A Funny and Insightful Book About A Topic Nobody Wants to Discuss

by Rachel Baker on May 30, 2014

Here is a great book review by Pronoy Sarkar, from Off the Shelf

There are certain topics of conversation Americans avoid like summer mosquitoes—we find them unpleasant, more than impolite, and they make us uncomfortable. When they are brought up, eyes turn downward and lips tremor, the outward appearances we have worked hard to maintain shrivel and fade, we become defensive or angry, and we can no longer keep ourselves straight.

For Paul Fussell in Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, “class” is that dirty topic no one wants to talk about, and in this book he dives headfirst, with a prickly precision, into uncovering its character. There is a reason he chose class and not, say, religion or race or gender. He is interested in the choices we make, and what those choices say about us. While race and gender are visible, they aren’t chosen. Religion and politics, he argues, are chosen, but rarely visible. Class signs, on the other hand, are visible everywhere. Keep in mind that this book was published in 1983 and it reflects a perspective of America in keeping with its time, but it certainly hasn’t lost any of its luster or clarity of judgment. The sensitive modern reader may admonish Fussell for his obvious omission of race, an essential ingredient of American society, but I’d argue that he instead wrote about what he knew. And the American class system has found no better canary, in my opinion, than in this mischievous professor.

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