The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit II

ISBN: 0877954747
ISBN 13: 9780877954743
By: Sloan Wilson

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Reader's Thoughts


This is a simply and beautifully told narrative of self discovery in post WW2 American society. It describes the pressures, not just of the 1950’s, but of our subsequent society as well, to conform in our money-driven, success-oriented work world through sacrificing other aspects of our lives, i.e. family - in essence to become the man in the gray flannel suit - and one man’s choice to modify that path. Post traumatic stress disorder, although it was not known by that name in the 50’s, and is usually considered a previous (WWI shell-shock) and later (Afganistan and Iraq veterans) phenomenon, is depicted with sensitivity, giving the book an anti-war element. Both repressed, angry Rath, and his almost too-good-to-be-true wife Betsy, are believable. Jonathan Franzen, in his introduction to the most recent edition, is off-base when he says that the quality of the first half of the novel exceeds that of the second half; the novel is consistently strong from beginning to end. Without being heavy-handed, Wilson clearly conveys his message of the importance of honesty, the burden of harboring untold secrets, and the liberation of revealing them.

Meghan Walsh

I love the 50's! I had to read this book and watch the movie for a 1950's History Class I'm taking at Marquette University. Tom Rath is a man who struggles with most parts of his life. He is under stress at work and at home. Tom gets pressure from co-workers and bosses and his wife to excel and do better. But, Tom wants to find the perfect work-life balance. This book clearly displays a man who wants to conform to societal norms, yet others want him to spread his wings. It even touches on such issues as PTSD that Tom fights after his days in WWII Europe. A must read for all sociology majors or those just curious about life in the 50's. The life Tom wants to live is much like that of Ward and June Clever whose biggest concern is what mischief young Beaver is getting in to. But, we all know that's unrealistic. This was an amazing book that deals with the heart of conformity and non-conformity in 1950's America.


In the current edition of the book Jonathan Franzen writes an introduction, in which he explains that the first half of the book is a great work, and the second half falls flat. I have to agree that the ending is disappointing. The book starts out just completely full of emotion that I think rings very true with the current disillusioned generation. I take the train to my office job every day and work hard to move up a ladder to somewhere, because I want the stuff everyone else has and the house and maybe babies or whatever, but at the same time it all feels false and like I probably shouldn't frame my life around my career. These, and the complicated blend of emotions one experiences after an experience in a wartime environment, make up the bulk of the emotional punch this novel packs. I really enjoyed it. Even if everything was wrapped up with a neat bow, and nothing was painful or shocking, it resonated and resonates and will resonate with that particular feeling of being young, but not young enough that you can be as irresponsible as you want to be. Of having to do things for others and being dominated by worry about money. It's a great glimpse into the period of time when people were opening their eyes and realizing where they were in the 50s, and I imagine I have a little more of an idea of what it feels like to be inside Don Draper's head.Definitely worth the read, as long as you don't mind when things are just a little unrealistically in favor of the protagonists.

Eric Durant

Amazing. Best book I've read in a while. The theme is timeless. I'm looking forward to my book club discussing it in a few months.


I had through my life occasionally heard the phrase "the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" used as an unflattering term for the unreflective salaryman. Then Mad Men came out, and I re-read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and I thought that it was just about time to read this one. So I did.I was surprised to discover that the book is not a long screed about the meaninglessness of life as a gray-suited salaryman. It is instead about a man who faces familiar problems. Tom, the protagonist, has to figure out how to get his family out of a small home, put his children into a good school, and pay for them to go to college. He has to figure out how to get over the War—the only time in his life when he felt really alive—and make up with his wife for everything he did and did not do during and after the War. He has to figure out how to be true to himself while also continuing to be employed and please his employer.What I was surprised to find out was that Tom did not have a jaundiced view of his employer, Mr. Hopkins. You might think, given the book's reputation, that the main character would have an awakening and see the ridiculousness of his life, and rebel against Mr. Hopkins, the 18-hour-a-day workaholic. But Tom does not dislike Mr. Hopkins; rather, he respects him. He just knows he can't be like him.The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, far from being a story about disillusionment and awakening—perhaps a la Revolutionary Road—is actually a novel about becoming who you are, and realizing who that is. If you want to read about the banality of suburbia, read Revolutionary Road, or maybe Dharma Bums. Don't read this.The ending, without giving anything away, is what keeps this book from being a great book. It is justly remembered as a period piece. When we talk about post-war literature, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit deserves a place near the top of the reading and discussion list. But it is not a five-star book because despite being an excellent story, it's a good book, rather than a great one. That said, I recommend it, especially to the man looking ahead at the rest of his life and wondering what to do about it.

Redshirt Knitting

This book was recommended to me as being "something every Mad Men fan should read." It has similar themes, but was ineptly written. About 2/3rds of the book's bulk is comprised of characters either A) talking to each other, or B) thinking out loud. You start to appreciate the old writing class cliche about "show me, don't tell me."If you want some 50s angst, check out Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar." It touches many of the same issues, and is about a million times better than this book in every respect.

Keith Raffel

A classic and deservedly so.


