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The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide Hardcover – October 1, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (October 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393019659
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393019650
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,307,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"It might be difficult to see the connection between a rich woman swanning around in her Manolo Blahniks and some underpaid clipboard-wielding biologist slogging through the bush in battered Tevas," Conniff writes, but readers of this unusual and delightful exploration of the richest members of the human species will understand that connection and a whole lot more. Journalist and essayist Conniff compares the super-rich to the animal kingdom in providing a frame of reference for their behaviors and actions. Butterflies and moths, which camouflage their true colors when not with their own kind, provide a context for discussing concealment, display and the "inconspicuous consumption" of those born to money: the signs of wealth are displayed subtly to be recognized by those in the know. Conniff finds an animal model for philanthropy in a bird called the Arabian babbler, which, after forcing a gift of food on a companion, "lift[s] his beak in a special trill... like a socialite posing for an event photographer at the Breast Cancer Awareness barbecue." Other chapters provide insight into mating habits, dominance (the rough way and the nice way) and other rules of social intercourse. A keen observer of both animal and human nature, Conniff who has written about the natural world for National Geographic and about the rich for Architectural Digest neither patronizes nor demeans his subjects (after all, he notes, we all hope to be rich some day). He merely uses them and the natural world to illuminate a class of people and range of behaviors that few among us will ever have the opportunity to observe firsthand. 8 pages of b&w illus.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Conniff takes on lifestyles of the rich (and variably famous) for the bookish and hip, that is, for an audience receptive to his jokes. And the jokes fill every page of the very funny, vaguely nausea-inducing travels he makes through the realms of the extremely wealthy, who do, of course, turn out to be very different from you and me. As Conniff finally has it, we are all pretty much the same, except that the billionaires beat us in every category, including access to sex, overhousing, and general nastiness. Conniff (Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World), a respected freelance journalist on the popular natural world beat, here extends to book length a piece he did on the culture of Monaco for National Geographic a few years back. Most conventional of the allegedly wise ideas he gleefully whacks are that old money is classier than new and that the rich mean it when they say there is more to their lives than money and power. Recommended for libraries of all types, with two caveats: Conniff is not immune to small errors of detail, and some of his humor is too deadpan to let readers distinguish outrageous hyperbole from assertion of fact. Even so, most will find this a fast-moving, instructive read.
Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Richard Conniff writes about behavior on two, four, six, and eight legs. He has collected tarantulas in the Peruvian Amazon, tracked leopards with !Kung San hunters in the Namibian desert, climbed the Mountains of the Moon in western Uganda, and trekked through the Himalayas of Bhutan in pursuit of tigers and the mythical migur.

His latest book is The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth (Norton, November). Also now out in paperback is Swimming With Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals (Norton, 2009). He is the author of The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights, and Work Smarter By Understanding Human Nature (Crown, 2004), The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide (Norton, 2002); Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife (Holt, 1998); Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World (Holt, 1996); and other books.

The New York Times Book Review says, "Conniff is a splendid writer--fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can't resist quoting him."

Conniff also writes about wildlife, human cultures and other topics for Time, Smithsonian, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and other publications in the United States and abroad. His magazine work in Smithsonian won the 1997 National Magazine Award, and was included in The Best American Science and Nature Writing in 2000, 2002, and 2007. Conniff is also the winner of the 2001 John Burroughs Award for Outstanding Nature Essay of the Year, a 2009 Loeb Award for distinguished business journalism, a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship,and a 2012 Alicia Patterson Fellowship.

Conniff has been a frequent commentator on NPR and recently served as a guest columnist for The New York Times online. He has written and presented television shows for National Geographic, TBS, Animal Planet, the BBC, and Channel Four in the UK. His television work has been nominated for an Emmy Award for distinguished achievement in writing, and he won the 1998 Wildscreen Prize for Best Natural History Television Script for the BBC show Between Pacific Tides.

