Rules Of Civility: A Novel by Amor TowlesRules Of Civility: A Novel by Amor Towlessticker-burst

Rules Of Civility: A Novel

byAmor Towles

Hardcover | July 26, 2011

Pricing and Purchase Info

$21.27 online 
$31.00 list price
Earn 106 plum® points

Out of stock online

Not available in stores


From the New York Times-bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow, a “sharply stylish” (Boston Globe) novel of a young woman in post-Depression era New York who suddenly finds herself thrust into high society.

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

Heather's Review

Rules of Civility is without doubt one of the most sparkling and delicious novels I have read in a long time. Set in New York just after the jazz age and on the eve of World War II, Rules of Civility seems to pick up where The Great Gatsby left us. And it has all the wit, energy and great storytelling that characterizes Fitzgerald’s ...

see all heather's picks
Born and raised in the Boston area, Amor Towles graduated from Yale College and received an MA in English from Stanford University. His first novel, Rules of Civility, published in 2011, was a New York Times bestseller and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011. His second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, pu...
Title:Rules Of Civility: A NovelFormat:HardcoverDimensions:352 pages, 9.31 × 6.3 × 1.12 inPublished:July 26, 2011Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0670022691

ISBN - 13:9780670022694


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Surprising I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. It really wasn't what I expected - and I mean that in a good way. The novel was wonderfully written, the characters were likeable (and sometimes despicable at the same time), and I was thoroughly entertained. By way of criticism, I will say that I would have preferred not to have read the prologue before the novel, because it basically gives away the ending, which I would have preferred be left to unravel. My advice: skip the prologue and read it after the last chapter, but before the epilogue ~ enjoy!
Date published: 2014-05-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed this book very much I really enjoyed this book. The main character was witty, charming and spunky. I loved the writing and as 20 something year old woman, I found I related to the main character and her dilemmas. I feel as though this book will stick with me as I make decisions about my future.
Date published: 2013-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Nice Alternative to the Great Gatsby This book had been on my to-read list since it first came out, but when I got the chance to meet Amor Towles at a dinner co-hosted by Chapters/Indigo and Penguin, I jumped at the fortuitous opportunity that would "force" me to make time to read this wonderful novel. Reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald's period piece, Rules of Civility dramatizes the highs and lows of America in the 1930s. The story is narrated by the main character, Katey Kontent, a highly spirited and independent woman; she is a surprise to encounter, especially in a book about the early half of the 1900s (which, for me, evokes images of a very male-dominated society), and yet she is quite definitive of the strength of the American spirit during the Depression. Her dry wit and sharp observations of the world around her are quite appealing and her ability to remain composed during times of potentially great emotional turmoil is admirable. Her friend, Eve, is not quite as amiable, but she is certainly a driving force in making Katey the stalwart character that she is. The novel abounds with what-ifs that pop up throughout its entirety, including and especially the relationships that might have been. In fact, the whole story rests upon the pivotal moment when Katey and Eve meet the enigmatic Tinker, and all three lives are changed forever. Readers will delight in the various quotable one-liners of Towles' debut novel. Plot & Pacing: 8 Towles’ plot will keep the reader interested until the very end. It begins with Eve in the present and jumps to the past, which is the main setting of the story, when she happens upon candid pictures of Tinker from years past. The initial meeting of the three main characters, the main conflict that occurs, and the aftermath of that event all work together to make for an interesting storyline. Only a few passages seemed slow to me. In general, the story kept me interested enough to keep reading and reading. With the variety of situations in which Katey and her friends find themselves, the reader won’t skip/glaze over too many paragraphs. You’ll want to find out what happens to these folks at the end! Characters: 8 In Katey, Towles has created a very strong, admirable woman who accepts her station in life but refuses to be stuck in it. She is decisive and determined … romantic and sympathetic. Tinker is so enigmatic that the reader fluctuates between thinking him charmingly mysterious and strangely dysfunctional. Eve will remind you of those old classmates at whom you would crinkle your nose and yet whom you secretly admired. When I read her, I imagine one of those old-Hollywood stars with high heels, fur coat, and big sunglasses. Setting: 9 New York City in the 1930s is a character on its own. Towles captures the spirit of the city that never sleeps, suffusing the novel with enough details that makes you want to jump back in time to see how the hubbub of today’s NYC began. It’s interesting to note that some of the places around back then still exist today! Style: 9 Lovers of the written word will delight in Towles’ turns of phrases and witty one-liners. His prose is reminiscent of classic writers without the tedious long-windedness from which other writers suffer. His quotations are rendered by indented hyphens rather than quotation marks, as the French most notably do, which lend to the fluidity of his characters’ conversations. You’ll delight in his quotable quips! Learnability & Teachability: 8 It’s great for the general library, but it’s even better for the classroom bookshelf! FOR TEACHERS: If you're tired of doing The Great Gatsby and are looking for more digestible/likable characters and story lines, try this novel on for size! It renders discussions on similar themes as Fitzgerald's, including love, loss, pivotal choices, power of money, the upper class vs. the lower class, and finding one's identity. POTENTIAL TEACHABLES: The humility of the 1930s (America between the Roaring '20s and WWI); New York in the 1930s; setting as character; the what-if butterfly game (which life moments are truly "pivotal", and which moments occur with no real butterfly effect); what makes characters likable, detestable, repugnant, etc.; satisfying endings; quotable quips; George Washington’s actual rules of civility.
