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117 of 118 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Robert Frank is a reporter at the Wall Street Journal who, a number of years ago, began a column on what it's like to be rich in America. This soon became a very popular and he was tasked to work on it full time. This book represents the synthesis of his experiences over the past few years.

"Richistan" is a colloquial term Frank uses to describe the booming numbers of wealthy. Starting in the late 1980s, there has been a doubling or tripling of the number of wealthy households in the US, currently at over 9 million with $1 million or more in net assets. Within this "nation within a nation" there is a class system, with the "lower class" rich (or "merely affluent") in the 1-10 million net worth range, the "middle class" rich in the 10-100 range and the "upper class" rich in the 100-1 billion range. The billionaires, estimated to be about 1000 strong in the US, are in a separate group entirely. Each of these groups have distinct spending patterns and investment goals. 90% of these new rich came from middle or lower class backgrounds and everything about them is different from the stereotypes of the "old" rich: how they made their money, how they spend it, how they give it away.

Frank's book is both easy reading and hard to put down. I listened to the audiobook version, going through the 7 hours in "no time". Although educational, this is also a very funny book. The audio greatly enhances the humor as the narrator has perfect timing and change of voice, many times I was laughing out loud, yet at the same time going "ah-ha!". A rare treat.
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91 of 97 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Greenwich, Connecticut, a town featured in Robert Frank's great new book, "Richistan", is my hometown and a place where I have spent my entire life. As the author points out, Greenwich used to be known as a place of old money but the new money that has flown into town over the past decade or so makes it a spot of even more enormous wealth, capturing all levels of the super-rich as Frank describes. As in many cities in America the new money is most evident in the McMansions that have sprung up. (as some people call it, "Vulgaria") I wonder if every new McMansion has to have Greek-like columns.

Frank does a comprehensive job in explaining how the rich live, but it is of note that so many Richistanis, when asked if they have enough money, say "no". If you have $20 million you think you need $40 million. He offers another excellent chapter on how many of the rich aren't any happier with all their money, with many of them being more miserable. But his best point is that the super-rich have created a class unto themselves, and towns like Greenwich, which has a sustainable middle class, will itself, in the future, become even more separated between rich and poor. It's a sobering look. I highly recommend "Richistan".... it's a terrific exposé and an eye-opener as well.
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73 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The "new rich" have been around for a few years now, but beyond the nonsense to be seen or read about in the tabloid realm, we've never had the opportunity to take a look at what the lives of these people are really like - until now.

The people of Richistan did not inherit their wealth, it was earned, sometimes quite quickly, for others it was a steady rise to billionaire status. What this book gives its readers are sharp and humorous obervations on how they made their money and how it has changed their lives, for better and/or worse. For instance, read why it now takes five people to kill a renegade mouse in a big house instead of one...

Similarly, the author then takes a look at the different industries and jobs that so much money in the U.S. has spawned. For example, the founder of the Starkey Institute for Household Management (aka: Butler School) wouldn't be where she is today if it weren't for the labor shortage of 20th century butlers. Then there's the need for private chefs, an army of nannies, housekeepers, pilots and executive assistants.

And where does a mega-billionaire go on vacation? How does he find a spot that will guarantee his total security and privacy? Richistan will tell you about the man who answered these questions and built a quasi "time share" business for islands instead of condos...plus you'll read about the billionaires who go there and how they spend their vacations.

It really is addictive stuff and a great beach book for the Summer. For self-confessed business junkies who enjoy reading about mega-successful business people, and how they got to where they are - this is a must-read, because you get all of that and so much more.
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52 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
The Rich, F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, are different from us. Fitzgerald was right: they *are* different from us.

They own 500-foot yachts, for one thing.

For another, they own watches that are more expensive than a Rolls Royce. They hire "household managers", uber-butlers who double as managerial major domos, to run their vast, sprawling estates, and when they buzz their Household Manager to have Jeevesy 'bring the car around', they're probably talking about their 1.1 million dollar Bugatti Veyron or 750K McClaren Mercedes supercar---or if they're in a downscale mood, maybe it'll just be the Maybach.

You know, to slum around in.

As Bob Dylan (himself, by now, no doubt a 'Richistani') once sang "The Times they are a-Changing"---though not the way Dylan and his hippy brethren might have imagined. We find ourselves in an era of ostentatious wealth, in a time when the Forbes 400 is made up solely of billionaires, in a time when the rich are getting richer---much richer, fabulously richer!---and the rest of us? Well, forget about it.

