Babbitt (Bantam Classics)

by Sinclair Lewis

Paperback, 1998



In the fall of 1920, Sinclair Lewis began a novel set in a fast-growing city with the heart and mind of a small town. For the center of his cutting satire of American business he created the bustling, shallow, and myopic George F. Babbitt, the epitome of middle-class mediocrity. The novel cemented Lewis's prominence as a social commentator. Babbitt basks in his pedestrian success and the popularity it has brought him. He demands high moral standards from those around him while flirting with women, and he yearns to have rich friends while shunning those less fortunate than he. But Babbitt's secure complacency is shattered when his best friend is sent to prison, and he struggles to find meaning in his hollow life. He revolts, but finds that his former routine is not so easily thrown over.… (more)

Library's rating


½ (800 ratings; 3.7)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jaimjane
As I was reading this book I kept thinking, I know this man! Actually, I've met a couple that would come very close to this guy. The way Lewis presented him was very clever. It was hard to like Babbitt very much, but I couldn't hate him either. Just when he got truly unlikeable, he would do
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something goofy and utterly human or have a moment of relative clarity. His self righteousness as well as his doubts are shown with equal distinction. The satire is fabulous and I laughed out loud many times. Read this book.
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LibraryThing member wildbill
I haven't read this book in three years but it was so good I remember it well enough to write a review of it. This is the best book by Sinclair Lewis that I have read.
In the beginning of the book Babbitt is paraded around by the author. We see him at home and socializing with friends. We see him at
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the office where he is powerful and in control. In social situations with fellow businessmen he is not so sure of himself. He tries hard to be one of the boys. Generally Mr. Babbitt is an upstanding, prosperous citizen.
Halfway through the book he starts going out with a different social set. He is attracted to a mysterious woman and she encourages their "friendship". The more time he spends with this crowd the more it gets noticed. But Babbitt is having a good time. He's doing some things he never did before.
Then Babbitt gets the word from his business buddies. Time to straighten up and fly right. No more hanging around with those wierdos you're a married man. As I recall there is some brief resistance by Babbitt. He likes having fun. Then he caves. He wasn't really like that.
Babbitt returns to his life as an upstanding, prosperous citizen.
There is some poignancy in Babbitt's return to his old life. It's like his heart isn't in it like it was before. He goes through the motions. Is Babbitt happy? Lewis never really tells us. This is satire with a real edge. The author did not seem to like the character. Babbitt kind of swings in the wind as the archetype of a bad example.
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LibraryThing member readerbabe1984
After the enormous success of his novel Main Street, Lewis turned to another icon of American life, this time the archetypal middle-clas businessman, immortalized in the figure of George F. Babbitt. Babbitt is a real estate salesman who lives and works in the fictional Midwestern town of Zenith.
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His story is that of suburban life in a city which is filled with "neither citadels nopr churches, but frankly the beautifully office-buildings." Lewis' novel satirically but lovingly details Babbit's routines and rituals as he goes to and from work, socializes, plays golf, goes to the club, and becomes involved in local politics. In the mids of his contented and prosperous life, however, an event occurs that turns Babbit's world upside down and forces him to examine his comfortable existanse. Babbit's resulting lurch from one uncertainty to another allows the reader to see beyond the shining office towers of Zenith to a grittier, more sobering but ultimately more human kind of Amarican life.
Lewis' triumph here lies in taking a character that no one could possibly like-the self-important conformist, and aggressively bigoted American businessman-and evoking not only barbed humor but vivid human feeling. Babbitt works as a political critique, piercing the smug veil worn by interwar American capitalism, but trancends mere amusing satire. Life in Zenith has a surprising depth; as such, it reminds us of the redemptive power of looking past ideology to the human relations beneath.
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LibraryThing member k8_not_kate
I have a sneaking suspicion that Babbitt would have been much more interesting if I had read it in 1922 when it was first published.

Sinclair is commenting on conformity and the deadening comfort of modern American life in Babbitt. While many of his points may still valid, they're not as true today.
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Additionally, the image of the suburban father and his household are dated, which makes it hard to relate to. Perhaps the most valuable thing a modern reader can take away from Babbitt is that true rebellion is only possible if you really commit, and that's not an easy thing to do. Sinclair points out just why it's so easy to sit back and conform.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I see a lot of myself in Babbitt. He's a man trapped within himself and his limitations; he wants to be free, but he's not sure exactly what he wants to be free from, or how to go about his release from the pressures of society and relationships. His rebellion is fascinating though short-lived.

