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Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There Hardcover – Large Print, February, 2001

3.6 out of 5 stars 240 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

You've seen them: They sip double-tall, nonfat lattes, chat on cell phones, and listen to NPR while driving their immaculate SUVs to Pottery Barn to shop for $48 titanium spatulas. They tread down specialty cheese aisles in top-of-the-line hiking boots and think nothing of laying down $5 for an olive-wheatgrass muffin. They're the bourgeois bohemians--"Bobos"--an unlikely blend of mainstream culture and 1960s-era counterculture that, according to David Brooks, represents both America's present and future: "These Bobos define our age. They are the new establishment. Their hybrid culture is the atmosphere we all breathe. Their status codes now govern social life." Amusing stereotypes aside, they're an "elite based on brainpower" and merit rather than pedigree or lineage: "Dumb good-looking people with great parents have been displaced by smart, ambitious, educated, and antiestablishment people with scuffed shoes."

Bobos in Paradise is a brilliant, breezy, and often hilarious study of the "cultural consequences of the information age." Large and influential (especially in terms of their buying power), the Bobos have reformed society through culture rather than politics, and Brooks clearly outlines this passing of the high-class torch by analyzing nearly all aspects of life: consumption habits, business and lifestyle choices, entertainment, spirituality, politics, and education. Employing a method he calls "comic sociology," Brooks relies on keen observations, wit, and intelligence rather than statistics and hard theory to make his points. And by copping to his own Bobo status, he comes across as revealing rather than spiteful in his dead-on humor. Take his description of a typical grocery store catering to discriminating Bobos: "The visitor to Fresh Fields is confronted with a big sign that says 'Organic Items today: 130.' This is like a barometer of virtue. If you came in on a day when only 60 items were organic, you'd feel cheated. But when the number hits the three figures, you can walk through the aisles with moral confidence."

