The best books about the upper class

55 authors have picked their favorite books about the upper class and why they recommend each book.

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Great Hostesses

By Brian Masters,

Book cover of Great Hostesses

Who are the great hosts and hostesses of our day? We don’t know; nobody ever talks about them. Celebrities and socialites, instead, have stolen the spotlight. But, great hostesses of the past were not only prominent, but powerfully influential, subtly steering the fate of society this way and that. Masters provides portraits here of some of the most celebrated hostesses of days gone by, including Emerald Cunard and Mrs. Vanderbilt. A book to inspire a new generation of “inviters.”


Who am I?

Laura Calder is a recognized advocate for living well at home. She is the author of four cookbooks and received a James Beard Award for her long-running television series, French Food at Home.


I wrote...

The Inviting Life: An Inspirational Guide to Homemaking, Hosting and Opening the Door to Happiness

By Laura Calder,

Book cover of The Inviting Life: An Inspirational Guide to Homemaking, Hosting and Opening the Door to Happiness

What is my book about?

I wrote The Inviting Life as an exploration into how we can "get a life" at home, particularly through making a welcome home and hosting. More than a social activity, "entertaining" is a form of self-care. Done right, it can take us from coping our way through life every day to celebrating.

Sargent's Women

By Donna M. Lucey,

Book cover of Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas

There are many ways to approach history. Donna Lucey brilliantly chose to usher readers into the world of the Gilded Age via the captivating canvases of that era’s most sought-after portraitist, John Singer Sargent. There are always more stories lurking behind Sargent’s luxurious depictions of his subjects, and Lucey gets beneath the paint and the posing to give us her own picture of four very real women whose lives are far more nuanced than any portrait sitting can convey.


Who am I?

Denise Kiernan is a multiple New York Times bestselling author of narrative nonfiction books including The Girls Of Atomic City, The Last Castle, and We Gather Together. Throughout her career as a journalist and an author, she has explored underrepresented stories and characters and the impact they have had on history. These stories of the unsung offer fresh perspectives on historical tales we think we already know. At the heart of many of Kiernan’s nonfiction explorations are women from a variety of different backgrounds and time periods.


I wrote...

We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace

By Denise Kiernan,

Book cover of We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Grace

What is my book about?

From Ancient Rome through 21st-century America, bestselling author Denise Kiernan brings us a biography of an idea: gratitude, as a compelling human instinct and a global concept, more than just a mere holiday. Spanning centuries, We Gather Together is anchored amid the strife of the Civil War, and driven by the fascinating story of Sarah Josepha Hale, a widowed mother with no formal schooling who became one of the 19th century’s most influential tastemakers and who campaigned for decades to make real an annual day of thanks.

Populated by an enthralling supporting cast of characters including Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Walt Whitman, Norman Rockwell, and others, We Gather Together is ultimately a story of tenacity and dedication, an inspiring tale of how imperfect people in challenging times can create powerful legacies.

Parlor Politics

By Catherine Allgor,

Book cover of Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government

So much of the early presidency took place out of “office hours.” Social events where women were present were considered apolitical and non-partisan, but of course, women had just as many opinions about politics back in the Early Republic as they do today! Instead, these events served as helpful venues for brokering deals, arranging political marriages, and securing appointments for friends and family members. Wives were also essential partners in campaigns and coalition-building once politicians were in office. You can’t understand the early presidents without understanding the broader social context as well.


Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by power and how people use it. From the time I was tiny, I’ve loved reading about how people left their fingerprint on history, and boy, do presidents leave their mark. Given these interests, it’s unsurprising that I’ve been my career this far examining how early presidents crafted the executive branch. The president’s oversized role in American life is also at the heart of my podcast work (I cohost The Past, The Promise, The Presidency with the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. Each season we explore a different element of the presidency and its relationship to history). In my future scholarship, I plan to continue this exploration long after George Washington left office. Stay tuned for more, and in the meantime enjoy these great reads!


I wrote...

The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

By Lindsay M. Chervinsky,

Book cover of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

What is my book about?

The US Constitution never established a presidential cabinet―the delegates to the Constitutional Convention explicitly rejected the idea. So how did George Washington create one of the most powerful bodies in the federal government?