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novel itself is more of an account of America in the early 1920s - the rampant growth of the economy, the nascent anti-communism leanings that would reach their zenith with McCarthy, the standardisation and normalisation of everything and everybody, and the rise of 'science' - though this being America and business, a very unscientific science.
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LibraryThing member stubbyfingers
This book took me a lot longer to read than I felt it should have. I just couldn't get into it. Gosh, the lack of plot and constant use of jargon wore me out. That said, it seemed like an interesting snapshot of life in early 1920's America and this book definitely made me think a lot. When this
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book was published in 1922, apparently the idea that we've become a society of boring, hypocritical conformists was new and shocking. Nowadays we're more aware of this tendency in ourselves, so it's not a shock, but I still found it to be rather depressing. A lot of George F. Babbitt's problems still exist today--how can I avoid allowing my family to fall into the pitfalls that the Babbitts fell into? Can I raise kids in a typical suburban home without becoming the old frumpish, boring, and needy Myra Babbitt? Is it possible to have a long marriage without it leading to violence or extramarital affairs? Can we disagree with our neighbors and coworkers and still be successful?
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LibraryThing member theokester
I'm still a bit torn on this book.

The writing was good. The main character, Babbitt, had considerable depth and we really got into his head. The environment/setting/etc was well presented and really gave me a good feel for 1920s middle America. The ending wrapped up the various elements into a nice
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little package while still giving you something to think about.

And yet, I left this novel feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

There are a few ways to take this novel. From a high level, it's a great sociological exploration into the American upper-middle-class family of the 1920s. It does a great job of showing work life and family life...of exploring the various issues a worker and a family may face...from labor unions to college to prohibition to the overly peppy youth.

From a plot standpoint, it's more difficult to evaluate. We follow this man Babbitt through his business days and his time with family and friends. We really get into his head and get a feel for the large variety of things that leave him discontented. And yet through many of the chapters, there doesn't seem to be much "plot" at all other than just randomly following this guy around.

There are, backing out to the overall novel, elements of a story arc that takes Babbitt's discontent and allows it to rise and fall and thus driving him to some action. But the elements of action felt sparse within the context of the novel. When the story arc finally reached its first climax, we got a few chapters of self destructive behavior and it looked as though our hero was in for a fall that would spur him either to disaster or into some radical action. Unfortunately, neither came to pass and the climax petered out.

I think part of the problem too for me is that I read this in a moment when I was already personally discontented with some elements in my life (work, school...) and so I found myself relating too closely to the overly depressive side of Babbitt. So as he spiraled downward, I felt my own mind reeling, though grateful that I could personally avoid his type of behavior. And yet, once the conclusion of his actions wrapped up, it felt very anti-climactic for me and I felt like nothing was truly resolved the way it could be resolved in real life. Thus, it was as though I got wrapped up in the emotions of a self-destructive mid-life crisis without feeling any resolution to pull me out of the disparaging pit the novel dug. Fortunately, things aren't that bleak for me and I'll quickly dig myself out.

If you're interested in the 1920s...or middle america...or the emotions and turmoil of a midlife crisis...then by all means, give this book a read. There are moments of humor and, if pieced together, can make an engaging narrative. Otherwise, the novel itself is rather boring and I personally feel that it can largely be passed by.

2.5 stars out of 5
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
"He was thinking. It was coming to him that perhaps all life as he knew it and vigorously practiced [sic] it was futile; that heaven as portrayed by the Reverend Dr. John Jennison Drew was neither probable nor very interesting; that he hadn't much pleasure out of making money; that it was of
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doubtful worth to rear children merely that they might rear children who would rear children. What was it all about? What did he want?"

This portrait of a stodgy conformist in the early part of the 20th century holds up well in today's world. More character study than plot-driven adventure, the novel follows George F. Babbitt through what might be considered a mid-life crisis. Motivated almost exclusively by his desire to be liked, respected, and successful, Babbitt is steeped in the class judgments of upper class America. He is absolutely blind to the imbedded paradoxes: his disdain for those with less money or prestige and his resentment and longing for the attention of those with more are beautifully rendered by Lewis. The reader can see the tongue planted firmly within the author's cheek.

I would no more desire to spend an evening with George F. Babbitt than I would desire to have a root canal, but reading the novel about his foray into self-determination was oddly enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member computer_tom
Babbitt is the story of a man attempting to break free from the stranglehold of society. In the start of the novel Babbitt is just another conservative upper class citizen but throughout the story he takes on new directions in both his lifestyle and political ideals. Besides politics this novel is
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so much more. The only downside to the book is its length, far to short. I wish the book would be twice the long so I could enjoy all the more time with it.