Date published: 2012-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from For Story Lovers I read this novel weeks ago, and have been thinking about how to review it ever since. On one hand, you've got this fantastic Gatsby-esque story, yet it feels unfair to call it that, as though it's trying to live up to something that's already been done, or worse yet, setting it up for failure by making such a claim. This is a story...about a girl, trying to discover herself and find her independance in a city and a society that would be just as content to chew her up and spit her out, during a time that was altogether charming and brutal, a story about best friends, unrequited love, cads, and tycoons. Yes, it has it all, but that's just one thing dominates here, it's as charming as it could possibly be, but there are not life lessons, no "Aha!" moments, just a lovely story about a plucky girl, and a golden age, that I heartily recommend to those who, like me, just love a good story!
Date published: 2012-04-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from NOT a must... It wasn't one of those books I couldn't put down or that I was dying to get home to read. The story was slow to start and I was never fully captivated by the it and/or the characters. The few parts I did enjoy were short lived and replaced with "too-long" descriptions- I felt like the author was rambling on and on. Really disappointed by this book.
Date published: 2012-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The book remains with you... The funniest thing about this book was the moment when, about halfway through, I flipped to the back jacket sleeve and re-read the bio on the author. I just could not believe that a man could write a female character who was so endearing, unique and emotional in the environment she inhabited. The opportunities to make this book more about the late 30's and the upper class life that moved forward without a recognition of the Great Depression were there constantly. Yet Towles focused on the characters that interacted with each other and learned abouth themselves. Any author that can weave TS Eliot quotes into natural dialogue is my hero! If you are a Gatsby fan, read this book!
Date published: 2012-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A sparkling novel Rules of Civility is without doubt one of the most sparkling and delicious novels I have read in a long time. Set in New York just after the jazz age and on the eve of World War II, Rules of Civility seems to pick up where The Great Gatsby left us. And it has all the wit, energy and great storytelling that characterizes Fitzgerald’s work. On a crisp New Year’s eve, Katey Kontent and her boarding house roommate Eve are sitting in a bar, without dates, considering their future, when the very handsome Theodore “Tinker” Grey takes the table next to them and starts chatting them up. He has all the ease and assuredness that comes with being a member of the “in crowd”. The three leave together to celebrate the night and so begins a complex set of relationships. The story takes Katey into haute New York society and from her secretarial pool job to the highest echelons of the publishing industry. We get a very up close look into the social mores of the day through the eyes of a young woman who is smart, independent and way ahead of her time. She has no intention of being anyone’s “baby”. Rules of Civility has all the necessary ingredients – ambition, love affairs, betrayal, crossed loyalties and some twists and turns that make you want the story to go on forever. And it is almost impossible to read without imagining who would play each part in what will inevitably be a movie. You will love this book!
Date published: 2011-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Put this one on your list of 'Must Reads'! I don’t read a lot of ebooks – I’m very much a paperback reader. With ebooks I lose some sense of where I am in a book by not being able to look at it physically. I find it easier to flip back to find some plot point that I want to check or the context in which a character first appeared. So, when I was offered a chance to review Rules of Civility by Amor Towles in an ebook format, I hesitated. But drawn in by the book’s description on the author’s website I took a chance. I am so glad I did. Despite the format, I adored this book! The setting is Manhattan in the late 1930’s. The threat of the Second World War is in the distant future and life, for the most part, is good. The reader sees what New York City was like during that era through the eyes of a young woman surviving quite well on her own in that large metropolis. The author did a fantastic job describing the culture of the young and carefree in an exciting city - so much so that the city takes on a character all of its own. Cocktails, bars, apartments, neighbourhoods and iconic buildings all figure prominently in this book. If you love the romance and cultural aura of New York City, you’ll find plenty of it here. I really liked the protagonist, Kate Kontent. She’s a well-written character – smart, sassy, independent and with a good dose of subtle humour thrown in. She’s isn’t perfect; I picked up hints of envy in some situations and loneliness in others. It’s not that much was said, but rather shown (which I think is one of the trickiest talents a writer can develop and Amor Towles has it in spades). But Kate isn’t a wallflower; she acts on her instincts so that when she isn’t happy about something she takes steps to change it. And this is one of the reasons why the story moved along quickly and flowed so well. Dialogue between Kate and her contemporaries was also well done. I also really liked the portrayal of women in this era. It seems that women in the 1930’s are much further along in society than their later counterparts. The freedom of the earlier era was gone by the 1950’s as the standard of a woman’s worth was depicted with the iconic housedress-wearing female staying home and having babies. But perhaps that was the sign of prosperity. In any case, this freedom surprised me too – I’ve always assumed that any era before the 1950’s had to be a worse one for women in general, but I didn’t pick that up from this novel at all. I loved this book because I like NYC and I found the 1930’s era so interesting to read about. But to enjoy Rules of Civility you don’t have to like those things too because it offers so much more. This book is a well-written, well-rounded great story from an author that I’ll be putting on my must-read list for future books.
Date published: 2011-07-28

