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In Praise of Nepotism [Kindle Edition]

Adam Bellow
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $11.84
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Nepotism is one of those social habits we all claim to deplore in America; it offends our sense of fair play and our pride in living in a meritocracy. But somehow nepotism prevails; we all want to help our own and a quick glance around reveals any number of successful families whose sons and daughters have gone on to accomplish objectively great things, even if they got a little help from their parents.

In this wide-ranging, surprising, and eloquently argued book, Adam Bellow takes a pragmatic and erudite look at the innate human inclination toward nepotism. From ancient Chinese clans to the papal lineages of the Renaissance, to American families like the Gores, Kennedys, and Bushes, Bellow explores how nepotism has produced both positive and negative effects throughout history. As he argues, nepotism practiced badly or haphazardly is an embarrassment to all (including the incompetent beneficiary), but nepotism practiced well can satisfy a deep biological urge to provide for our children and even benefit society as a whole. In Praise of Nepotism is a judicious look at a controversial but timeless subject that has never been explored with such depth or candor, and a fascinating natural history of how families work.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews


“Nepotism is widely condemned yet even more widely practiced. Adam Bellow shows why this is so, and he makes a fascinating and well-researched argument that this is not necessarily a bad thing.”
-Walter Isaacson, author of Kissinger: A Life and former chairman of CNN and managing editor of Time

“Some features of human nature, like aggression and adultery, get a consistently bad press but remain stubbornly persistent. Nepotism, likewise, is universally condemned but seems just as ineradicable. Adam Bellow explains to us why we are so addicted to what we so deplore, and does so in plain English with convincing scholarship. He brings together biology and history in a way that is intelligible to the general reader and challenging to the discipline-bound professional. Nepotism has never looked so good.”
-Robin Fox, professor of anthropology, Rutgers University, and author of Kinship and Marriage and Encounter With Anthropology

“I read In Praise of Nepotism straight through in about a day and a half. It is a most engaging text, exceedingly well written, concise, lucid, with marvelous descriptions and characterizations. It is also the first time I have read such an angle on history. Adam Bellow is almost alone in relating the family to politics, to power and affairs of state. This is the book’s originality, and it makes for a fresh contribution to the study of history.”
- John Patrick Diggins, Distinguished Professor of History, Graduate Center, The City University of New York

“Nepotism, like sex, is a powerful human motive that many people are too squeamish to examine. Adam Bellow has made an important contribution to our understanding of the human condition with this sparkling and eye-opening natural history of an underappreciated but eternally fascinating topic.”
- Steven Pinker, Peter de Florez Professor, MIT, and author of The Blan...

From the Inside Flap

Certain to be one of the most controversial books of the year, In Praise of Nepotism is a learned, lively, and provocative look at a practice we all deplore - except when we're involved in it ourselves.

Nepotism, the favored treatment of one's relatives, is a custom with infinitely more practitioners than defenders - especially in this country, where it is considered antidemocratic and almost un-American. Nepotism offends our sense of fair play and our meritocratic creed that we are supposed to earn what we get - not have it handed to us on a proverbial silver platter. For more than two centuries, a campaign has been waged against it in the name of fairness and equality in the courts, the legislatures, and in the public and private arenas - a campaign that has been only partly successful. For, far from disappearing, the practice has become so resurgent in recent years that we can now speak of a "new nepotism." In settings ranging from politics, business, and professional life to sports, the arts, and Hollywood, the children of famous and highly successful people have chosen to follow in their parents' career footsteps in a fashion and in numbers impossible to ignore. George W. Bush, Al Gore, Jr., and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton are only the tip of the iceberg that is an accelerating trend toward dynasticism and family "branding" in the heart of the American elite. Many see this as a deplorable development, to which Adam Bellow replies, Not so fast.