If you wish to read a brilliant political satire than this is the book for you. Lewis has a simple but thought provoking style which combines the best qualities of storytelling and Orwellian satire to create a new masterpiece which is Babbitt.

Some reviewers complain about being able to follow the storyline, but that is simply not true. You must enter the novel with both an open mind and an understanding of satire in order to understand Lewis' creative style. Well worth any effort you may instow upon it.

A must for any bookshelf!
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LibraryThing member ericlee
Go into a bookstore these days and often the only book you’ll find by Sinclair Lewis is It Can’t Happen Here, a satirical look at the rise of a fascist regime in America in the 1930s. Lewis’ book enjoys a resurgence every few years as American politics grows polarised, and never more so than
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following the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

Within weeks of Trump’s inauguration, the main shop window of one of London’s largest bookstores was filled with copies of It Can’t Happen Here. And that’s a pity, because Lewis’ forgotten earlier books, and in particular Babbitt, may offer a greater insight into the Trump era. Babbit and Lewis’ previous work, Main Street, are the reasons he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first American author to receive the honour.

George F. Babbitt is a real estate dealer in the fictional mid-western city of Zenith. His life revolves around his business, his family and his network of friends who he meets through his church and the various clubs he joins — the Elks, the Boosters, and so on. Babbitt sees the world through the eyes of a businessman; if he were to write an autobiography, he might well have entitled it The Art of the Deal. He is not intellectually curious, has no interest in foreign travel, is convinced that his country (and state, and city) are the very best in the whole world. He detests immigrants and labor unions. Does any of this sound familiar?

Babbitt is deeply opinionated and develops a reputation as an orator of sorts, though he has nothing particularly interesting or original to say. In the world of business, and later at home, he lies and cheats with impunity and without remorse.

Babbitt is a particular “American type” and this book, even more than It Can’t Happen Here, offers insights into today’s American president.
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LibraryThing member millsge
I read the book over 32 years ago. Although I no longer remember all of it, I do remember enough of it to recommend the book to almost anyone. If you're going on a long plane flight or need a book for your vacation, leave Clancy, Kellerman, et al at home and take this or any of Lewis' other works
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with you. You will enjoy the book and your trip much more than you would have had you taken some other work of popular fiction along.
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LibraryThing member kylekatz
1922. Really liked it. Sinclair Lewis writes so beautifully that he can make even a middle class businessman's life lyrical. The novel deals with traditional conservative ideals like pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and unquestioning patriotism and loyalty. Babbitt briefly entertains a
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liberal thought. He sympathizes with the labor movement for about thirty seconds, cheats on his wife and drinks too much for a few months, and loses all his friends and most of his social standing.

Then his wife gets appendicitis and he rushes to her side to be the perfect husband once again, and he conforms to the standards he was living by before, with just a bit of niggling doubt left in his mind. He places his hope of ever breaking out of society's mold in his son and hopes he does a better job of it.

For someone who basically upholds views I disagree with for most of the book, Babbitt is wonderfully human and loveable. He struggles with real-life questions which I think nearly every one can relate to. His life gets too routine and he experiments, but returns to the safe, straight and narrow path before long. And the dialogue is tip-top!
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
It has been more than forty years since I read this book, so it is probably a good time to return; but I'm not sure what to expect from rereading this classic from the pen of Sinclair Lewis. More recently I've read Main Street which I enjoyed. However, Babbitt, while demonstrating the signature
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Sinclair Lewis satirical style, lingers in my memory as a different sort of book. Carol Kennicot, was endearing in her earnest innocence, while Babbitt has the reputation of a brash booster who gives urban business a bad name. There must be more to the novel than this simple-sounding approach to character. Yet, the character lives through this image. The opening of the novel suggests that Babbitt is living in a world of "grotesqueries" that make up the city of Zenith. This portends what is to come and is in itself a sign of the thought the author has put into his work. The towers of skyscrapers are contrasted with the lowness of tenements. All culminating in the comment that this is "a city built - it seemed - for giants." Enter the lilliputian booster in the person of George F. Babbitt. This reader is confident the style will carry him over and beyond the drudgery of the naturalistic philosophy that underlies this "classic" of the nineteen-twenties.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis is a satirical novel about American culture and society that explores the dullness of middle class American life as well as the social pressures there are toward conformity. Written and set in the early 1920’s, many of Lewis’ observations are still valid today. The
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novel is set in the fictional Midwestern town of Zenith where George F Babbitt, a 46 year old prosperous real estate broker is on the verge of a mid-life crisis.

