Book Review: Class Matters by the New York Times and Bill Keller

Having just finished two books where “class” made a difference in
the lives of the heroines,* I was drawn to a sociological study by
the New York Times done in the early 2000s.  It was published
in 2005.

Does “class” matter anymore?  How can one identify a person in
the upper class compared to one in the middle class?  By the
clothes they wear?  By the stores where they shop?

In the old days, poor people shopped at Wal Mart and wealthy
people bought from Saks and Neiman Marcus.   Now, it’s just as
likely you’ll see the upper class buying at Wal Mart or Target–
and bragging about the deals.  Poor people strive to buy Godiva
chocolates.  An office worker may have a Chanel jacket–only
one, yet that would have been a marker in former days.

The “newcomers” on Nantucket wear showy jewelry and
Juicy Couture.  The “old-timers” wear Lilly Pulitzer and

There are four commonly used markers for class: education,
income, occupation and wealth.  Someone has quipped that the
easiest way to gain access to the upper class is to choose your

This book explores, in essay form, the results of the interviewing
and analyzing work of the reporters who contributed to the study.
There is interesting writing defining what differences class *does*
make—on health issues, child rearing, residential segregation
and so forth.

Everyone has heard of the growing gap between the haves and
the have-nots in America.  But an interesting phenomenon
is the growing, leaping gap between the rich and the super-rich.
If you earn over 87 million dollars a year, you’re considered
super-rich these days, or at least you were in 2005.

From the titles of some of the essays maybe you can
guess what they might cover:

Life at the Top in America Isn’t Better, It’s Longer
A Marriage of Unequals
Up from the Holler: Living in Two Worlds
On a Christian Mission to the Top
The College Dropout Boom

No Degree, and No Way Back to the Middle
When the Joneses Wear Jeans
The Five Bedroom, Six-Figure Rootless Life
Old Nantucket Warily Meets the New

and one of the brief essays near the end by Linda Chavez
We Were Poor, But I Didn’t Know It

The bottom line is everyone is interested in “class” and
who has it, but nobody wants to admit it or talk about it.
Well, here’s a book that does talk about it, and it certainly
sails right along.  Interesting summer reading!

* The Glass Castle, and Alice Adams

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