This book is the culmination of a long intellectual and political journey that
began during my junior year at mit, when I first became interested in housing
and identity through an internship with the Boston Coalition for the Home-
less. My senior thesis, written under the strict supervision of Michael Lipsky
with assistance from Richard Vallely and Ellen Immergut, explored the rela-
tionship between homelessness and the marginal social status that necessarily
came with it in twentieth-century America. As a political science graduate
student at the University of Pennsylvania, I began to shift emphasis from the
urban Other to the suburban Self, in order to understand the middle-class
subject position which has so shaped my existence. At Penn, I learned social
theory from Ian Lustick and political economy from Peter Swenson and Tom
Callaghy. I was very fortunate that Gary Gerstle decided to spend a year at
Penn just as I was deciding to take my first graduate-level history course.
Under Gary’s tutelage, I stumbled upon the question that would ultimately
drive this study: How did virtually all Americans come to think of themselves
as ‘‘middle class’’ in the twentieth century?
I decided to pursue the cultural history of the American middle class and
enrolled in the history department at the University of Maryland to study
with James B. Gilbert, to whom I owe enormous debts both intellectual and
stylistic. Without Jim’s fanatic dedication to elegance and clarity in historical
writing, I’d still be writing obscurantist prose for the ‘‘four initiates of the
logos,’’ as he was fond of saying. Jim also made the o√hand suggestion one
day that I consider exploring the real estate business. At Maryland, David
Sicilia taught me everything I know about business and economic history,
Robyn Muncy and Gay Gullickson introduced me to gender analysis, Mary
Corbin Sies grounded me in suburban history, and Marshall Grossman made
me rethink everything I thought I knew about subjectivity. Dorothy Ross’s
seminar at Johns Hopkins sparked my interest in the history of social science,
David Harvey’s course on Marx’s Capital ensured that I wouldn’t lose sight of
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