Read from the Book

It was the last night of 1937.With no better plans or prospects, my roommate Eve had dragged me back to The Hotspot, a wishfully named nightclub in Greenwich Village that was four feet underground.From a look around the club, you couldn’t tell that it was New Year’s Eve. There were no hats or streamers; no paper trumpets. At the back of the club, looming over a small empty dance floor, a jazz quartet was playing loved-me-and-left-me standards without a vocalist. The saxophonist, a mournful giant with skin as black as motor oil, had apparently lost his way in the labyrinth of one of his long, lonely solos. While the bass player, a coffee-and-cream mulatto with a small deferential mustache, was being careful not to hurry him. Boom, boom, boom, he went, at half the pace of a heartbeat.The spare clientele were almost as downbeat as the band. No one was in their finery. There were a few couples here and there, but no romance. Anyone in love or money was around the corner at Café Society dancing to swing. In another twenty years all the world would be sitting in basement clubs like this one, listening to antisocial soloists explore their inner malaise; but on the last night of 1937, if you were watching a quartet it was because you couldn’t afford to see the whole ensemble, or because you had no good reason to ring in the new year.We found it all very comforting.We didn’t really understand what we were listening to, but we could tell that it had its advantages. It wasn’t going to raise our hopes or spoil them. It had a semblance of rhythm and a surfeit of sincerity; it was just enough of an excuse to get us out of our room and we treated it accordingly, both of us wearing comfortable flats and a simple black dress. Though under her little number, I noted that Eve was wearing the best of her stolen lingerie.Eve Ross . . .Eve was one of those surprising beauties from the American Midwest.In New York it becomes so easy to assume that the city’s most alluring women have flown in from Paris or Milan. But they’re just a minority. A much larger covey hails from the stalwart states that begin with the letter I—like Iowa and Indiana and Illinois. Bred with just the right amount of fresh air, roughhousing, and ignorance, these primitive blondes set out from the cornfields looking like starlight with limbs. Every morning in early spring one of them skips off her porch with a sandwich wrapped in cellophane ready to flag down the first Greyhound headed to Manhattan—this city where all things beautiful are welcomed and measured and, if not immediately adopted, then at least tried on for size.One of the great advantages that the midwestern girls had was that you couldn’t tell them apart. You can always tell a rich New York girl from a poor one. And you can tell a rich Boston girl from a poor one. After all, that’s what accents and manners are there for. But to the native New Yorker, the midwestern girls all looked and sounded the same. Sure, the girls from the various classes were raised in different houses and went to different schools, but they shared enough midwestern humility that the gradations of their wealth and privilege were obscure to us. Or maybe their differences (readily apparent in Des Moines) were just dwarfed by the scale of our socioeconomic strata—that thousand-layered glacial formation that spans from an ashcan on the Bowery to a penthouse in paradise. Either way, to us they all looked like hayseeds: unblemished, wide-eyed, and God-fearing, if not exactly free of sin.Hailing from somewhere at the upper end of Indiana’s economic scale, Eve was indisputably a natural blonde. Her shoulder-length hair, which was sandy in summer, turned golden in the fall as if in sympathy with the wheat fields back home. She had fine features and blue eyes and pinpoint dimples so perfectly defined that it seemed like there must be a small steel cable fastened to the center of each inner cheek which grew taut when she smiled. True, she was only five foot