Sway: The Pull of Irrational Behavior

Class By Paul Fussell

It's rare to pick up a piece of non-fiction that is fun.  Sure, learning is pleasurable.  Reading is fun.  Maybe, then, the right word is ornery.

But Class, while written in 1983 and thus outdated in some ways, is precisely that.  It's hard not to enjoy reading this book.  Fussell is Dennis the Menace whose sling shot is his typewriter.

Class's subtitle sums up the book, which is a "guide through the American status symbol."  Fussell notes the ways in which people in any of his nine classes walk, talk, think, and decorate the same.

He ridicules all social classes, skewering especially the middle class.  Quoting Lord Melbourne, he notes: "The higher and lower classes, there's some good in them, but the middle classes are all affectation and conceit and pretense and concealment."  On books, Fussell notes: 

As readers, proles [low class] are honest, never trying to fake effects or stimulate interest in higher things.  It's among the middle class that tastes in reading get really interesting, because it's only here that pretense, fraud, and misrepresentation enter.  The upppers don't care what you think about their reading, and neither do the proles.  The poor anxious middle class is the one that wants you to believe that it reads 'the best literature,' and condemnatory expressions like trash or rubbish are often on its lips.


Sadly, the author loses it at the end, going on-and-on about an X Category of people he belongs to.  He catalogs things that he and his friends find cool, and describes people who do these things as X Category people.  His X Category sounds like yuppie-hipster hybrid with a brain.

It's sad that Fusell is so insecure that he needs to belongs to a fake social class.  If he were as enlightened as he imagines X people to be, he'd realize that the great challenge in life is to become (without trying) one who does not belong.  One can only achieve actualitization after he has transcended his class and status.