That's the ostensible subject of Robert Frank's book "Richistan", which, on the whole, is a light, airy, engaging little fluff-piece that takes the reader from one enclave of Richies to another: from a Palm Beach Red Cross fundraiser to Butler Boot Camp in Colorado, from a man who made his fortune building teensy little ceramic villages to the grinding account of a tech billionaire who lost his entire fortune during the Dot Com bust, from billionaire philanthropy to what Frank calls a 'new Rich man's politics'.

Frank, in his introduction, bills his little survey of the uber-wealthy as a work of anthropology: get in, take lots of pictures, ask a lot of questions, boogie out, research report in hand. Now, granted, Anthropology takes a lot of different forms, but Robert Frank certainly proves one thing: if you're going to do an anthropological study of a strange & insular tribe, it's a lot more fun hunkering down in the clubhouse over Johnny Walker Black or at the Polo track canvassing your subject as opposed to sweating it on the veldt studying a bunch of spear wielding massai.

Rather than venture deep into the ominous, inky blackness of the deep jungle, though, Frank confines himself to the coastline: this is a book of shallow little fly-bys at the rich, rather than the more adventurous safaris into the interior.

You'll learn how one rich guy runs his charitable giving in what Frank bills as an 'exciting new philanthropy' (uh, he uses---a spreadsheet! and he, um,---sets benchmarks!), and you'll learn how a bunch of Colorado rich people carried out a political coup (they, um---spent lots of money! and, uh,---used the Internet!).

But that's pretty much it. There's nothing here that you don't already know: chances are you know the astronomical rate at which the U.S. has been minting millionaires, or that a cool million isn't that cool anymore because it doesn't mean what it used to, or that the Rich are driving a boom in luxury goods---including little toy rich dogs like chows, uber-luxury whips like Bentley & Rolls-Royce, the advent of million dollar supercars getting totaled minutes after being purchased, and of course the crazy yacht phenomenon, with yachts getting bigger & more opulent than ever.

You know all that, right?

Well, maybe you don't. And if you don't, then "Richistan" will be a nice, amusing little read: an airplane read, a read you absorb quickly (it took me about 45 minutes) on the planeride from Portland to Topeka. It's sorta like a pamphlet.

Or, for that matter, a Wall Street Journal sidebar. That's not a surprise, because that's what Robert Frank is: the wealth reporter for the WSJ. The writing here is not unlike what you'd find there; it's breezy, somewhat bland, not particularly contentious, and about as shallow as the deep end of the kiddy pool at the Las Vegas Ritz.

If that's all you're up for, then "Richistan" should be just fine. But if you're looking for something deeper---something more akin to, say, David Brook's classic "Bobos in Paradise" (not a book I always agreed with, but one that was both rigorously researched, socially edgy & brilliantly written) then you'll find "Richistan" keenly disappointing, poorly edited, & fairly stupid.

Case in point: by the end, you'll be ready to gouge your eyes out with chopsticks if you have to read the word "Richistani" one more time.

But that said, "Richistan" just isn't all that. With its super-wide margins, ultra-big font, and news-of-the-week format, it's more stocking-stuffer fluff than anything more serious or substantial.

JSG
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
If you enjoy intimate looks at private lives, Richistan will entertain you. If you want to learn how to improve your own life, Richistan will only frustrate you . . . by raising your sensitivities to the material things you don't have.

The book has many key lessons for the new rich:

1. If you want to be rich today, you'd better be someone who starts a successful business that can be sold for big bucks. Inheriting money is a loser's game.

2. Once you are rich, you'll be left feeling poor . . . because others have so much more. You'll lust for a way to instantly double your money.

3. You won't be able to hire the quality of help you need to get rid of daily frustrations. The help you hire will, however, charge you an arm and a leg and will complicate your life.

4. Unless you work hard to insulate them from your wealth, your children will simply be clueless about how to run their lives in any meaningful way. You, too, could be the parent of a rich parasite with a drinking or drug problem.

5. Unless you cash out, your sense of being wealthy can lead you to spend money that you can't afford to spend. A financial disaster could follow.

6. In the race to prove you count, buying things doesn't work very well. The scale of what's expected is rapidly ratcheting up . . . as are the costs. Many times, more is less in terms of satisfaction.

7. Turn your money toward self-directed philanthropy or changing the political environment, and a few million bucks can have a huge impact.

8. Your spending will reach obscene levels. Does any family really need $80,000 a year in massages?

9. You'll only feel comfortable with people with the same wealth you have. Those with less will see you as a mark. Those with more will put you down and make you feel poor.

