Rudeness and Civility Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America

John F. Kasson

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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"Nothing, at first sight, seems less important than the external formalities of human behavior," Tocqueville stated in Democracy in America. "Yet there is nothing to which men attach more importance . . . The influence of the social and political system on manners is therefore worth serious examination." Until Rudeness and Civility, Tocqueville's challenge had gone unanswered.

Kasson explores the history and politics of etiquette from America's colonial times through the nineteenth century. He describes the transformation of our notion of "gentility," once considered a birthright to some, and the development of etiquette as a middle-class response to the new new urban and industrial economy and to the excesses of democratic society. This is an insightful, amusing panorama of the roots of American mores that tells as much about who we were as about who we have become.


Praise for Rudeness and Civility

"Kasson adds an important and delightful dimension to our previously narrow understanding of the history of everyday life in the United States . . . His book offers a wonderful way to trace the relationship between socioeconomic change and cultural norms."—Michael Kammen, Cornell University

"Written with great clarity, wit, and sureness of touch, the book is really about American modernity; it deals with the transformations in everyday behavior, with the conflicting demands of egalitarian ideals and marketplace realities . . . Strong and important."—Alan Trachtenberg, Yale University

"Drawing on a vast variety of sources from Darwin to Pinkerton . . . Kasson pieces together a persuasive portrait of middle-class manners, breathing life into such seemingly bloodless topics as calling cards, hat-tipping, and the ascendance of the fork."—Jane Mendelsohn, The Village Voice

"A ranging, provocative, informed, clever, and persuasively argued interpretation of the origin, functions, and development of manners in 19th-century urban America."—Kirkus Reviews

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Read an Excerpt

Rudeness and Civility

Manners before the Nineteenth Century
Manners are generally a subject for anecdote, rarely for analysis. But a half century ago, in The Civilizing Process, Norbert...

Read the full excerpt


  • John F. Kasson

  • John F. Kasson, who teaches history and American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of Houdini, Tarzan and the Perfect Man; Amusing the Million; Rudeness and Civility; and Civilizing the Machine.