Babbitt ‘s family consists of his devoted wife, Myra, and his three children, Verona, Ted and Tinka. The social status of the Babbitt family is important to George and they constantly are on the lookout to improve their status in the community. Yet, there is a bit of a rebel inside George and when his best friend ends up going to prison and his wife goes away to nurse her sister, George mounts his own small rebellion, but eventually realizes that it is too late for him to change and retreats back into the security of conformity. He does however, encourage his son, to explore his possibilities and not just settle into life.

I thought Babbitt was a very interesting read. Instead of the glamour and glitz of the 1920’s, this book gives us a glimpse of middle class American life in ways that are both insightful and humorous. The middle class became a recognizable force during this decade and this book helps us to understand it’s place and importance in society. My opinion of George Babbitt went through a number of changes during the course of the story for which I credit the author for developing such a well rounded character. And although the slang and much of the dialogue was dated to it’s time, in many ways this was a timeless story.
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LibraryThing member TakeItOrLeaveIt
Unlike many of the novels I particularly enjoy, Babbitt is not a book in which the author inserts himself as a character, however Sinclair Lewis’ sinister satirical voice—wet, moist and aching with proto-liberal values—is as embedded in the novel as much as George F. Babbitt is a stolid
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prototype of the prohibition-era conformist man. G.F. Babbit, with 2.5 children, a car, member of the diners club and the athletic gym, a hankering for illegal alcohol and a way to talk himself into any situation is the protagonist the reader falls in love with hating. Lewis is beyond genius, this book however, is only to be read by the melancholy cathedral who have the time.

[Using the term melancholy in an uber-modern world, so aware of the somber establishment—does little for my reputation.]
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LibraryThing member A_Reader_of_Fictions
For the most part, this is a book about an 48 year old grump's midlife crisis. I hated every single minute of this story. George F. Babbitt struck me as wholly offensive and obnoxious from the very first and he only got worse. While I know, on one level, that this is probably to make a point, I
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cannot accept that he never gets a comeuppance for being an idiotic jerk. He constantly espouses viewpoints as his own, even though he's simply repeating what he has heard or read in the newspaper.

Once again, I listened to an audiobook. It's hard for me to say whether it was a good performance of the novel or not, since I so hated the novel itself. From the first, I really wanted to punch Colacci in the face to make him stop talking. His voice is grating and annoying. This inclines me to say that thus this is not a great audiobook, but, still, such a voice does fit perfectly with the truly awful people in the story. I do imagine that Babbitt sounds exactly like that.

A more fair criticism of the performance than my personally not liking the sound of Colacci's voice is that it was often difficult to tell the characters apart. During conversations, I really could not follow who was speaking, unless there was some sort of note as to who said what. One conversation between Paul Riesling and Babbitt, for example, left me unsure as to whose wife was being annoying and who was praising whom. Surprisingly, though, this gruff-voiced man did a really good job with the female voices, although, again, they all sounded pretty similar. Of course, the women never really have a conversation, so that didn't matter much.

Pretty much the only interesting thing in this novel is the setting (1920s), but I would recommend getting that from An American Tragedy instead, which has some really strange parallels. Babbitt is repetitive (he constantly mentions his desire to quit smoking and then forgets and then announces he'll do it this time and then...) and obnoxious (Babbitt spends the first half of the novel being sanctimonious about things and behavior, then goes and does all those things and is sanctimonious about those that judge him for it). If that's your thing, then go for it.
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LibraryThing member jnwelch
I enjoyed Babbitt much more than I thought I would. It's not easy at the start, as the reader gets thrown into a rah rah early 20th century American business environment in the fictional city of Zenith. There isn't a whole lot of plot; it's more a novel of characters, including, of course, George
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Babbitt. He initially appears to be a pumped-up, full of himself aspirant to the 1%. For a large portion of the book he says all the right things at various local community clubs and political events about squashing unions and rewarding the go-getters needed to get the country back on its feet after the first world war. He gets a reputation as an orator, and his real estate business prospers. But even as he becomes a leader in Zenith's "boosterism", underneath it all he yearns to slip away with the fairy child of his dreams:

"He was somewhere among unknown people who laughed at him. He slipped away, ran down the paths of a midnight garden, and at the gate the fairy child was waiting. Her dear and tranquil hand caressed his cheek. He was gallant and wise and well-beloved; warm ivory were her arms; and beyond the perilous moors the brave sea glittered."

