
"I have not till now called for sympathy for the snob, but life over th
...more
Tom Stamper
Nov 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
What Joseph Epstein does so well as an essayist is reveal his own weaknesses and his efforts to overcome himself. The book begins with the many ways that Epstein sees himself fall into snobbery and evolves into a book about historical and contemporary snobbery. Epstein has a certain way of seeing his own faults and an ability to diagnose the faults of others in ways that are new and insightful. He nails the essence of Gore Vidal as a man reminding you of his own patrician background while sugges ...more
Danielle
Jun 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Thoroughly enjoyed this! Joseph Epstein is incredibly intelligent and funny, and I really learned a lot reading this book, especially about 18th-20th century writers. Intellectual is one of the forms of snobbery that Epstein frequently discusses, seeing how as an educated person he has the most personal experience with that form; plus, as correctly he states, "novelists are our keenest sociologists" (65). I really appreciate that this book doesn't have a mushy, "let's all love ourselves and each ...more
Kevin
Feb 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Witty, erudite, effortlessly constructed and studded with 5-dollar words I don't know but would like to learn. Epstein is the new half-brother to my favorite family of writers, sitting at Thankgiving between Anne Fadiman and Joan Didion, across the table from Bill Bryson and Phillip Lopate

These are my heroes, men and women who take often pedestrian subjects and light them with bottle rockets from the inside. I hope to have a literary legacy like theirs someday. And as I practice, I read books

...more
TK
Jan 04, 2010 rated it liked it
I never quite finished this. It came highly recommended by someone whose opinion I normally trust about books, but I had the strange experience of both feeling superior as I read about American snobs ("thank God I'm not one of them,") but also vagelu inferior ("why aren't I one of them?"). This I suppose is the whole thorn of snobbery; frankly, I don't know why I should spend more time than basolutely necesary with snobs. So thus, I never finished the book.
Jafar
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
A few interesting cultural and sociological bits and pieces about different kinds of snobbery in America, but in the end I’m not sure what Epstein was trying to say. The book itself smells of snobbery with all that name-dropping. Major turn-off when an author writes too much about himself in a book that is not meant to be an autobiography.
Gregory
Jun 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Given my circumstances, reverse snobbery is pretty much the only kind available to me, and I've been living with it, and off of it, for years.
Kyle
Dec 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Perhaps those most snobbish of all are the purveyors of snobbery in modern society. Joseph Epstein knows this, which is why he continually exploits the contradiction (of his own making) that exists in each chapter: 'I don't care where my son goes to college, but I know the rankings and I'll judge someone with an inferior college's bumper sticker on his/her car' (for example).

Although much of the writing seems frivolous & overwritten (chapter-length 'first world problems'), I did find the midsec
...more
Tom
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting book, even if in places some of the lists felt like I was reading American Psycho, which is suppose is the point. I also found out that I did not know many of the American literary elite which Epstein talks about here, so I have expanded my knowledge a bit. I do agree with him that we are all snobs to some extent, I think mine is mainly based around beer.
Bernadette
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cool. Funny. Honest. Intelligent.

The honesty of the writer got me. Im sure he’ll say, ( with sarcasm), “what honesty?”. Loved the simple sophistication of writing about so many and being able to relate to all readers - I hope! He is going to cause many (me) to examine their degree of snobbery and the reason we are snobs.
Philip
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, essay, social
Not fascinating, but somewhat interesting. It would be more interesting if I was familiar with the many people he references in the book. I didn't find that I enjoyed it at four stars, but I think that it's written well and that many other readers would appreciate it much more than I did.
Donna Hutt Stapfer Bell
Feeling left out? Here, read this -

You can discover that shade thrown at work, or that insult tossed in Facebook has historical significance. That it has history, depth to it. And also, how to avoid it in yourself. Marvelous reference.
Anthony
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very entertaining survey of snobbery in all its manifestations. You'll know it's good when it gets you thinking about your own attitudes. We're all in there.
Laura
Oct 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020-mt-bookpile
Sadly, less humorous than I'd hoped for, and not enough explanation of some of the history. Still interesting to read one person's take on the WASP ethic and influence.
Ryan
Jul 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
I picked this up hoping for I know not what - enlightenment, understanding, a broader perspective. In that sense, it delivered. The author actually goes to enviable lengths to portray his own snobbery, the origins of it and its own evolution, before he gets into tearing into the snobbery of others.

