on sale: now
copy from: library
review written: 6.1.14
originally published: 2005
The acclaimed New York Times series on social class in America--and its implications for the way we live our lives
We Americans have long thought of ourselves as unburdened by class distinctions. We have no hereditary aristocracy or landed gentry, and even the poorest among us feel that they can become rich through education, hard work, or sheer gumption. And yet social class remains a powerful force in American life.
In Class Matters, a team of New York Times reporters explores the ways in which class--defined as a combination of income, education, wealth, and occupation--influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity. We meet individuals in Kentucky and Chicago who have used education to lift themselves out of poverty and others in Virginia and Washington whose lack of education holds them back. We meet an upper-middle-class family in Georgia who moves to a different town every few years, and the newly rich in Nantucket whose mega-mansions have driven out the longstanding residents. And we see how class disparities manifest themselves at the doctor's office and at the marriage altar. (review from goodreads)
This was a book assigned by my AP Language/American Literature class. I was given a similar book to read over the summer, The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and I couldn't help but draw the parallels between this book and that one. Class Matters is a compilation of articles from the New York Times describing the gap between the rich and the poor and how there is generally less mobility between classes. A wide variety of issues and causes are tackle. Each article explores a different portion of the whole pie about class.
What I found a little funny was that this book was published in 2005, so the "Bush administration" was used in the present tense. There was mention on how markers of wealth were becoming blurry and people of low income could now purchase their own house with mortgages from banks. Little did they know in 2005 that this practise would cause an economic recession in these past couple years. I found these small details amusing but they're small "mistakes" that are to be expected from news articles that are written to express actions of the current time. This being a class book, I took notes and I think the first chapter was the "thesis" chapter and provided an introduction as to what the articles would later explore.
Blurring the Landscape
• Harder to read position in possessions- material goods are cheaper
• Class alignments in politics=jumbled. Pros once Republican, now Democratic
• Shift due to social issues
• Religious affiliation no longer reliable class marker- rise of Evangelical Christians
• Race and class affiliation weakened. African-Americans in middle + upper middle class
• Diverse elite- more Catholics, Jew and Mormons in Senate
• Globalisation killing factory jobs that were one stepping-stones to middle class= jump in income inequality
• Class determines whether you get college degree
• Class differences in health- upper-middle class lives longer than middle class that lives longer than bottom
• Where and with whom affluent Americans live- increased isolation of affluent
• Those at the top work more than those at the bottom
Because this book was mainly informative rather than "entertaining" in the tradition sense, I can find little criticism except from one article, "Fifteen Years at the Bottom Rung" about Mexicans working at a Greek restaurant. It was confusing and tried to explore too many different streams of the topic. It was my least favourite, least enjoyable read of the whole compilation.
Unfortunately, this book didn't tell me anything new. I kind of new a lot of what was happening and I attribute this to my AP Human Geography class, in which I studied the relationship between human activity and geography. So I didn't find this book particularly enriching, but it did bring to mind the interesting question of whether or not the American Dream is really dead. I was aware of the lack of class mobility today, but then I remember the olden times where you could literally go from rags-to-riches. For example, John D. Rockefeller was raised in a "poor" household but later became co-founder of Standard Oil, a monopoly in the twentieth century. That was the American Dream, and now it's just an idea we believe to be true. It truly is a dream that we cling to, though it has long since passed. True, there are always exceptions, but in general, the Dream is dead.
If you're interesting in socio-economic dynamic in America, or are just interested in understanding the world we live in (here in America), then this is an enriching book that's just for you. It's always good to stay educated not just on the past but also the present. Despite being published in 2005, it's still relevant today. It wasn't too terrible, so I feel guilty for considering giving this two out of six umbrellas. So I'll give it three.