Like any self-respecting Bobo, Brooks wears his erudition lightly and comfortably (not unlike, say, an expedition-weight triple-layer Gore-Tex jacket suitable for a Mount Everest assault but more often seen in the gym). But just because he's funny doesn't mean this is not a serious book. On the contrary, it is one of the more insightful works of social commentary in recent memory. His ideas are sharp, his writing crisp, and he even offers pointed suggestions for putting the considerable Bobo political clout to work. And, unlike the classes that spawned them--the hippies and the yuppies--Brooks insists the Bobos are here to stay: "Today the culture war is over, at least in the realm of the affluent. The centuries-old conflict has been reconciled." All the more reason to pay attention. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Transcendentalists vs. robber barons, beatniks vs. men in gray flannel suits, hippies vs. hawks: for more than a century, U.S. culture has been driven forward by tensions between bohemians and the bourgeoisie. Brooks, an editor at the conservative Weekly Standard and at Newsweek and an NPR commentator, argues that this longstanding paradigm has been eroded by the merging of bohemians and bourgeoisie into a new cultural, intellectual and financial elite: the "bobos." Drawing on diverse examples--from an analysis of the New York Times' marriage pages, the sociological writings of Vance Packard, Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte and such films as The Graduate--he wittily defends his thesis that the information age, in which ideas are as "vital to economic success as natural resources or finance capital," has created a culture in which once-uptight Babbitts relax and enjoy the sensual and material side of life and anti-establishment types relish capitalist success; thus a meritocracy of intellectualism and money has replaced the cultural war between self-expression and self-control. While it works well on a superficial level, Brooks's analysis is problematic upon close examination. For example, his claim that Ivy League universities moved toward a meritocracy when, in the 1960s, they began accepting some students on academic rather than family standing ignores the reality that the "legacy" system is still in force. Ultimately, by focusing myopically on the discrete phenomenon of the establishment of "bobos," Brooks avoids more complicated discussions of race, class, poverty or the cultural wars on abortion, homosexuality, education and religion that still rage today. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Thorndike Americana
  • Hardcover: 411 pages
  • Publisher: Thorndike Press (February 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786231076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786231072
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (240 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,444,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Allen Smalling TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Bobo" is author David Brooks' acronym for a Bourgeois Bohemian, a synthesis of Reaganism and Woodstock, the folks he says are running the country today. Bobos are new money--the meritocracy of smart folk who have become rich as fast-track professionals, clever enterpreneurs, start-up capitalists, or visionaries like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. Some Bobos are capitalistic hippies and some are mellowed-out business people; Bobo is their common meeting ground. True to their mixed heritage, Bobos love oxymoronic concepts like "sustainable development," "cooperative individualism" or "liberation management." Reconciliation is their middle name.
Bobos dislike showing off, but of course all rich people do, so they are allowed to show off in discreet ways. Mercedes are out, but SUV's are in. Jewelry is out, but eco-tourism is in. Bobox buy the same things the rest of us do (bread, chicken, coffee) but pay from 3 to 10 times the mass-market price in search of something better, organic, or more planet-friendly. In fact, anything that shows one to be a friend to the planet is fair game, no matter how silly. There's even a toothpaste that encourages germs to leave the mouth.
Needless to say, it takes a huge income to be a true Bobo. Brooks almost had this reviewer feeling sorry for the poor U. of Chicago professor forced to live on a "mere" household income of $180K, barely enough to cover private schools for her kids and a nanny. The wretch suffers from what Brooks calls "status-income disequilibrium" or "SID" because her pay, while handsome, pales before her similarly educated peers in the professions and business, with whom she has to socialize at symposia.
America teems with the newly rich.
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Format: Paperback
Nobody wants to be called a yuppie these days. As a social phenomenon, the yuppies, with their power suits and moussed hair, are now looked back upon with about as much affection as the Hitler youth. They were pushy and arrogant, yet they seemed to be everywhere.
So where did they all go? David Brooks ventures an amusing answer in Bobos in Paradise, in which he defines and describes a new social class, the 'bourgeois bohemians', or bobos. A bobo combines the solid fiscal sensibility of the village burgher with the daring lifestyle choices of the left bank. Brooks thinks bobos reconcile the great social cleavage of the 1960s between the squares and the counterculture.
Bobos in Paradise is a very funny, entertaining book, and it's highly readable. Brooks is a very clever salesman -- much more so than his brutally honest predecessor in 'comic sociology', Paul Fussell, whose 1983 book *Class* is a much more pointed analysis of the American social system. Fussell heartlessly dissects and illustrates his three major classes, i.e. upper, middle and lower, all of which he sees as roiling moshpits of status consciousness and envy. Brooks is much less brave: as a self-professed bobo, he only tweaks his upper-middle-class, book-buying, bobo audience, satirizing bobo sensibilities yet carefully avoiding any violations of serious bobo taboos. He's good at seeming to be a bad boy.
But bobos aren't upper-middle class, you protest! Doesn't Brooks himself identify them as the nation's new 'upper class'? .... Fussell, wherever he is these days, would chide Brooks for missing the ways in which bobos are in fact achingly middle class.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading through the previous reviews recorded here on this book, I wasn't surprised that some readers loved it, others hated it, and some noted its superficiality while being amused.
Brooks' concept of Bobos (Bourgeois Bohemians) is fascinating and at times his observations sparkle, but he is utterly unconvincing when he argues that Bohemian values "rule" in America today. Clearly, Brooks is aware of the view that Bohemian values have been coopted by the corporate establishment and used as a marketing vehicle; but he makes little effort to explain why he rejects this view for one that exhalts the supposed power of people who are too easily stereotyped for eating granola and wearing Birkenstocks.
There is much in this book that struck me as wrongheaded--especially when Brooks obsesses on surface-level concerns rather than their deeper meanings, such as the repeated shots he takes at those Bobos who may prefer to buy a hand-woven blanket made in Guatemala rather than a synthetic one manufactured in America. As if this is a matter of great importance.
Despite its shortcomings, Brooks' insights make the book well worth a reading--his observations, for example, on Latte Towns, the new morality of Bobos (with its central focus on medical rather than religious injunctions), and the culture of Seattle can be both wickedly funny and insightful.
Brooks is the sort of conservative a liberal like me can enjoy. In reviewing the attacks of more strident right-wing commentators, Brooks provides a sensible corrective to the overwrought ravings of the Clinton haters and those conservatives, such as Robert Bork, who descend to self-parody when they reflect on the nightmare of "the Sixties.
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