It was an enjoyable book, if you like social commentary, which is essentially all this is. There are relatively few concrete numbers, owing at least in part to the nature of snobbery itself being a som
...more
JQAdams
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Someone in my presence referred to this book as the best nonfiction book published since 2000. While it was unclear from context whether this meant "most important" or "most enjoyable," I thought I should read it, even though I'd previously never heard of it.

It's a strange little book. Epstein starts off by cataloging his many dimensions of snobbishness, defined expansively to encompass most of the ways people judge each other as inferior to themselves: as far as could be told, his definition me
...more
Elaine Meszaros
Dec 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Snobbery often entails taking a petty, superficial, or irrelevant distinction and, so to say, running with it.

Epstein's study of snobbery should be considered a guilty pleasure, replete with snarky little personal stories. His main premise is snobbery is a strangely unique phenomenon created by Americans. Our democracy gives us countless outlets to compare and judge our fellow humans. In past societies there were certainly social stratas filled with their nouveau and bourgeoisie. But the change
...more
Sean Goh
Jun 18, 2014 rated it liked it
After reading this book I'm now more conscious of class-consciousness.

With the rise of egalitarianism, class lines are more blurred, social mobility is up, and thus jockeying for social status becomes more pronounced.
For one class to envy another, they have to be close enough to be compared.

Snobbery will die on the day when none of us need reassurance of his or her worth.

The crux of good manners is in behaving the same way to all.

Moral snobs (virtucrats) strive to convince you that their positi
...more
Mary Lou
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Some interesting observations, if a little pretentious itself.
Amanda Reat
Jun 15, 2012 rated it liked it
So far, less humorous and informative than I expected but a decent summer read. A candid and somewhat comical look into what it means to be a snob, who qualifies and how. Epstein points out that snobs A) are trying to own, attain, look, act, drink, eat, etc in the way that society has deemed "high class" or "high status". I especially liked that he explains that these things may not actually be the best, the most high class, the most quality items, characteristics, attitudes, education, etc that ...more
Jackie
Dec 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
I saw this book in a bin at a used bookstore this week and pounced -- it's great. Epstein attempts to dissect post-WASP snobbery (and by default, what social class means in America) in this engaging read. Without clear-cut WASPy rules to lead the way, how do we determine what American snobbery even means anymore? There's no easy answer, but Epstein admirably takes on the challenge and guides us through first its history and then its many forms with conversational ease, from middle class anxiety ...more
Hope
Aug 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
If you've seen the tv show Frasier, there is an episode where Frasier and his brother Niles compete for the one slot left available at Seattle's Empire Club (they thought there would be two places, but someone was acquitted of insider trading). There's a mix up with their names and Frasier mistakenly gets Niles' invite because the club dislikes people in the "entertainment industry" and, after some hemming and hawing, goes to rectify the mistake. Ultimately, both are ejected from the club, but n ...more
Scott Boyce
Jan 08, 2016 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this one. Snobbery plays a large role in my life, and always has. I've always found people really interesting, and how they relate to one another.

I found a lot of truth in this book. "reverse snobbery" really hit me, and describes me perfectly from ages 16-17. Snobbery is me from age 22-25. Now, I'm just trying to be me. Here's the quote that REALLY hit me:

"Time to see the world, as the philosophers put it, as in iteself it really is, which snobbery even in small doses, makes
...more
Michael
Aug 18, 2008 rated it liked it
I was hoping this was going to be funny or ironic. So I was with it for the first few chapters, got a little lost or bored in the middle, but the last 1/3 ended well for me. He really pokes at some people in this world, but I feel like nobody cares what this guy says. I read a review of it years ago and I'm sifting through all these books I bought years ago. I was hoping for more but got what I got out of it.
Katrina
Dec 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
The sociologist in me loved this book. The author steps back and looks at parts of society that are largely intangible, yet obviously real. Only an astute observer could write about a topic so abstract as snobbery, in a way that makes you examine yourself and your own prejudices. Although this author is not a Christian, he highlights the sin in all of us (our natural tendency to want to be BETTER than others, in the most subtle but real ways.) You have to read this book!
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Joseph Epstein is the author of, among other books, Snobbery, Friendship, and Fabulous Small Jews. He has been editor of American Scholar and has written for the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Commentary, Town and Country, and other magazines.

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