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Editorial Reviews

Amor Towles is approaching 50 and making a living as a principal at an investment firm. One wouldn’t expect his debut novel to be told from the perspective of a wise-cracking young lady of 25, but Towles is good at surprises. Katherine Kontent (“like the state of being”) is a legal secretary trying to climb the social ladder and squeeze all the juice out of Manhattan. She is the only slightly less seductive sidekick to Eve, who leaves her wealthy family behind to act like a mash-up of Christopher Isherwood's Sally Bowles and Truman Capote's Holly Golightly. It's the Upper East Side in the winter of 1939 — ripe for ripping off F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway or whatever writer you prefer from the era of roaring alcoholism, but Amor Towles doesn’t take the bait.

Neither does narrator Rebecca Lowman, who has good fun with the zippy dinner conversations while managing to keep Kate's sporting sense of dignity intact as both lovers and day jobs threaten to collapse her up-and-comingness. Lowman, who has a long string of television series bit parts from Will & Grace to Law & Order to her credit, slips easily into the everywoman role and adds notes of believable determination to our heroine's struggle for better circumstances. Who will marry Tinker Grey and who will get the promotion at Conde Nast are interesting plots, but none of this is the surprise - the plot surprise is all the more devastating. Towles gives us some glitter, but he doesn't gloss, and that is the biggest surprise. The women in this book are fraught with the tremendous burden of appearing charming but unintelligent, and Lowman lets in enough sharp tones to give their dilemmas and revelations a substantial bite. Towles has fleshed out these familiar archetypes in a unique direction, so much more rich and thick than the flat characters with which novels of this time period are usually laden. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

The New York Times best-selling novel that "enchants on first reading and only improves on the second" (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

Features a sample chapter from A Gentleman in Moscow, the highly anticipated new audiobook from Amor Towles - available fall 2016.

This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, 25-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 yearlong 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.

Hear why Rules of Civility is Our Book of the Summer.
©2011 Amor Towles (P)2011 Penguin

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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Performance

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Story

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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Much better than the editor/publisher indicate

Any additional comments?

In the Audible Editor's review and the Publisher's review, Katy Kontent is portrayed as a scheming, wise-cracking social climbing legal secretary in the 1930s. I must have read a different book. Yes she is looking for a better life and she is socializing in the upper echelons of New York society but that seems to be more by circumstance than design. Maybe the editors were judging her by the company she keeps but in doing so, they missed the boat.

Kontent is a legal secretary from a Russian immigrant background who has a far more insightful, thoughtful view of life than the empty socialites in her crowd. In that context she is a far more interesting character than portrayed.

This is one of the best books on tape I've purchased. It was beautifully written and narrated and I found it surprising that one reviewer dismissed it as "overwrought" - I disagree completely with that assessment. The imagery is beautiful and while some of the dialogue between her socialite friends is a bit superficial and silly, it was probably very accurate for that time in history and was a perfect frame for Kontent's own quiet and thoughtful demeanor.

Absolutely one of the best books I've "read" in years.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Transporting

This novel successfully took me to a distant and unfamiliar place and time. When I'm on the streets of New York these days, my mind's eye is often looking for the past, imagining the millions who've walked on every sidewalk or lived in any one of the scores of small apartments. In a place that has so many people, most of them transient, I'm fascinated by all of the life that must have taken place on a given spot.

Armor Towles' novel about one young woman's experiences of Manhattan in the late 30's illustrates what life there might have been like. Other reviewers have said it may not be a perfect picture of the city or it's people at that time, but it is a delightfully credible and believable story.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Newman
  • Needham, MA, United States
  • 09-05-11

Not what I had hoped for

In the first few minutes I had reasons to eagerly anticipate this book. Sadly, it never lived up to my expectations. What was apparent to me is that the author lacked the grasp of what the 1930s were truly like, and, after the first anachronism ("para-legals" in 1938? They were still just "secretaries"--not even "assistants," as many are called now), I lost faith in the story as well as the Main Character, who told the story. Very much needed: fully fleshed out and believable characters throughout. Listing the "Rules" at the end? Silly. Even sillier that it was actually read aloud.

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

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4.5 Stars

I enjoyed the story very much. It is a debut novel and I generally enjoy them. It is a bit overdone with clever choices of words, but it did not distract from the story. I also enjoyed the narrator; she became Kathryn Kontent. (what a wonderful name) The only disappointment was the end, but will say no more as to not spoil. I could have seen a sequel – different story with some of the same characters.

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Susan
  • Burlingame, CA, United States
  • 08-06-11

Why all the fuss?

Based on the glowing reviews, I couldn't wait to download Rules of Civility: A Novel. Didn't take long to grasp that while the author had the skill to take the reader to another time and place, she couldn't deliver characters to care about, a plot, or anything that made me want to read on. Stuck to this book out of stubborness. About an hour from its end, it drones on in my ear as I type this. I wanted to like this book, and am sad that I can't recommend it to anyone.

52 of 63 people found this review helpful

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  • B.J.
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 07-31-11

Really satisfying listen.

There's something about this book that reminded me of "Special Topics in Calamity Physics." The literary references don't populate every sentence, but there's certainly a marked respect for the great writers of the past. This is a satisfying listen. Though I've read a ton of historical fiction, I had never really contemplated the life of an "ordinary" woman in late 1930's NYC. As a warning, it might take a few minutes to get used to the narrator. She doesn't add anything to the story, but she stays out of its way and doesn't harm it.

24 of 29 people found this review helpful

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Elegant prose, poignant story

A bit slow to start, but the elegant writing will put you in New York City, 1938. Compelling characters and a beautiful rendering of the social melieu of that time and place. Excellent narration.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Trish
  • Virginia
  • 05-20-13

Beautifully Written!!

I loved this book, but it is not for everyone. It is a beautifully written novel, but is not really story-driven. The story is there, but it is not the story that kept me interested. I adored the wonderful, descriptive narrative--it's the kind you like to lose yourself in.

This is a book best listened to free of distractions. I had trouble staying with all the detail while I was driving. I did much better when I listened while I was walking laps in the gym. The narrator did a wonderful job, and it was just a very pleasant and enjoyable eleven hours spent in another time and place.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Dull - was anxious for book to end

Narrator monotoned - characters unlikeable - command of languae and ability to create imagery and interesting methaphors admirable but not enough to make story or characters enjoyable.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

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4.5 Stars

I enjoyed the story very much. It is a debut novel and I generally enjoy them. It is a bit overdone with clever choices of words, but it did not distract from the story. I also enjoyed the narrator; she became Kathryn Kontent. (what a wonderful name) The only disappointment was the end, but will say no more as to not spoil. I could have seen a sequel ??? different story with some of the same characters.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful