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Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There Paperback – March 6, 2001
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Janet Maslin The New York Times Delectable...a tartly amusing, all too accurate guide to the new establishment.
Chris Tucker The Dallas Morning News Thanks to Brooks, bobos will join preppies, yuppies, and angry white males in the American lexicon.
Emily Prager The Wall Street Journal Hilarious and enlightening.
Jonathan Yardley The Washington Post Perceptive and amusing. [Brooks] has identified the salient characteristics of this new elite, and he describes them with accuracy and wit.
About the Author
David Brooks writes a biweekly Op-Ed column for The New York Times and appears regularly on PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and NPR's All Things Considered. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
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“Universities tolerate tattoos and piercing that would have seemed outrageous in the early 1950s, but they crack down on fraternity drinking rituals that would have seemed unexceptional. We feel less strict with our children, but in fact we intervene in their lives far more than parents did in the 1950s.”
I mean, I work in academia and don’t get it. A guy who wears a tie, smokes a cigarette, and likes to drink at the college pub is more of a threat than someone who looks like he just left a Slipknot concert. And yes, he’s the guy sitting next to your daughter in her “History of Sexuality” class at her private college. So this book resonates with me.
Also, Brooks’ insight on scantily clad women everywhere one looks is hilarious:
“To get a firsthand glimpse of these new codes, go down to your local park in the summertime. You’ll see women jogging or running in sports bras and skin-tight spandex pants. […] Women running around in their underwear in public. They’re not exposing themselves for the sake of exhibitionism. Any erotic effect of their near nudity is counteracted by their expressions of grim determination. They are working out.”
The preceding quote is amusingly accurate. It’s like I am reading a Tom Wolfe novel!
He makes several other good points: Americans no longer worship God, really, they worship health and their bodies. (I suppose it is truly a temple, as our Sunday School teachers taught us—before the Protestant decline in the U.S., which Brooks ably covers!) Also, the “intellectuals” today are bit soft—they go to bed early and are more concerned with getting their kids to school and making sure the “I Support NPR” bumper sticker is clean on the Prius—rather than discussing hermeneutics or Jorge Luis Borges, for example, over some whiskey and beer. I mean, it seems the Christopher Hitchens days of drinking and talking all night might be gone.
The text runs a bit long—he could have cut it down by 50 pages or so—and at times his commentary is too exaggerated, but overall this is a book that historians will read 20, 30 years from now in order to understand the pre-9/11 gilded age of the 1980s and 1990s. And yes, I hate to say it, but it is refreshing that Brooks is a moderate, and not completely consumed by political ideology.
Bobos are bourgeois bohemians, though I suppose they could also be bohemian bourgeois. Jerry Rubin famously went from the activist trenches to the world of the investor. The Clintons went from the world of the antiwar movement to the world of the futures trader. While he mentions exemplary cases such as this, Brooks is interested in something far more subtle. By turns humorous, silly and hypocritical, the decisions made by Bobos can also be seen as pleasantly moderate and, in their own way, disciplined and responsible.
Bobos still resist authority but they make exceptions for, e.g., the health of the body. They will not be bothered by activities that would have riled Victorians--women jogging in little more than spandex underwear--so long as they are doing so in an effort to better themselves and preserve their youth and health. They do not countenance materialism that goes beyond the necessary (the purchase of luxury yachts, e.g.) but they are quite prepared to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a double oven with a six-burner cook surface. Gold faucet taps would disgust them but natural-surface slate showers they would see as de riguer. Where the sixties' radicals sometimes confined themselves to a diet that could be purchased by a third world peasant's wages, the Bobos shop at Whole Foods.
Brooks charts their patterns of consumption, their business and intellectual lives, their views of pleasure, their politics and their spirituality. The writing is simply beautiful, the examples by turns hilarious and touching. The book is more readable than any book with its range of reference and seriousness of purpose that I can recall. (It has also sparked a sequel: On Paradise Drive.)
Bobos in Paradise should be paired with Charles Murray's Coming Apart. Both deal with the ways in which educated elites have separated themselves from the poor and both show the ways in which the extremes of the sixties have been transcended by elites while they have nearly destroyed the lives of the poor.