- Hardcover: 344 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (October 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393019659
- ISBN-13: 978-0393019650
- Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #595,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide Hardcover – October, 2002
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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.
Top customer reviews
Ever wonder why a movie star would pay two grand for a sweater that looks like it was fished from a dumpster in a Goodwill parking lot? Wonder no longer! Ever questioned the motivations of a notoriously sinister hedge fund manager, known to rob the retirements of honest working folk, who creates charities dedicated to putting an end to homelessness? Me to. Richard Conniff explains it all, in hilariously penetrating fashion. Conniff, a veteren naturalist, isn't impressed with the 10,000 square foot houses and Italian sports cars. He sees a bunch of primates jockeying for social position. To him, their behavior's pretty simple, and predictable, and very very funny.
And funny it is, especially when presented by such a gifted writer. I know you know what I'm talking about when I say that most books--let's be honest--we start because we think they'll be fun to read but then finish because, well, because we should. This is especially true of non-fiction. Well, if you like Malcolm Gladwell and his rare gift of making you see the world in a different way, you're really going to dig Richard Conniff. He should be a household name.
You're going to get a kick out of this book. Seriously: you'll be having so much fun reading it, you'll feel guilty thinking that you're "supposed" to be reading something else.
If you have even an inkling of the naturalist in you -- if you've ever gone out birding, or read the plaques about plants at a botanic garden, or have a science degree, you will be even more amused.
"Lifestyles of the rich and famous" doesn't show or say anything about how boring, how coddled, or how shallow many in the elite are.
I've read thousands of books, my energyskeptic booklist is just a small subset, and this book is one of my favorites among the thousands I've read. Entertaining, brilliant, funny, interesting, you'll wish Richard Coniff were your best friend so you could continue to hang out with him after you finish reading this delightful book.
Evolutionary psychology is a fun field of study because it attempts to compare human actions with the rest of nature. Mr. Conniff states that he was not interested in praising or bashing the rich. It is true he did a respectable job of keeping to his promise, but holy moly, some of the examples made me shake my head in wonder at these people's actions. The author covers such areas as social-status competitions, the behavior of subordinates, conspicuous consumption, grandstanding, philanthropic efforts, their habitats, infidelity and obsession with marrying the "right sort." As the author points out, these rich folks frequently disavow their desires for risk taking, power or money despite them clearly wanting all three.
Mr. Conniff's easy-to-read, witty and very informative book was an absolute pleasurable experience. I especially enjoyed the Epilogue's "An Alpha Ape's Ten Rules for Living Wisely in an Imperfect World." Ironically, the book made me feel better about my down-to-earth, middle-class life. I would not have the temperament nor the desire to EVER hobnob with their ilk. Granted, they never have to worry about health care, starving, unemployment, receiving a poor education or many of the everyday tribulations that most people endure, but life's waaaay too short to be tolerating the rich's superficial nonsense.