A wonderful pudding of a book that serves up large helpings of US socioeconomic history over the past 35 years or so. The title and subtitle notwithstanding, GQ columnist Nocera never makes clear precisely what he means by the middle class. Nor does he provide a systematic reckoning on the financial times since 1958 (when BankAmerica launched what became the Visa credit card). What he does offer, though, are thoroughly engrossing takes on the breakthrough innovations that democratized America's monetary life. There are tellingly detailed briefings on the largely unsung creators of money-market mutual funds (including the first to give investors check-writing privileges), NOW accounts, negotiable CDs, no-load mutual funds, and other financial services that an affluent society now takes for granted. The author also profiles the bankers, Wall Streeters, and others who played leading roles in a revolution that profoundly altered Main Street's attitudes toward credit, debt, investment, and savings. Cases in point range from Peter Lynch (Fidelity's star portfolio manager until his 1990 retirement) through Charles Schwab (of discount brokerage fame), Citicorp's Walter Wriston, and Marshall Loeb (former editor of Money, which continues to overstate the rewards while minimizing the risks of do-it-yourself capitalism). Assessed as well are the convulsive consequences of Paul Volcker's conquest of inflation, deregulation of depository institutions, the stock market's 1987 crash, and the low interest rates that channeled increasing amounts of money into equities during the early 1990s. Conspicuous by its absence, though, is any sustained coverage of the S&L scandals, insider trading, the takeover boom, junk bonds, the assets controlled by insurance companies, derivative securities products, exchange-listed options, futures contracts, and allied aspects of the domestic financial scene. Even so, Nocera delivers a savvy rundown on the landmark developments that in less than four decades have made consumer finance a multilateral bazaar in which beating the markets is a populist pastime.