On November 26, 1791, George Washington convened his department secretaries for the first cabinet meeting. Faced with diplomatic crises, domestic insurrections, and constitutional challenges―and finding congressional help lacking―Washington decided he needed a group of advisors he could turn to. He modeled his new cabinet on the councils of war he had led as commander of the Continental Army. Lindsay M. Chervinsky reveals the far-reaching consequences of Washington’s choice.

The Remains of the Day

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Book cover of The Remains of the Day

Take everything you know about British Empire—its royal traditions, its stiff-upper-lip haughtiness, its unflappable sense of superiority—and cram it into the character of a nearly-irrelevant, self-deluded yet heartbreakingly sympathetic butler named Stevens, whose comical misadventures lead us from an outdated British manor house across the spectacular countryside of England in his search to recapture a romance that (spoiler) may never have actually been. Kazuo Ishiguro employs the ultimate “unreliable narrator” to poke fun at the British class system; in the process he creates an opera buffo that plays against the haunting rural beauty of that sceptered isle. For my money, it’s a better taste of England than all the tea in Buckingham Palace. Just sayin’.


Who am I?

As an author and composer, writing to me is music: the flow of words across the page can sparkle like a symphony, cry like a requiem, or swagger like rock n’ roll. Places have their own kind of music: in the lilt of their language, the lift of their architecture, the beauty of their landscapes. My favorite books about those places manage to capture that particular music, singing a siren song that stirs my senses and makes me want to go there—not tomorrow, not next week, but right now. I live in Hudson, NY with my wife, actress/writer Mel Harris. Our four children live all over the place. 


I wrote...

The Piazza: Stories from Piazza Santa Caterina Piccola

By Bob Brush, Scott Howard (illustrator),

Book cover of The Piazza: Stories from Piazza Santa Caterina Piccola

What is my book about?

On a tiny piazza in an obscure Italian hilltop town in 1933 remarkable things are happening. From the window of his mother’s bakery a young boy, Niccolò, sees it all. The citizens of this unexpected and improbable place find themselves bound together by their hopes, their lies, their humanity, and their destiny, unbowed in the face of onrushing war and certain catastrophe. It’s a heartwarming, heartbreaking, fantastical love song to a time and place that no longer exist—if in fact they ever existed at all.

The Georgetown Set

By Gregg Herken,

Book cover of The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington

Whistleblowers rely on the press to disseminate their disclosures. In matters of national security, however, the press has a long history of close personal and professional bonds with the government that has curbed revelations. The Georgetown Set offers a fascinating glimpse into the small circle of elite officials, journalists, publishers, and public intellectuals who gathered for cocktail and dinner parties in their high-end neighborhood of Washington, DC. In addition to giving a fly-on-the-wall sense of how Cold War policies and public opinion were made, Herken’s book illuminates the individual and cultural shifts that contributed to the rise of national security disclosures in the 1960s and 1970s. This history is essential for understanding how the evolving dynamics between elite politicians and the press continue to shape the culture of whistleblowing and accountability today.


Who are we?

We are historians of U.S. foreign relations who have written extensively on the Cold War and national security. Both of us were interested in whistleblowing yet knew relatively little about its history. Turns out, we were not alone. Despite lots of popular interest in the topic, we soon discovered that, beyond individual biographies, barely anything is known about the broader history of the phenomenon. With funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Council, we led a collaborative research project, which involved historians, literary scholars, and political theorists, as well as whistleblowers, journalists, and lawyers. One of the fruits of the project, Whistleblowing Nation, is the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary history of U.S. national security whistleblowing.



We wrote...

Whistleblowing Nation: The History of National Security Disclosures and the Cult of State Secrecy

By Hannah Gurman, Kaeten Mistry,

Book cover of Whistleblowing Nation: The History of National Security Disclosures and the Cult of State Secrecy

What is my book about?

The twenty-first century witnessed a new age of whistleblowing in the United States. Disclosures by Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and others have stoked heated public debates about the ethics of exposing institutional secrets, with roots in a longer history of state insiders revealing privileged information. Considering the political, legal, and cultural dimensions of the phenomenon, Whistleblowing Nation is a pathbreaking history of national security disclosures and state secrecy from World War I to the present. Featuring analyses from leading historians, literary scholars, legal experts, and political scientists, Whistleblowing Nation sheds new light on the tension of secrecy and transparency, security and civil liberties, and the politics of truth and falsehood.

