Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles – Book Review

Rules of Civility begins as Kate, a wealthy middle-aged woman, and her husband attend a photo exhibit of famed photographer Walker Evans at the Museum of Modern Art in 1966. The pictures are all candids, from the late 1930’s, and taken of unsuspecting people riding the subway. The artist deemed them so personal that he didn’t allow them to be released to the public until thirty years later. While studying the exhibit with her husband, Kate spots a familiar face in a lean and weary Tinker Grey. Kate mentions recognizing and knowing the man in the photo but doesn’t relate any deeper history to her husband, even though the exhibit prompts her to reminisce about meeting him in 1938, and the life that unfolds from choices made in that  seminal year.

Rules of Civility is an exquisitely written book. Towles narrative places the reader solidly in the culture of the 1930’s, awash in class stratified New York along with the ins and outs of the social order and the sudden moments of flexibility when its possible achieve upward mobility. Towles’ novel is chiefly comprised of a group of friends complicating their lives through the simplest of decisions, little realizing that they are setting the course of a lifetime. It’s fascinating to see how Kate’s relationship with her roommate and best girlfriend Eve’s relationship grows and changes through their friendship with Tinker.

Kate’s character unfolds organically throughout the novel as the reader gets glimpses of her upbringing by immigrant parents, and the wisdom and life lessons her Russian father meant to convey through his various sayings. I loved getting to know her through her actions and memories. As Kate spends the year navigating the successes and minefields of friendship, love and career, she starts to recognize and develop an opinion on what her father wanted to tell her.

A few days after finishing Rules of Civility, I went through it and just randomly picked passages to read and everyone I came across was a gem. Towles has a gift for capturing the moments that define a lifetime and conveying the marvelous history of New York in this vivacious and decadent time period. Historical fiction fans of this era and area will revel in this charming tale which doubles as a slightly later coming of age story, but this is a story that everyone will love. Highly recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Currently Reading   The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner


  1. This book sounds fantastic and I already checked my public library’s catalog. They only have it as an audio book – do you think it would translate well into that format?

  2. I just read another review of this one today, and it had me thinking about buying it. After reading your review, I now know I can’t resist. I love books that are set in this time period, and the way that you describe the writing makes me really eager to read it. I also love that it’s sort of written as a flashback from the 60’s to the 30’s. So glad that you loved this book. I am off to see how soon I can have it in my hot little hands!

  3. This sounds so good — your review has me literally wiggling with impatience to go out and find it!

  4. Amy

    This book sounds wonderful. I’m already intrigued by Kate and the mysterious Tinker. The set is perfect, of course and I adore the time period. I’ve been wondering about this book and hoping it was as good as it sounded and your review, the first I’ve read, has me convinced this is a book I muct read!

  5. I really loved this book and I’m so glad that you did too! I don’t think Towles put a word wrong – it’s a beautifully written book. Combined with the great characters and atmosphere, that makes it a true gem.

  6. I desperately want to read this book! It has popped up on my radar a few times recently and I know I have to read it.

  7. I have read many reviews of this one and all are resoundingly positive. I am definitely excited to read it!

  8. I am thrilled that you loved this so much! I’ve been drooling everytime I see this so I need to get my hands on this stat. It appears to have everything I like in a book.

  9. Beth Hoffman

    I simply MUST read this book. Fabulous review, Nicole!

  10. So glad to hear you liked this one! I have it waiting for me and am definitely looking forward to it.

  11. Aren’t the quotes great? I loved reading this on the Kindle because they were so easy to mark!

  12. mari (Bookworm with a View)

    Glad to see you really enjoyed this novel, I did to! So well written, one of the better books I have read this year.

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