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In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History Hardcover – July 15, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (July 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385493886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385493888
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,963,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

George Orwell once wrote, "To an ordinary human being, love means nothing if it does not mean loving some people more than others." This logic is at the heart of Bellow's conception of nepotism, which he means to rescue from the near-universal scorn it suffers today. Son of Nobel-winning novelist Saul, now an editor-at-large at Doubleday, Bellow seeks to redefine nepotism not as a "deplorable lack of public spirit" but as the very "bedrock of social existence"-a natural, healthy concern for family and, by extension, those ethnically or otherwise similar to ourselves. This is no brittle screed, as the title might imply, but rather a impressively full-blooded and wide-ranging work of scholarship, demonstrating that the individualistic U.S. is quite exceptional in its rejection of nepotism. Bellow assimilates biology, theology and gargantuan chunks of human history with brio, never losing the thread of his argument or the attention of his audience. Since nepotism is about power, the book has an unavoidable top-down orientation, as it is almost exclusively about the ruling class throughout history, from Borgia and Bonaparte to our own Adams, Roosevelt and Kennedy clans. Since nepotism is synonymous with familial interest, it is hardly surprising that Bellow is able to find ample evidence of its existence throughout history-even in "egalitarian" America. At times he casts such a wide net that he risks blurring nepotism with the entirety of human history. However, his analysis of the flexibility and complexity of nepotism's forms is utterly enthralling and stimulating.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

"It's not what you know, it's who you know." At one time your name alone could guarantee you admission to a prestigious university, a cushy job, and lifetime security. The practice of nepotism, universally abhorred but also universally practiced and accepted as "the way things are," has made a comeback. Today it is evident in politics, with the return of the political dynasty (obvious in the 2000 Bush-Gore election), and in Hollywood, where a new rash of thespian offspring are making inroads in the film industry. This in-depth look at nepotism and all its implications takes a very broad approach, arguing that nepotism is a basic instinct rooted in the social biology of animals and humans, and that it may be a necessary and even positive force in evolution. Bellow examines the phenomenon throughout history, from tribal societies through ancient Greece and Rome and early Christianity, to today's New Nepotism that pervades politics, business, the arts, and sports. Bellow himself is an example, being the son of novelist Saul Bellow. He unearths the rich history of the practice, which alone is worth the read. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By L. Sun on April 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I enjoy reading the book. The author writes in an engaging way and has a good grasp of the biological foundation of nepotism. The definition of nepotism can be slightly confusing. Nepotism in a broad sense refers to favoritism for relatives (genetic AND marital) and can be narrowly defined as favoritism for genetic relatives. The author, however, expands nepotism to refer to favoritism for non-relative friends as well, which is normally used and interpreted under a very different scenario (reciprocal altruism). So, one has to pay attention to the author's broadened definition.

I understand that it's part of human nature that most of us would do favors to our relatives. So, as the author cogently argues, the complete elimination of nepotism would result in a world without humanness. The author tries to find a fine line between "good" nepotism and "bad" nepotism, but readers are left wondering where the demarcation is. In fact, this is not a solution at all because, as long as nepotism is allowed, it will be abused, as history has shown repeatedly. Nepotism in the government is particularly damaging to a democratic society, because, practically, it diverges taxpayers' money to serving the relatives and cronies of people in power, and, morally, it sustains the injustice that people are born unequal. Hence, nepotism is exactly the evil we want to fight against in the government. Some would argue that nepotism, if used appropriately, would promote loyalty, trust, and thus working efficiency. This is a wrong argument. A democratic government is built for fairness; it is not meant for efficiency. Military systems are built for efficiency, but never has there any that is democratic.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mark Howells on August 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The historical sections which make up the bulk of the book are very good. The author does a fine job of describing the biological imperatives of nepotism, classical nepotism, colonial nepotism, etc. Those chapters detailing the successes and failures of different practitioners of nepotism through the ages are fascinating to read.
The specifically American version of modern nepotism is described by Bellow as being forgiving toward nepotism for providing entrée into social, employment and power positions so long as the beneficiary subsequently proves themselves by merit. Family fumblers are appropriately punished in the author's view and family dynasties which fail the individual/generational meritocracy test do indeed go "from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations".
The conclusion seemed like a cheap eraser jammed onto the end of an expensive mechanical pencil. It appears to have been cobbled together in a hurry and does not read like carefully reasoned inferences drawn from the historical sections of the book. The conclusion provides prescriptive attitudes regarding nepotism in modern society and this is by far the weakest part of the book.
The irony of writing about nepotism as the son of a famous author is not lost on Bellow. This book will be a boon to nephew-hiring dynasts everywhere.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Adam Bellow is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with nepotism. His writing is terrible, yet he got a book deal over hundreds of stuggling authors out there. Go Figure.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mark F. Braun VINE VOICE on December 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Bellow's book is a fascinating read; partially because the subject is infuriatingly destructive to any business and partially because Bellow managed to trade on his father's name to get it published. It doesn't mean that I respect Jaimie Wyath or Arlo Guthrie any less -they've cut their own paths successfully with skill and self-reliance.

Listen: Nepotism is handing the reigns to family, buddies and cronies. Integrity is when nepotism gets avoided, which is what you may want to do here, unless you need a reason to boil over.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Addison Phillips on September 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book on the strength of the Booknotes interview of author Bellow. I mean: how can you possibly end up praising nepotism? What's he got to say about it? The historical material is fascinating in the way that Bellow can show a different side or point-of-view for some famous (and some less famous) historical figures and how nepotism played into their successes (or failures). Less convincing is the set of conclusions he makes from his research. But I still enjoyed the book pretty well. It'll make a good paperback someday.
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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Horace Nellums on September 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Adam Bellow can't be denied the right to take his own stance on social and historical matters. Certainly not when he is so well placed in the publishing industry. If only all interested laypersons had the connections needed to get their theorizing into print.
And a layperson he is. There is nothing in point of research or development of ideas that is not thoroughly amateurish. The writing quality is such as one would expect from an indifferent English major, tolerable for ten or twenty pages and no more. Why could these inchoate ruminations not be imparted to friends and family in a restaurant or barroom, if they cared to listen?
I must confess that a great fondness for his late father led me to purchase this work. I suppose I deserve what I got.
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