Recently, a user named Max Powers (an Internet pseudonym) interpreted what I do as hatred for the Pascack Valley. I responded to Max's observation by saying that all of America is much the same and that I thought of myself as a social critic. This brings us to the question; what is a social critic?
There have been newspaper writers, like I.F.Stone, who were great social critics. Then there were non-fiction writers called muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair ("The Jungle"). Theodore Dreiser ("An American Tragedy") was both a newspaperman and a novelist critical of society. Jack London ("The Iron Heel") was much the same. While these are worthy names they are not my 3 top picks.
In my opinion, the very best social critics are novelists who study and write about societies dominant class - the middle class. Therefore, I will be offering you novelists from three different countries. Two have won Nobel Prizes and the third wrote well before the Nobel Prize was a gleam in anyones eye.
Let's begin at home in the American midwest with Sinclair Lewis. Lewis's "Main Street" & "Babbitt" are studies in the same social forces that drive America today. "Elmer Gantry" captures the Evangelical Protestant spirit on mainstream America. Please rent the movie with Burt Lancaster as Elmer himself.
Now, let's move on to France. I understand it's not popular to recognize the existence of France and things french. However, pound for pound, the french may have the finest intellectual tradition. In any case, Honore' Balzac sliced & diced the middle class as few others. Balzac's "Pere Goriot" reveals the french middle class to much the same as America's. Pere Goriot is in the midst of his middle class mania, and can't see the forest for the trees.
Lastly, we must give the brooding German intellectual tradition it's due. Herman Hesse takes us into the mind of a man from the middle class who exists apart from the middle class, while continuing to observe the middle class. Hesses' books range from thin and easy reading to thick and heavy duty. Among the heavy duty variety are "The Glass Bead Game" & "Steppenwolf."
The worlds finest writers describ the middle class very differently from the way the middle class describs itself in any time.