In this timely work (surprisingly, the first book ever devoted to nepotism), Adam Bellow brings fresh perspectives and vast learning and research to bear on this misunderstood and stigmatized practice. Drawing on the insights of modern evolutionary theory, he shows how nepotism is rooted in our very biological nature, as the glue that binds together not only insect and animal societies but, for most of the world and for most of history, human societies as well. Drawing on the disciplines of biology, anthropology, history, and social and political theory, Bellow surveys the natural history of nepotism from its evolutionary origins to its practice in primitive tribes, clans, and kingdoms to its role in the great societies of the world. These include the ancient Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the democratic and capitalistic societies of the past two centuries, with extended consideration of the American experience. Along the way, he provides fascinating (and freshly considered) portraits of such famous and/or infamous figures as Abraham, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Benjamin Franklin, and such families as the Borgias, the Rothschilds, the Adamses, the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, and the Bushes.

In his final chapter, Bellow argues that nepotism comes down to the bonds between children and parents, the transmission of family legacies, the cycle of generosity and gratitude that knits our whole society together. And since it is not going away anytime soon, he makes the case for dealing with nepotism openly and treating it as an art that can be practiced well or badly. In Praise of Nepotism is a book that will ruffle feathers, create controversy, and open and change minds.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 981 KB
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (July 13, 2004)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC1V1U
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,176,122 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite Brilliant with small flaws August 19, 2005
This very original piece of work describes the history and biological basis of nepotism. This book has been described as a `polemic' which it surely is not, instead it is an interesting, very calmly argued accounting of nepotism through the ages. The riveting begins with a description of the Godfather and nepotism in America, especially the widely held view that George Bush and Al Gore are examples of the `new' American nepotism. The argument proceeds to describe nepotism in non-western societies, such as China, Africa and of course the caste system of India, including biological descriptions of nepotism among animals and nepotism at the tribal and clan level. Then we are given an introduction to western nepotism, the Romans, the Greeks, the Jews, the rise of the Church and Charlemagne's family.

The second section of the book describes nepotism in America from the 1700s to the present. The waves of American immigration are discussed, the separate cultures of North and South, the rise of the Boston Brahmins, the Roosevelt's and the Kennedy's. Given the claim that nepotism has deep roots in America the book desires to discover how it is that America, alone among the nation of the book made the condemnation of nepotism a prime value, a value that has led to success and strength, including the meritocracy.

A very interesting book, part history, part sociology. The only flaw here is that it concentrates on a few examples and individuals, describing these peoples rise without giving context of the grander scheme of nepotism.

Seth J. Frantzman
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Just Business, It's Personal December 3, 2009
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
OK, Godfather jokes are cliches but seem apt here. For some reason when people think of "family business" they think of that particular family. Be that as it may This is a book that tells of Nepotism in history and it's effects.

It must be understood that the author has a pretty wide definition of Nepotism. What most people think of, is the misuse of an office to gain privileges for family and friends by corrupt means. The author extends that to any kind of family traditionalism. And says there are good effects as well as bad effects. I can see his point. I have never quite felt the contempt for or indignation at "rich kids" that some have felt for it always seemed a little like blaming people for their ancestry. And I have never felt particularly horrified by the occasional dynastic politician. It seemed to me to kind of humanize politics, and as the alternative would be to have politicians who wanted power or thought they were "what the country needed" perhaps a politician who is running because daddy wants him to isn't so bad as long as he has no institutionalized advantage from it.

As the author points out, a strict meritocracy, should such an impossibility exist, has the danger of creating a ruling class that feels over independent and has little sense of responsibility(this can be corrected, by the way, by instilling esprit de corps in a given meritocracy but perhaps that cannot be institutionalized until it reaches into the family structure in a manner similar to Roman families or Jane Austen style naval families).

The book doesn't just cover government families which is what we would think of, but a wide range of traditional family occupations including, perhaps inevitably, the Mafia.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good deal October 21, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Delivered on time. Awesome price
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable for a non-academic person November 27, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had to buy this book for a class in college but ended up really enjoying it. I can't give you an incredibly detailed analysis because I'm not qualified for that, but as a book on nepotism that was required reading, it held my attention and I took a thing or two away from it.

So if you're in the market for an easier read on the subject, this books is pretty good with a little bit of personality in there.
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