The Best Books About Class

Generations and generations of high school students read The Great Gatsby not because it is a love story for the ages — it isn’t — but because it is a well-written but lurid melodrama about the limitations of the American Dream. A poor guy with limited prospects shakes himself off, changes his name, makes his fortune, and then (spoiler alert) gets his comeuppance after his high-class lady love accidentally kills her husband’s working-class mistress. Oops.

The moral is that we should eat the rich because otherwise they win every time.

For Jewniverse, I wrote about Joanna Hershon’s new book A Dual Inheritance, which is less vivid, plot-wise, than Gatsby, but also a fascinating look at money, ambition, and friendship in the 20th century. Billfold contributor Rebecca called it “a more interesting The Interestings,” in reference to┬áMeg Wolitzer’s 2013 novel about similar tensions. Of course YMMV; both novels are very much worth reading.

Writers have been addressing the topic of class since before Karl Marx was a glimmer in his mother’s eye. Some of the classics of world literature trace a young man or woman’s path from poor to rich: Great Expectations, Vanity Fair. Others concern themselves with what happens when someone who has always been comfortable finds the ground shaking beneath her feet, like in Daniel Deronda and oh everything by Edith Wharton. I’ve started to put together a list of the best books on the topic, so help me out! What are your favorites?

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