In his magnum opus Economy and Society, published posthumously in 1921, the German sociologist Max Weber laid out a famous tripartite theory of stratification. Power in society, he noted, is mediated in three principal ways: through social class, through political parties and through something he called Stand. The word is one of those beguiling Teutonic terms that can make Anglophones marvel at what Mark Twain called, in high praise, ‘the awful German language’. It admits of no direct translation, but we get a nice hint in the English cognate ‘stand’, giving us ‘standing’ or ‘place’, as in one’s standing in society, a thing determined not just by economics or politics but also by something more elusive. The first major English translator to take a stab at Weber’s work was thus not completely off when he rendered the word as ‘status’ and the plural, Stände, as ‘status groups’.
That something more elusive is the subject of Will Storr’s brisk and engaging The Status Game. A novelist and popular-science writer who has produced lively studies of such subjects as storytelling, scientific denial and the selfie, Storr makes no mention of Weber at all. Many of his readers