The book also suggests (but doesn't really develop) the point that there's a split between the very rich and the merely rich, in terms of attitudes and lifestyle. The merely rich are the local professionals who vote Republican (the ones the best selling how to books emphasize) and want to belong at the country club. The really rich are entrepreneurs, and they think the whole system (whatever system it is) stinks. They plan to replace or improve on what the merely rich like (think Donald Trump).

The best parts, to me, were those where a person or a married couple were profiled. I was particularly interested in the story of Philip Berber, the Jewish Irishman, who is reshaping third-world philanthropy by nudging aside the NGOs in Ethiopia to let the people help themselves through his personal charity, Glimmer of Hope. His story begins on page 157.

The book is a very easy read, and it goes down like a good ice cream soda. Everyone will end up feeling superior to most of the people in the book. What more can you expect from buying and reading a book?
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
A Federal Reserve Board chart in '03 showed U.S. millionaire households had doubled since '95 to over 8 million. Frank goes on to point out that the richest 1% of Americans were earning about $1.4 trillion, greater than the national incomes of France, Italy, and Canada. Using their wealth, they have built their own health-care system of concierge doctors and travel destinations, etc. - equating to a society within the U.S. Frank sees this new wealth as representing all that is great about the American economy, as well as envisioning the huge gap opened up between them and the rest of us as Middle America's loss.

Before the 1980s, most were born into their money and new fortunes were rare because the economy spread its gains. However, in the late 1980s, soaring financial markets brought in new groups of Wall Streeters, corporate raiders, and tech pioneers. Today less than 3% of the rich inherited their wealth, less than 10% are celebrities, and the group is much younger. and made up mostly of professionals.

Richistan has at least three classes. 1)Lower: Comprised of about 7.5 million, living in McMansions, driving SUVs, and with net assets of $1-10 million. About 20% of them spent all or more than their income in '04. 2)Middle: About 1.4 million with $10-100 million in net assets. This group has about twice as many entrepreneurs as the Lower group. Upper: Net assets of over $100 million, comprised largely of those who started and sold their own companies, CEOs, and money managers (especially hedge funds).

The rising ranks of noveau riche has rekindled demand for "butlers." Today's version, however, is relatively young and inclusive of females. Duties would include accounting for funds (staff, up to 200 vendors), becoming the resident expert on household technical issues (eg. programming lights, alarms). Butler training costs as much as $12,000, with graduates commanding starting salaries of $80-120,000.

Half of America's total wealth has been created over the past ten years. Growth in finance, more than any other factor, is allowing people to become richer, faster than ever before. Since '90 the value of all stocks traded in the U.S. has gone from $3 trillion to $17 trillion.

Richistanis fall mostly into five categories: 1)Founders - sold their shares through an IPO. (Most of the Forbes 400 list are in this category.) 2)Stakeholders - cash out when their company goes private - UPS, Google. 3)Acquired. 4)Money Movers - Wall Street banks paid $36 billion in bonuses in '06. 5)Salaried Rich: CEO pay is now 170X that of the average worker, up from 40X in the 1970s; over 4,700 managers were paid $2 million or more in '06.

One particularly interesting Richistan dimension is "performance philanthropy." Former Senator Bill Bradley and McKinsey consultants released an '03 study showing U.S. charities waste over $100 billion on fund-raising and administration expenses (eg. long reports). Thus, an increasing number of Richistanians are giving away their assets during their lifetimes while they can supervise the activities directly and hold recipients accountable (eg. donate a quarter's funds at a time, with renewal contingent on meeting goals), rather than setting up perpetual trusts or donating to large institutions such as Red Cross or United Way.

Another interesting sidelight was how Richistanians in Colorado played a key role in retaking government back from Republicans.

Frank ends by reporting that median U.S. family incomes fell in '05 for the 5th year in a row - it is now $3,000 less than in 2000, adjusted for inflation. He also expresses a hope that Richistanians move beyond concern for 500 ft. yachts, $350,000 Rolls-Royce's, and $650,000 watches.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
My favourite moment in this entertaining book involves an immensely prosperous man living in one of the palaces favoured by the inhabitants of Richistan, the word Robert Frank coins to describe the mushrooming community of super wealthy in the United States. The man discovers a mouse and wants to get rid of it. Before he became rich, he muses, he would have done the job himself with a broom. Such conduct is hardly becoming of a billionaire so he asks his staff to do it and by the end of the procedure no less than five employees are involved in dealing with the mouse. How on earth did I get into a situation where it's considered normal to watch as five people take care of a pesky rodent? he asks.