After a friend's life takes a disastrous turn, Babbitt rebels and for a time searches for the fairy child among women of his acquaintance. He is reminded of his more liberal views when young, and begins to see his own rebellious son differently.

The book was a huge success in its time, and in 1930 Lewis won the Nobel Prize, the first American to do so. He writes really well, and more than once I thought this was what Updike was trying to do, with less success. Babbitt is a satire of crass American commercialism and superficial optimism, but the book also has a heart. "Babbitt" became a word in our lexicon defined as ""a person and especially a business or professional man who conforms unthinkingly to prevailing middle-class standards". To me, that definition is unfair, as Georgie Babbitt wasn't an unthinking conformist. He yearned for escape with the fairy child, but determinedly, with "pep", he tried to make the best of the hand he saw himself dealt. A four star read.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
I knew that Babbitt was a satire but I didn't expect it to be so sharp or so applicable to today's world. What saves it from being just ugly and biting is that Babbitt is oddly sympathetic. He's also infuriating and obnoxious at times, but Lewis seems to be telling us he's a product of his time and
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we can't expect much. It's a harsh indictment of American society, especially the upwardly mobile middle class and the already entrenched upper class, and it hits uncomfortably close to home in certain ways. While dated to some extent, Babbitt still manages to have something important to say, even 90+ years later.
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LibraryThing member markbstephenson
Very sardonic, satirical, and amusing
LibraryThing member Devil_llama
This book created one of the author's most enduring characters, who's name has become synonymous with a certain type of small town businessman. The story is slow moving, and written in Lewis's typical rather turgid prose, but there are some very good moments.
LibraryThing member CarlaR
I did like the writing, however the story just made me sad. There was no time that I could cheer for Babbit.... not when he is in his plastic life at the top of the social hierarchy, and not when he is rebelling with parties and women. It's most crushing when he decides to go back to where he was
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in the beginning.
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LibraryThing member realistTheorist
The protagonist, Mr. Babbitt is a middle-aged, middle-class real-estate broker, who votes Republican, goes to church, and is the member of the right club; but, he is not very zealous about any of these aspects of his life. He is even open to alternatives in morality and politics, and he explores
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some of them. Babbitt is not a caricature we would reject as ridiculous. He is a realistic portrayal of a man who has chosen values which are about average for his background.

Sinclair Lewis does not sympathize with Babbit's values. There are parts of the book that are satirical in highlighting Babbitt's hypocrisy. Nevertheless, Lewis appears sympathetic to Babbit the man; the man who is not quite happy with his choices, and is trying to be open to alternatives.

Lewis's book is naturalism at its best. The actors introspect, and make choices, and direct their lives... and yet, the summarizing message is that this is extremely difficult, and perhaps essentially futile. We do not see someone being absolutely carried along with the trend; but, we surely do not see any heroic battles either. The actors are not born with some inherent flaw that they cannot will away; yet, we find them constrained by their own values and choices, unable to radically change the choices they have made.

While I cannot recommend this as inspiring fiction, I think it is definitely worth reading a few such books. I think this type of naturalism has didactic (and "cautionary tale") value. While the naturalism will leave the reader uninspired, the plot carries one along as if one were watching a real reality show.

Personally, I will probably read more Sinclair Lewis, but primarily as part of my interest in that period of American history from the 1880s to WW-II.
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LibraryThing member auntieknickers
I read this book long before I lived in Minnesota, or visited Duluth ("Zenith" in the book). I was glad to see this book on the 1000 Novels list, along with Main Street, which I was never able to finish (maybe someday!) I think the difference is in the point of view -- in Babbitt, you see things
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from Babbitt's point of view and even though he's being judged by the author, there is a certain charm to him. In Main Street, Carol just seems like a whiner to me. But maybe I should give her another chance.
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LibraryThing member nevusmom
All about status seekers and social climbing. Bleh.
LibraryThing member carrot_bosco
An excellent portrayal of a middle-class business man in the vernacular of the times being portrayed. Once I got into it, I found it hard to put down. It's broken into small segments making it hard to get confused as to what's going on. Babbitt is a vehicle for exposing some of the major flaws of
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the business/social climber.
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Bantam Classics (1998), 464 pages

Original publication date





0553214861 / 9780553214864


Original language

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