Class Matters

The Strange Career of an American Delusion

Steve Fraser

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March 12, 2019
304 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
ISBN: 9780300244359
Paper

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A uniquely personal yet deeply informed exploration of the hidden history of class in American life

From the decks of the Mayflower straight through to Donald Trump’s “American carnage,” class has always played a role in American life. In this remarkable work, Steve Fraser twines our nation’s past with his own family’s history, deftly illustrating how class matters precisely because Americans work so hard to pretend it doesn’t.

He examines six signposts of American history—the settlements at Plymouth and Jamestown; the ratification of the Constitution; the Statue of Liberty; the cowboy; the “kitchen debate” between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev; and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech—to explore just how pervasively class has shaped our national conversation. With a historian’s intellectual command and a riveting narrative voice, Fraser interweaves these examples with his own past—including his false arrest on charges of planning to blow up the Liberty Bell during the Civil Rights era—to tell a story both urgent and timeless.

Historian Steve Fraser is the author The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power and Wall Street: America's Dream Palace.

“Intriguing, provocative, and revealing.”—Felicia R. Lee, Washington Post

"In vivid, animated prose, Steve Fraser has combined history, economics, autobiography and home truths. The result is a pleasure to read—an illuminating, insightful summary of our nation's class conundrums."—Phillip Lopate

"Class Matters is a fluent and incisive analysis of where power lies in America. It sets about studying and debunking myths and replacing them with uncomfortable truths about poverty and wealth, privilege and inequality. It is written with passion and wit and a sense of urgency and deep personal engagement."—Colm Tóibín

“A devastatingly clear analysis of how class and class conflict suffuse the American present and the American past, despite vigorous efforts to deny their salience, even their existence. Written with great elegance and admirable concision, Class Matters offers nothing less than a pathbreaking reconceptualization of the entire American narrative.”—Mike Wallace, author of Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919

"A remarkable inquiry into the nature of class in America: sweeping, yet intensely personal; erudite, yet written with literary flair; exploring disparate spheres of American life, yet demonstrating how class privilege and injury permeate them all. An extraordinary achievement.”—Gary Gerstle, author of Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government from the Founding to the Present

“In Fraser's provocative and well-supported view, signs of economic and social class are everywhere. . . . Even so, writes Fraser, the country has long labored to deny the very existence of class differences; it is part of our official ideology. . . . His observations on such matters as the role of suburbia in advancing the no-class-in-America thesis (the suburbanites not considering themselves wage slaves ‘even though they did indeed work for wages’) are solid. . . . ‘The American utopia is a house divided against itself.’ Smart and sometimes snarky; a book to study up on before taking to the streets to protest things as they are.”—Kirkus Reviews

Class Matters is a bold and brilliant account of how the subject of class was expunged from American consciousness and culture. I finished it with regret, because there were no more fascinating pages to read, but also with delight, because I had found someone new to learn from.”—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

“It’s a timely moment for Steve Fraser’s excursion into the history and importance of class in America.”—Peter St. Clair, Brooklyn Rail

“Class is everywhere, impossible to escape or even look away from, but it is still unusual for politicians or commentators to call it by name. In a class-ridden society, Americans often manage to dodge the issue. How? Steve Fraser blends memoir with historical essays that aim to explain the process by which class has often been erased in the telling of important episodes in American history.”—Jedediah Purdy, New Republic