The people in this book often complain that it's tough having hundreds of millions of dollars because you need to employ accountants and aides and a lot of other people to manage their estates. Well boo hoo. Would that I had such problems. Of course there's a cheap thrill to be had reading exactly what these people do with their money and how liberating it can be to look at your bank balance and see all those $$$$$$$$$$$$$ in there. But in large part the people come across as humourless workaholics for whom the ultimate goal is the next business deal, the next success, rather than making enough money to slow down and do something interesting.

There is a good chapter about the new breed of rich philanthropists seeking to improve the world in the same way they made their money -- quickly and with an impatience for red tape -- but the subjects of this book are surprisingly shallow. One entrepreneur, already worth a huge amount, was desperate to bail from his firm yet changed his mind when the board bought him his own jet. He was so enamoured by this bawble that he stayed on another decade, and this in a job he was allegedly so keen to leave.

Frank's book is interesting and eye-opening, which is more than can be said for many of the millionaires and billionaires he writes about.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The author means well and the publisher had a good idea, but this book is too bland, generic, double-spaced, and generally lacking in "oomph"that I am dropping it to a three instead of the four I planned.

I have just a a handful of notes, meaning that most of the book was simply not "noteworthy."

People making more than $10M comprise their own country, worth 1.35 trillion a year, more than France or Canada alone.

Three classes of "sort of" rich: 1-10M (low), 10-100M (mid), and 100M-1B (upper). The book does not cover the lives of the really rich, those with 2B and up.

These people will spend $750,000 for a watch, $1.2M a year for "staff."

Best booming job: butler. $12K for eight weeks, all get jobs right away, starting at $75K some at $120K a year, all with room, board, global flying, and lifestyle of the rich and famous. Need to have a "service heart" to prosper at this. Serious job, more like a Chief Operating Officer for "MyLife.com," comes with title of Certified Household(s) Manager.

Rich fear germs, spend excessively on pets and collections. Feel lots of peer pressure and anxiety.

I grimace as a I finish this. I was genuinely interested in better understanding the new rich and old rich, and especially their views on charitable giving as it might apply to the ten high level threats to mankind, but I put the book down thinking balnd, generic, lacking in deep detail, generally unsatisfying. Sorry 'bout that.

Instead of this consider reading:
All the Money in the World: How the Forbes 400 Make--and Spend--Their Fortunes and
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks)

And for the Down Side of the Story:
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
The Working Poor: Invisible in America
War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back
The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future - and What It Will Take to Win It Back
The Money Culture
The money lords;: The great finance capitalists, 1925-1950 (The Mentor executive library)
Rule by Secrecy: The Hidden History That Connects the Trilateral Commission, the Freemasons, and the Great Pyramids
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Richistan" a well written, most interesting look at the lives of the new rich was a real page turner. For the most part, their over consumptive lifestyles were gross. Another good title for the book would have been "Grossistan!" For example, in a study on the wealthiest people's (Richistani's) favorite watches, Rolex barely made the top ten. Frank Muller watches were rated number one. They are hand made, mostly of stainless and quartz. The Cheapest Frank Muller watch costs $4,800 and the most expensive costs $6000,000. How in the world can anyone wear that costly a watch with all the homeless, hungry and starving people we have in this world and not be conscience stricken? The rich compete for the biggest and most expensive of everything. Yachts so huge that they don't fit into a regular sized Marina. Also, the most expensive cars, and largest and greatest number of homes. According to to the book's author, Robert Frank, "Waste and excess are not just tolerated by the rich they are necessary and show the person's rank on the social scale. In a consumer society rank is signaled by spending. The failure to consume in due quality and quantity becomes a mark of inferiority and demerit." As you've probably guessed the super rich are insecure just like less wealthy people. One family stood out in a positive way. While extremely wealthy and very busy, they ate simple meals and tried to spend as much free time as possible with their children. As a family, they loved riding bike around their estate.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'm not a big reader of wealth books, which usually seem to be simplistic guides on how to get rich quick or become a millionaire. Richistan breaks that mold. It's a fun travelogue through the world of today's rich. What really makes the book is the amazing access Robert Frank got to today's multi-millionaires and billionaires. I'm not sure why they opened up their lives in such detail (one subject in the book talks about his household staff of 105 people), but the results make for fascinating reading.
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