six, but she knew how to dance in two-inch heels—and she knew how to kick them off as soon as she sat in your lap.That New Year’s, we started the evening with a plan of stretching three dollars as far as it would go. We weren’t going to bother ourselves with boys. More than a few had had their chance with us in 1937, and we had no intention of squandering the last hours of the year on latecomers. We were going to perch in this low-rent bar where the music was taken seriously enough that two good-looking girls wouldn’t be bothered and where the gin was cheap enough that we could each have one martini an hour. We intended to smoke a little more than polite society allowed. And once midnight had passed without ceremony, we were going to a Ukrainian diner on Second Avenue where the late-night special was coffee, eggs, and toast for fifteen cents.But a little after nine-thirty, we drank eleven o’clock’s gin. And at ten, we drank the eggs and toast. We had four nickels between us and we hadn’t had a bite to eat. It was time to start improvising.Eve was busy making eyes at the bass player. It was a hobby of hers. She liked to bat her lashes at the musicians while they performed and ask them for cigarettes in between sets. This bass player was certainly attractive in an unusual way, as most Creoles are, but he was so enraptured by his own music that he was making eyes at the tin ceiling. It was going to take an act of God for Eve to get his attention. I tried to get her to make eyes at the bartender, but she wasn’t in a mood to reason. She just lit a cigarette and threw the match over her left shoulder for good luck. Pretty soon, I thought to myself, we were going to have to find ourselves a Good Samaritan or we’d be staring at the tin ceiling too.And that’s when he came into the club.Eve saw him first. She was looking back from the stage to make some remark and she spied him over my shoulder. She gave me a kick in the shin and nodded in his direction. I shifted my chair.He was terrific looking. An upright five foot ten, dressed in black tie with a coat draped over his arm, he had brown hair and royal blue eyes and a small star-shaped blush at the center of each cheek. You could just picture his forebear at the helm of a schooner—his gaze trained brightly on the horizon and his hair a little curly from the salt sea air.—Dibs, said Eve.

Editorial Reviews

 Praise for Rules of Civility“An irresistible and astonishingly assured debut about working class-women and world-weary WASPs in 1930s New York…in the crisp, noirish prose of the era, Towles portrays complex relationships in a city that is at once melting pot and elitist enclave – and a thoroughly modern heroine who fearlessly claims her place in it.” —O, the Oprah Magazine  “With this snappy period piece, Towles resurrects the cinematic black-and-white Manhattan of the golden age…[his] characters are youthful Americans in tricky times, trying to create authentic lives.” —The New York Times Book Review “This very good first novel about striving and surviving in Depression-era Manhattan deserves attention…The great strength of Rules of Civility is in the sharp, sure-handed evocation of Manhattan in the late ‘30s.” —Wall Street Journal “Put on some Billie Holiday, pour a dry martini and immerse yourself in the eventful life of Katey Kontent…[Towles] clearly knows the privileged world he’s writing about, as well as the vivid, sometimes reckless characters who inhabit it.” —People “[A] wonderful debut novel…Towles [plays] with some of the great themes of love and class, luck and fated encounters that animated Wharton’s novels.” —The Chicago Tribune “Glittering…filled with snappy dialogue, sharp observations and an array of terrifically drawn characters…Towles writes with grace and verve about the mores and manners of a society on the cusp of radical change.” —  “Glamorous Gotham in one to relish…a book that enchants on first reading and only improves on the second.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer