Paul Fussell, curmudgeon par excellence, died yesterday at 88, according to The New York Times. He was one of my favorite authors ever since I giggled my way through Class around 1987, combining insightful analysis with sharp humor and, when serious, righteous and exceptionally well formulated anger.
Of his serious books, I would particularly recommend The Great War and Modern Memory, a literary analysis of how war was described before and after the first world war, for which he won the National Book Award. He wrote similar works about the second world war, as well as an analysis of American travel literature, but it is this one that stands out, the perfect companion to Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong. His autobiography, Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic is very interesting – here is a video interview where he talks about it. Of his more essayistic and humorous work, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System still stands out as a superb mockery of an academic treatise lightly hiding very sharp observations of the American not-so-hidden status system. It was written in 1983, but holds up well over time – one of those books that irrevocably introduced an ironic view of America you just can’t (and won’t want to) shake.
Fussell apparently was not an easy man to live with, but this seems to have yielded some literature as well: His first wife Betty wrote her own scathing autobiography My Kitchen Wars and his son, less scathingly, the cult tome Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, both of which are highly readable as well.