Mansfield Park

By Jane Austen,

Book cover of Mansfield Park

Fanny and Edmund, the heroine and hero, never develop the chemistry on the page one might wish for, but I still enjoy this biting moral satire. Fanny is an object of charity, quiet and meek and poor, but somehow has the strength to stand up for herself. Meanwhile, the liveliest, most attractive characters in this book are Mary and Henry Crawford—but are they good? Jane Austen was herself the daughter of an Anglican vicar, and if you read this with that in mind, you’ll notice that the entertainingly awful Aunt Norris is a vicar’s widow, that the new vicar’s family introduces temptation into the neighborhood; and that our hero, about to be a vicar himself, is at genuine risk of being seduced into something very bad indeed. 


Who am I?

As someone who grew up agnostic and somehow ended up an Episcopal Church lady, I’m intrigued by writers who deal with Christian belief respectfully without leaving their sense of humor behind. I don’t believe that faith is required to be moral—my nonreligious parents are more principled than many Christians I know—but I like to see characters work out that tension between what we’re taught in Scripture, what we believe or want to believe, and how we actually live it out in daily life (sins and all). I especially enjoy watching this happen in that peculiar petri dish of personalities that is any local church.


I wrote...

The Awful Mess: A Love Story

By Sandra Hutchison,

Book cover of The Awful Mess: A Love Story

What is my book about?

Thirty-something divorcee Mary seeks a fresh start in tiny, affordable Lawson, New Hampshire after her husband finally gets a woman pregnant, and it isn’t her. But Lawson’s unhappily-married Episcopal priest may be interested in more than just her heathen soul, and a handsome cop confuses her by supporting gay rights, but opposing sex before marriage.

Mary’s just beginning to open up to new possibilities when a crushing job loss, a scandalous secret, and a disintegrating ex threaten everything she has left. But in this witty and affectionate tale of small-town life, she may discover that the connections we make can result not only in terrifying risks, but unexpected blessings.

Evening Is the Whole Day

By Preeta Samarasan,

Book cover of Evening Is the Whole Day

And you thought your family was crazy! Set in Malaysia, this fascinating story combines family drama with class issues, ethnic tensions, the effects of colonial rule, and even ghosts. I love how writer Preeta Samarasan evokes a mysterious, almost magical feel to the setting and characters, as the reader gets acquainted with the wealthy, yet deeply dysfunctional family at the center of the story. No matter how bitter, enraging, or disappointing these characters feel towards each other, they are still bonded together, and the story ends on a hopeful note. This family can redeem itself-even if it takes moving to another country to do it.


Who am I?

Family is one of the few truly universal experiences that all human beings have, because we all come from somewhere. Every human on Earth is raised by someone, so it’s something we can all relate to, for good or for ill. Universal experiences like family allow us as human beings to relate to others, and that common ground is what provides joy and meaning in life. I appreciate that I don’t have to have a master’s degree or PhD in family studies or family therapy to glean insights into how our families shape us. My own observations and analytical writer’s mind made me realize the importance of storytelling in keeping families together, especially across generations.


I wrote...

Stories My Grandmother Told Me: A multicultural journey from Harlem to Tohono O'dham

By Maya Bernadett,

Book cover of Stories My Grandmother Told Me: A multicultural journey from Harlem to Tohono O'dham

What is my book about?

The illuminating and deeply personal debut from Gabriela Maya Bernadett, Stories My Grandmother Told Me is the true story of Esther Small, the great-granddaughter of slaves, who became one of the few Black students to graduate from NYU in the 1940s. Having grown up in Harlem, Esther couldn’t imagine a better place to live; especially not somewhere in the American Southwest. But when she learns of a job teaching Native American children on a reservation, Esther decides to take a chance.

She soon finds herself on a train to Fort Yuma, Arizona; unaware that each year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs kidnaps the native Tohono O’odham children from the reservation and forces them to be educated in the ‘ways of the White man.’ One of two Black people in Fort Yuma, Esther feels isolated, never sure where she belongs in a community deeply divided between the White people and the Tohono O’odhams.

Mother May I

By Joshilyn Jackson,

Book cover of Mother May I

I could not put this book down. Full of suspense from start to finish, I was so invested in this story! Bree grew up poor but now she’s a married mom who has everything she’s ever wanted. When someone shows up threatening to take it all away, Bree is faced with the battle of her life. It’s hard to know who to trust, but she finds she’s willing to do whatever it takes to protect those she loves. 


Who am I?

