The American Middle Class: An Economic Encyclopedia of Progress and Poverty. Edited by Robert S. Rycroft. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2017. 2 vols. Acid-free $158.40 (ISBN 978-1-61069-757-6). E-book Available (978-1-61069-758-3), call for pricing.

Analyzation of the middle class is a news cycle staple, but how do we define the middle class, and what does the label mean? In the expansive The American Middle Class: An Economic Encyclopedia of Progress and Poverty, a wide range of authors offer statistical categorizations, historical perspectives, and ethnographic explorations of the group that is supposed to define the American dream.

Instead of a standard alphabetical framework of short entries, the encyclopedia begins with a prologue of explanatory essays and portraits of identity-based middle-class segments followed by seven separate sections of entries, each with an overview essay. The sections detail nearly every aspect of American life from the political to the social. While the overview essays themselves make compelling connections between the topic and the middle class, many of the entries—though expansive and well-written with cross-references and recommendations for further reading—are less inherently tied to the overarching theme of the middle class. There is no explanation of why entries like absentee voting, intimate partner violence, or school prayer are necessary to understanding the middle class economically. Additionally, entries vary greatly in both topic and length, ranging from the general, like “Neoliberalism” (v. 1, p. 460), to the highly specific, like “Environmental Crime: The Case of the Navajo” (v. 2, p. 789).

The publisher indicates the set is in alignment with themes of the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies and standards of the Common Core. While it is commendable to attempt to be inclusive of all aspects of a huge and hard-to-define group, the extremely broad scope makes it hard to envision this encyclopedia as a highly useful tool for the high school and lower-division college users it is developed for; however, its entries are rich with data and explanations that might be challenging for novice researchers to discover elsewhere.—Emily Mross, Business Librarian, Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown, Pennsylvania


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