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The Good Rich and What They Cost Us Hardcover – January 8, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


"Among its many virtues, the book’s timely message should have an impact on the current debate over wealth and inequality. . . . I much admire the author’s ability to tell stories that force us to reconsider what wealth means without resorting to moral or Marxist outrage."—Mark Lytle, Bard College
(Mark Lytle)

"A fascinating and timely study."—Gordon S. Wood, Brown University   
(Gordon S. Wood)

 “This is an elegiac meditation, at once panoramic and intimate, on the paradox of great wealth in a democratic society.  As we grope our way through a second Gilded Age, Dalzell's book reminds us that we are living again a very old American story.”—Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers
(Joseph J. Ellis)

"A timely reminder that money is neither good nor evil, but its uses reveal a lot about a person’s choices and values."—Kirkus

About the Author

Robert F. Dalzell, Jr., is Frederick Rudolph Professor of American History, Williams College. His previous books include The House the Rockefellers Built and Enterprising Elite. He divides his time among Williamstown, MA, New York City, and Sweden, ME.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300175590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300175592
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jean-Jacques on July 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Drawing on interesting biographical material he has addressed before. Dalzell characterizes different charitable impulses that have motivated several great (famous and not so) American families to lead the reader into his thoughtful observations on wealthy America generally.

His theses:

The wealthy aren't nearly as generous as they are thought to be;

Their contributions tend to serve their personal interests rather than generally accepted societal needs;

Their popularity has waxed and waned significantly through our history and may be waning again in light of current economic circumstances;

The "Occupy...." movement may, or may not be, the beginning of a new revulsion toward the extremely rich.

Dalzell probably hurried to get the book out in the immediate wake of the "Occupy...." movements. Though they fizzled, his observations are nonetheless cogent, thought-provoking and grist for a historically based and thoughtful consideration of the issues of growing wealth inequality and its consequences.

A most worthwhile read.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting book. It looks at the two pillars of American ideology, wealth and democracy. Dalzell argues that Americans have a deal with the rich: The rich can exploit workers and natural resources but if along the way you give some of it to charity you will be remembered not like a capitalist abut like a philanthropist. This is a part of the American story. But it is a very limited and often told story. It is however timely with the ongoing debate about income inequality. What do Americans want? They want an equal chance to become unequal. How does that work? The focus has to be on opportunity not on democracy. Democracy does not really give anyone opportunity. Just look at India. What the American deal was, and still is, is that the system will not be stacked against those that want to get ahead. In order to understand this you need to ask where money comes from and the answer is rather easy: opportunity leady to entrepreneurship and innovation. The lucky make things we all will enjoy (electricity for example) and the entrepreneur if lucky will get rich. However, the story does not end here. Americans want rich people but not a class structure. So we need to dismantle great wealth. And here the author gets it, philanthropy is an invention to dismantle great wealth. Of course it does not go smoothly, it is ebbs and flows and gets mixed up with income redistribution, taxes and a lot of other issues. However, what has to be kept in mind is that wealth creation is a middle class phenomenon. Always was and always will be. So the avenues for opportunity need to be kept open. If they are not we end up ;with some socialist system.
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15 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on January 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Americans passion for equality paired with widespread wealth and a love of money have created a paradox because, left unmediated, capitalism does nothing to ensure the equitable distribution of that wealth, per author Dalzell. Of those appearing on Forbes' 2011 list of the 400 richest Americans, 29.8% inherited all or part of their fortunes. A group of these people who have attained great wealth have angered their fellow Americans in the process, and out of a desire to improve their images have chosen to give away a lot of that wealth. In the end, they often have succeeded in endearing themselves to the rest of us, as well as easing the resistance to their making even more money.

An early example - George Washington who felt guilty about owning slaves, and eventually freed them - after his death.

We need to ask whether the rich really are as generous as we seem to want to think they are - Dalzell believes many are not. (In 2009 Forbes reported that only ten people on their list of the four hundred richest, average wealth of $3.6 billion and in some cases over ten times that amount, had given away as much as $1 billion.) Bill Gates and Warren Buffett asked the richest Americans to pledge at least 50% of their wealth to charity in 2010 - in the two years since they have recruited 92 billionaires, including Zuckerberg (Facebook), Bloomberg (NYC Mayor), Reed Hastings (Netflix), Gordon Moore (Intel), Eli Broad (real-estate), George Lucas (Hollywood), Ted Turner (media), Barron Hilton (hotels), Alfred Mann, David Rockefeller (inherited), Paul Allen (Microsoft), Jon Huntsman Sr. (chemicals), T. Boone Pickens (oil), Sanford Weill (banking), Larry Ellison (hardware/software), and Elon Musk.
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