As well as being an author of romance and an upcoming thriller, I am an avid reader. I’ve been passionate about books since I was a little girl, and I read a ton every year…often reading several at any given time. Books are my favorite pastime and my favorite subject to talk about, hands down. I did a podcast for several years—Living in the Pages—where I talked to authors from all over the world about their books and their process in writing. My TBR (to-be-read) list is never-ending.


I wrote...

True Love Story

By Willow Aster,

Book cover of True Love Story

What is my book about?

Growing up in an idealistic home, Sparrow Fisher is sheltered and innocent. When she meets Ian Sterling, a musician who is rising in popularity, she instantly falls for his charm. The attraction is instant, but their relationship isn't so simple.

True Love Story is a story about the real highs and lows that come with a relationship—happiness, pain, angst—and finding out if love really is enough.

The Pursuit of Love

By Nancy Mitford,

Book cover of The Pursuit of Love

Fictionalizing her large and extremely eccentric family—shabby members of the British gentry in the 1930s, lacking the wealth of earlier times—Nancy Mitford managed to create a novel that is both hilarious and poignant, with a style uniquely her own. Her characters seem almost too bizarre to be real, yet if you read about the real Mitfords, you discover that, if anything, this novel (published in 1945) softened their edges! She writes brilliantly not only about the fun and tensions among an array of strongminded siblings but also about her domineering father and, later, about the blissful madness of falling in love after an isolated childhood.


Who am I?

I grew up in a small seaside town north of Boston. I have three siblings, and we always spent a few weeks every summer with our cousins in a rented house somewhere in New England—a new place each year. I became a bookworm at a young age, and I’ve always loved reading novels about big families that capture both the magic and the conflicts inevitable with many siblings and relatives. I was also an anglophile, and I tended to gravitate toward books written in earlier decades, particularly those of the mid 20th century. When I began writing my own novels, it seemed natural to set them in those fascinating earlier times.


I wrote...

Shorecliff

By Ursula DeYoung,

Book cover of Shorecliff

What is my book about?

Spending the summer of 1928 in a big house on the Maine coast, with his ten older cousins and a gaggle of aunts and uncles, seems like a dream come true to lonely thirteen-year-old Richard. But as he wanders through the bustling house, Richard witnesses scenes and conversations not meant for him and watches as the family he adores disintegrates into a tangle of lust, jealousy, and betrayal.

At first only an avid spectator, Richard soon finds himself drawn into the confusion, battling with his first experience of infatuation and forced to cover for his relatives’ romantic intrigues. With vibrant, nuanced characters and an immersive sense of place, Shorecliff examines the bonds of loyalty and rivalry that can both knit a family together and drive it apart.

Ain't She Sweet?

By Susan Elizabeth Phillips,

Book cover of Ain't She Sweet?

Susan Elizabeth Philips puts delicious words and phrases on the page and invites readers to the feast. I particularly love Ain’t She Sweet? for its themes of redemption, forgiveness, and holding your head up high when the chips are down. SEP takes a totally unlikable, broken character (Sugar Beth) and makes her relatable, lovable, and ultimately redeemable. I was stunned at how much I hated Sugar Beth at the beginning of the book and how fervently I adored her by the end. This book is toe-curlingly romantic and an absolute joy to read. 


Who am I?

I love happy endings and happily-ever-afters. I love reading and writing books that make people happy, give them hope, and bring romance into their lives. Shakespeare’s plays inspired me to explore the ways a writer can convey strong emotions with the written word. One of the first romances I ever read was Pride and Prejudice, and it changed my life. It made me laugh, but it also taught me to believe in the power of love and the power of storytelling. I have written thirty-two romance novels. I like to spread the love!


I wrote...

His Amish Sweetheart

By Jennifer Beckstrand,

Book cover of His Amish Sweetheart

What is my book about?

Between work and keeping his mischievous little brothers out of trouble, Austin Petersheim barely has time to think, much less court the most popular maidel in town. But if he can establish a local market to direct-sell his family’s goods, he’ll stand out as a potential husband. He’s grateful for the help of his longtime friend, Hannah Yutzy, who is so easy to talk to...

While Austin embarks on his plan, his siblings have a plan of their own: to give Austin and Hannah a little nudge to show them they’re made for each other. When their antics wreak havoc with a rival family emporium, Hannah must help Austin set things right. And as she does just that, Austin is stunned to realize his best friend could be his perfect wife. 

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