Tom and Betsy Rath feel like they should be happy with their lives but aren’t. A WWII veteran, Tom has a good job but wants a better one. They have three lovely children but are frustrated with the way they have no social life or energy. Their house is nice enough, but they both want something better. They are stuck in lower middle class and don’t know what they want or how to get it. When Tom is offered a job with a major company, he runs into an old veteran friend who knows one of Tom’s darkest secrets. As their friendship progresses, Tom is forced to examine how exactly he wants to live his life.This book was published to rave reviews of its unflinching examination of the middle class American family. It searched for answers to the reason we all feel unfulfulled despite having everything we thought we wanted. We root for Tom and Betsy because we see ourselves in them. We’ve all had exciting options and ideas that either didn’t pan out or failed miserably. We all have crises of faith which show our moral foundation and make us look at our real selves. This book takes all the secret frustrations and little battles that an American married couple who is not quite well-off and puts them on display for the entire reading world to see. While not necessarily a book which provides answers to these issues, it most definitely examines the thought process and shows you that you’re not alone if you feel that you’re caught in an endless circle of meaningless work and that you’re wasting your life – but you’re not sure where to go.

Erik Eckel

“It doesn’t really matter. Here goes nothing. It will be interesting to see what happens.” These are the phrases Tom Rath leverages to power through stressful, challenging situations.Rath is the protagonist in Sloan Wilson’s The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit , which landed with impact in 1955. The novel, a scathing indictment of corporate cultures that encourage men to sacrifice personal lives for the corporation’s betterment, occupies a unique position within American literature.Wilson wrote the novel to address at least two concerns. First, he wished to focus attention on the need to accept illegitimate children born to G.I.s. Second, he sought to expose the dangers of white collar workers becoming automaton corporate drones.Interestingly, the gray flannel suit was meant to symbolize corporate enslavement, yet blue collar workers sought such clothing in order to climb the sociological ladder (one the book was published). Hippies and Beatnicks would later rebel against the suited stereotype, when in fact Wilson meant the gray flannel suit to serve as an opponent of materialism.Ultimately, the book finishes too cleanly, a fact Jonathan Franzen notes in his foreword to the most recent printing. Regardless, had I read the book in my 20s it would have changed my life for the better. The work remains an important novel that would prove well served as compulsory, even canonical, material in high schools.


As a fan of Mad Men I had to get my hands on this book and it exceeded every expectation I had for it. While the writing is simple, the ideas that bubbled beneath are so complex and fine that if I were asked to explain it to another person, I'd struggle to do it justice. Some books, especially the classics, sort of lose you midway, because they cease to be relevant to modern readers. This book, some might say, has become increasingly relevant since its initial publication and I was surprised at the modern and unconventional ideas and themes, considering it was written in the mid 50s. I have looked up the sequel but have heard it was disappointing and I don't want to soil my impression of this beautiful piece of work.


rassicurante romanzo degli anni 50 sulla quotidianità di un uomo *medio* e della sua famiglia (moglie casalinga e tre figli). la vita scorre nella routine per tom rath, tra il lavoro, le preoccupazioni economiche, i piccoli bisogni- e quando arriva una svolta, la possibilità di un nuovo impiego più redditizio- tutto sembra incrinarsi e i ricordi legati alla guerra si fanno ingombranti e gettano altre nubi sul presente. sarà la dolce betsy, moglie di tom, ad aiutarlo a uscire dall'impasse, insieme alla scelta di essere onesto e sincero fino in fondo. zuccheroso ma interessante spaccato di vita, in cui l'apparente perfezione del sogno americano comincia a incrinarsi.

Jennifer Campaniolo

I like reading about post-WW II, early Mad Men era--basically my grandparents' generation. There is such a rosy glow cast on those times, but simmering underneath were as many problems as there are in any generation. This novel is a perfect period piece, and the war scenes and office dialogue are both spot-on. I enjoyed this book.


LOVED this. I'm a sucker for anything 1950s, and this was a great look at the depressing conformity of that era. My dad recommended this book to me after I raved about the AMC show "Mad Men." It's pretty clear that the show's writers took the plot almost directly from this book. Both deal with the same dynamic: War-hero husbands quietly dealing with the mental fall-out of WW2, housewives stifled by a life of cleaning and baking, and what happens when no one is allowed to talk about how they're really feeling. One thing I thought was really interesting: The man character, Tom Rath, is trying to get ahead in his career. His big break comes when he's asked to write a speech for the head of a broadcasting network, who is trying to build a foundation for mental health. Tom drafts several bland versions of the speech, all while having traumatic flashbacks to his time as a paratrouper. Somehow, it never occurs to him that HE is the example his speech needs. No one in the book ever makes the connection that the mental health foundation could be used to treat the thousands of men coming back from war with major issues. Instead, it all has to be bottled up and ignored — dressed up in a gray flannel suit.


I feel like four stars is a bit generous, and if I could I'd probably be awarding this novel three-and-a-half stars. This book tells the story of a man who very quickly after being married is off fighting in World War II, and then after surviving that finds himself with three kids and a wife who knows nothing of the emotional trauma her husband suffered during the war. He's fighting a different struggle for survival now, trying to be successful in the corporate world and get by in a household where there simply isn't enough money to meet the seemingly endless expenses of their lives. The book is full of stress, emotional angst, and justification for the term "the age of anxiety" being used to describe life in America in the twentieth century. An incorporated theme is the concept of being willing to sell one's soul and honesty if that's what it takes to get ahead. Another theme is the damage done when spouses keep important secrets in their lives from each other. At the end the surprisingly happy ending tagged on after all that's gone before it seems too easy.

Luke Coffey

A seemingly forgotten novel that so closely depicts the mindset of the generation recuperating from the horrors of World War II, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit captures the feel of the 1950's America by stripping away the grandiose and content facade of post-war suburban life and immerses the reader in the reality of that way of life. A novel that can be interpreted in many different fashions, a stance against conformity, the voice of a struggling generation, the exemplary showing of the flawed concept of the American dream. It contains a message for all readers. Vastly underrated and little known in todays society Suit still holds a prominent message that can easily be translated into our own daily lives.

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