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Old Money: The Mythology of Wealth in America Paperback – June 1, 1997

3.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Old Money: The Mythology Of Wealth in America is a witty and provocative look at the culture of the American upper class and the values and meanings of inherited wealth. Old Money examines how and why the values nurtured by the inheritors of wealth differ from those of the marketplace and the self-made man, and shows how these differing attitudes toward money affect the lives of individuals and the face of society. Old Money attitudes are an inheritance of educational and aesthetic values, attitudes toward the family, the genders and different generations, as well. Drawing on personal experience, historical anecdotes of leading families like the Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Rockefellers, and more than 150 interviews, Old Money conducts a revealing exploration of the complex meanings of money and success in American society. Old Money is a fascinating window into the psyche of a class that only those born to it have heretofore truly understood it. -- Midwest Book Review

About the Author

Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr. is the editor of The American Benefactor.Formerly Paris editor of the Paris Review, a senior editor at Harper's magazine, and a reporter for the Boston Globe, he is a frequent contributor to such publications as The Atlantic, Harper's, The Nation, Inc., New England Monthly, and Vogue.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Allworth Press; 1st edition (June 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1880559641
  • ISBN-13: 978-1880559642
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Virtually all other books describing America's moneyed class have been written by social scientists, primarily sociologists and economists, or romantic novelists, who do not have a clue as to how these people really live.

Aldrich, on the other hand, comes from one of America's old moneyed families (his grandfather was a prominent U.S. Senator at the turn of the century and his uncle was Nelson Rockefeller). Educated at St. Paul's and Harvard in the fifties, he was provided with all of the benefits that money can provide.

Unlike the modern ultra-rich, however, he was also provided a conscience and a sense of duty to his community. This book is, in large part, his effort to justify his own existence and that of his fellows to a society that often views them as little more than leeches who had the good fortune to be born into great wealth. In my opinion, and I suspect his as well, he ultimately fails, but he does provide the best defense of inherited wealth that I have read. In the course of that defense, he provides great insight into how Old Money thinks -- F. Scott Fitzgerald was right; they really are different from the rest of us.

Those who enjoy this book should buy a copy of Money and Class in America: Notes and Observations on Our Civil Religion by Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine and himself from Old Money.
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Format: Paperback
Over the course of a few too many years I have acquired a 3-foot stack of classic books on wealth, status and power in America, and this is both the latest addition and the undisputed spiritual (!) capstone of the collection. "Rich and nuanced" is how I would characterize Mr. Aldrich's comprehensive assessment of the phenomenon of inherited wealth and established social class in the land of the American Dream. Mythic stuff indeed (it was this word that compelled me to buy the book) -- and Aldrich's background and skills are more than up to the challenge of rendering it, in all its paradox, consternation and complexity, for the genuinely interested reader.

The brief panning reviews below mystified me as well as they did the other reviewer. Aldrich starts out not with anything construable as a "justification", but rather with a withering indictment of the source of his family's wealth -- in itself a mini-education in the dynamics of 19th century pork barrel politics. Aldrich's book is both a sort of personal exorcism of family demons that others would just as soon whitewash and preen themselves over, and a subtle and multi-dimensional account of a great many interrelated issues surrounding the institution of inherited wealth and privilege, and its effect on those both inside and outside the golden pale.

"Reasoned" and "balanced" are two other adjectives that suggest themselves with regard to the book's overall project. Outsiders may resent his occasional displays of sympathy for his motley compatriots in hyper-enfranchisement, but you'll have to search elsewhere (e.g. the better-written WASP Supremacy diatribes) for the "our shortcomings are colorful foibles, theirs are hideous crimes" pathology that afflicts the smug somnambulists of the Far Right.
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Format: Paperback
Don't know what these other readers' problem is - hopefully not the envy and resentment that the author acknowledges as a natural byproduct of privilege! Aldrich is thoughtful, erudite and honest. Is he justifying himself? To a point, of course. Have you ever read a book that doesn't in some way promote the author and his values? He succeeds in a difficult endeavor, namely to describe a culture and a mentality; this he does with sympathy to its ideals and deep skepticism about its true motives and record. Also, though there may be a few too many of his own family anecdotes, it is an entertaining and informative read.
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Hint: you can skim the first and last two chapters and learn all you could ever want to know about the OLD RICH.

In a golden nutshell;

Old Money likes old schools, old clubs and old stuff.
Old Money likes other Old Money.
Old Money REALLY likes MONEY.
Old Money is bigoted (for the most part.)
Old Money is tradition and duty bound to serve the greater good, except when it's not.
Nelson Aldrich REALLY likes the word "invidious."

I'd only advise buying this book if you are SERIOUSLY interested in the subject. It's not a breezy, humorous read like (outsider) Paul Fussell's "Class." Aldrich doesn't write about what Old Money wears or what kind of cars it drives; he takes a microscope to what drives Old Money, while never betraying his class by revealing anything terribly unflattering that we didn't already know. And, he wants us to KNOW that he's no lightweight rich guy dilettante! Alors! M. Aldrich parle le Francais, ou bien, il a un bon dictionnaire Francais! Qu'importe? In English or in French, this is navel gazing at its most erudite.

The book is particularly enjoyable when he writes about recognizable figures; J.P. Morgan, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, JFK, Tommy Hitchcock, etc. Curiously, women do not figure prominently in Aldrich's Old Money enclave. Aldrich does eventually acknowledge Eleanor Roosevelt (quite well done), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Doris Duke.

The last two chapters are the best. "The Prince and the People" and "Hemingway's Curse" sum things up nicely, explaining exactly why Old Money has painted itself into a jewel encrusted corner.

One complaint: the index could have been more concise.
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