We can be thankful that a book on this delicate subject was written by somebody other than an academic. Or a comedian. I intend no slight or criticism of academics or comedians per se, of course--that would be snobbish--yet here is a topic that cannot afford either too serious or too whimsical a treatment.

What the subject requires is somebody who can write extremely well (in the sense of being a pleasure to read) and who is also a keen and sympathetic observer of human nature, beginning with her or his own. Joseph Epstein, who teaches writing at Northwestern, is at least as unsparing in considering his own snobberies as those of others. Example: "Why, when I learn of a colleague who is teaching Jack Kerouac, do I think about inciting his students to begin a malpractice suit against him?" Epstein has the terrific advantage of working with a topic that is "in the bloodstream" of everyone who picks up the book, and of this he takes full advantage.

Snobbery is such a widespread and pernicious disposition--affecting equally those who are self-confessed snobs and those who despise such snobs for their snobbery--that the last thing we need is to be reminded of how very wrong, foolish and counterproductive it is. "The problem of snobbery in its contemporary manifestation," says Epstein, "lies not in some small number of pure snobs in the world, but in the multitudinous little snobberies that infect us all."