You can follow him on Twitter @RichardConniff, and on his blog

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 21 customer reviews
Mr. Conniff's easy-to-read, witty and very informative book was an absolute pleasurable experience.
Franklin the Mouse
He's decided to compare theories of evolutionary biology in the animal kingdom to the behavior of rich people, but he's not trying to be scientific about it.
Seriously: you'll be having so much fun reading it, you'll feel guilty thinking that you're "supposed" to be reading something else.
Secret Santa

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Hefele on June 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Conniff, in writing this light, well researched book of comic sociology, makes interesting links between his observations in the natural world for National Geographic and his observations of the rich while working for Architectural Digest. Although I think Conniff, on balance, focuses more on the rich than on the parallels between the animal kingdom and the richs' behavior, this isn't a big flaw, at least to me -- I'd rather know a little more about billionaires' lives than a little more about the sex lives of the bonobos. Overall, I'd recommend this book.
Throughout the book, Conniff traces the behaviour of the rich and of various animal species, he shows that territoriality, social hierarchy, pecking orders, and competition for mates aren't just confined to the animal kingdom. Indeed, the natural laws of power and association are two major areas we have in common with our animal brethren.
He notes that the rich, as well as animals, know that power, control of resources and social dominance is what it's all about, despite any of their claims to the contrary. One must be confident, have good posture, walk straight, look people right in the eye, go directly after what one wants, and remember it's all about winning-winning-winning. The richs' influential friends, big houses, glamorous hobbies are all signs of dominance, as is a single-minded determination to impose one's vision on the world.
Conniff also points out that the softer side of domination is that of association. The rich know that "you are who you know." One must make friends shrewdly, cultivate allies, go to the right schools, live in the right neighborhoods, give to socially desirable charities, throw parties and invite all the right people.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
We are interested in what rich people do. They make the big homes, and the big deals, and have the fanciest clothes and the best choice in dates. We enjoy it when they do things that are silly, stupid, or mistaken. In doing so, we are really doing nothing more than our hominid ancestors did in paying close attention to the chiefs of their tribes; they may not have had money back then, but they had the status and they were carefully watched because of it. Interest in the rich is programmed in our genes. Thus it is a delight to find that the rich can be studied as objects of natural curiosity. Richard Conniff usually writes about other species, but has taken the techniques of the naturalist to study the habits of _homo sapiens peconiosus_ (rich people) in _The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide_ (Norton). He writes that instead of animals in the field, he "... had found a new quarry, and they were possibly the most dangerous and elusive animals on earth." Throughout his witty and informative book, he shows a great sense of fun with his evaluation of this extraordinary species.
Conniff gives us many views of rich people acting like animals. The analogies are often easily drawn and obvious. This should not be surprising. Successful tribal animals from all species are driven by "the quest for control, dominance, mating opportunities, and, above all, status." The rich are predatory like jungle cats, or busy with penile displays, like monkeys. It seems that many rich men are addicted to peeing in relatively public places as a show of domination. Ted Turner, who shows up often in this book, gave away a billion dollars to the UN, and disdained his fellow rich people who weren't, in his opinion, doing their share, as he quite ostentatiously was.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Megan on July 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
What shocked me most about this book is how... smart it is! The author, Richard Conniff, writes for everything from "National Geographic" to "Architectural Digest" and is obviously "in the know" on the side. As a result, he comes off as very intelligent and witty, and I learned more about animal behavior than I did about human behavior.
Yes, it is a very witty book. But it also has a serious streak. He backs up his stories of gluttony and excess with anecdotal science from the natural world. He adds just enough history of the rich to provide a firm background and to show that some things just never change.
You might be embarrassed to be seen reading it, but it's definately worth picking up. It's fascinating to see how the other .0001% live, and I guarentee you'll learn something.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By BiCoastal on October 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the previous reviewer. If you are like me, always on the lookout for a not-too-serious books in a sociology section, you may enjoy it, as well. I am giving this book four stars only because at some point the zoology comparisons can wear you out.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By The Rev. Dr. Daniel J. G. G. Block on January 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Put away your highlighter and pen. This is not a serious book. You won't be taking notes.
Instead, relax and prepare to enjoy some malicious gossip: a vicious, little joke. Conniff's tome is similar to the middle class matron who begins a joke with, "Did you hear the one about the rich guy, who...?" It is vindictive. It is mean-spirited. It paints with too broad a brush to be accurate. It appeals to our baser instincts. ...AND IT IS FUN!
This is the most amusing book that I've read in years. Enjoy!
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