Thursday, May 24, 2012

Paul Fussell

Paul Fussell was a writer and public intellectual.  He died yesterday at age 88.  Fussell and his work are worth knowing about.

Fussell started his career as an academic, writing scholarly books, but he became popular with a book about war, "The Great War and Modern Memory".  From there, his writings addressed broader audiences and non-scholarly themes.

The book that made Fussell famous described war as a horrible experience.  Fussell had fought in intense combat and witnessed buddies die next to him; in fact, their blood and guts sprayed on him.  Fussell hated how people romanticized war when, in reality, it's an ugly affair.  People get killed.  Stupidity is commonplace.

I first discovered Fussell's writing in 1983 in his comical book called, "Class: A Guide Through The American Status System"  In it, Fussell skewered American society and pulled back the cover on our social hierarchy.  He reveals our undeniable class-system with sharp humor.

The tone of this and some other books he wrote earned him a reputation as a curmudgeon.  For smart people, disappointment at our social organization is often inevitable.

If you want a good laugh or probing sociological analysis of contemporary America, pick up a copy of "Class...".


  1. I haven't read any of his books, but I read a book by his son called "Muscle," which was fascinating--an account of his time in the extreme bodybuilding world. Really applicable to beauty standard stuff, from a man's perspective.

  2. I just read the book on Class this spring, but I also loved his book on the Golden Age of Travel, Abroad.

  3. I've never heard of this guy. I'll have to add him and "Class..." to my list of reads.

  4. The intersections of his academic and more broad-based writings was always a fascinating aspect of his career for me. He really did what is the goal of most academics, to be involved in public scholarly debate on some level.

    Courtney ~

    1. I agree. And, although I'm not technically an academic, I write professionally and wish I could do what Fussell did.

  5. I was saddened to hear of this. I read "Class" in a Sociology class at university, and loved it to bits. I ended up reading quite a bit more Fussell over the years, and found "The Great War and Modern Memory," in particular, to be worth all the raves it received.