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In Praise of Nepotism : A Natural History Hardcover – Bargain Price, July 15, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
George Orwell once wrote, "To an ordinary human being, love means nothing if it does not mean loving some people more than others." This logic is at the heart of Bellow's conception of nepotism, which he means to rescue from the near-universal scorn it suffers today. Son of Nobel-winning novelist Saul, now an editor-at-large at Doubleday, Bellow seeks to redefine nepotism not as a "deplorable lack of public spirit" but as the very "bedrock of social existence"-a natural, healthy concern for family and, by extension, those ethnically or otherwise similar to ourselves. This is no brittle screed, as the title might imply, but rather a impressively full-blooded and wide-ranging work of scholarship, demonstrating that the individualistic U.S. is quite exceptional in its rejection of nepotism. Bellow assimilates biology, theology and gargantuan chunks of human history with brio, never losing the thread of his argument or the attention of his audience. Since nepotism is about power, the book has an unavoidable top-down orientation, as it is almost exclusively about the ruling class throughout history, from Borgia and Bonaparte to our own Adams, Roosevelt and Kennedy clans. Since nepotism is synonymous with familial interest, it is hardly surprising that Bellow is able to find ample evidence of its existence throughout history-even in "egalitarian" America. At times he casts such a wide net that he risks blurring nepotism with the entirety of human history. However, his analysis of the flexibility and complexity of nepotism's forms is utterly enthralling and stimulating.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
"It's not what you know, it's who you know." At one time your name alone could guarantee you admission to a prestigious university, a cushy job, and lifetime security. The practice of nepotism, universally abhorred but also universally practiced and accepted as "the way things are," has made a comeback. Today it is evident in politics, with the return of the political dynasty (obvious in the 2000 Bush-Gore election), and in Hollywood, where a new rash of thespian offspring are making inroads in the film industry. This in-depth look at nepotism and all its implications takes a very broad approach, arguing that nepotism is a basic instinct rooted in the social biology of animals and humans, and that it may be a necessary and even positive force in evolution. Bellow examines the phenomenon throughout history, from tribal societies through ancient Greece and Rome and early Christianity, to today's New Nepotism that pervades politics, business, the arts, and sports. Bellow himself is an example, being the son of novelist Saul Bellow. He unearths the rich history of the practice, which alone is worth the read. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
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The specifically American version of modern nepotism is described by Bellow as being forgiving toward nepotism for providing entrée into social, employment and power positions so long as the beneficiary subsequently proves themselves by merit. Family fumblers are appropriately punished in the author's view and family dynasties which fail the individual/generational meritocracy test do indeed go "from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations".
The conclusion seemed like a cheap eraser jammed onto the end of an expensive mechanical pencil. It appears to have been cobbled together in a hurry and does not read like carefully reasoned inferences drawn from the historical sections of the book. The conclusion provides prescriptive attitudes regarding nepotism in modern society and this is by far the weakest part of the book.
The irony of writing about nepotism as the son of a famous author is not lost on Bellow. This book will be a boon to nephew-hiring dynasts everywhere.
I understand that it's part of human nature that most of us would do favors to our relatives. So, as the author cogently argues, the complete elimination of nepotism would result in a world without humanness. The author tries to find a fine line between "good" nepotism and "bad" nepotism, but readers are left wondering where the demarcation is. In fact, this is not a solution at all because, as long as nepotism is allowed, it will be abused, as history has shown repeatedly. Nepotism in the government is particularly damaging to a democratic society, because, practically, it diverges taxpayers' money to serving the relatives and cronies of people in power, and, morally, it sustains the injustice that people are born unequal. Hence, nepotism is exactly the evil we want to fight against in the government. Some would argue that nepotism, if used appropriately, would promote loyalty, trust, and thus working efficiency. This is a wrong argument. A democratic government is built for fairness; it is not meant for efficiency. Military systems are built for efficiency, but never has there any that is democratic. Even if there are "successful" cases of governmental nepotism in the US history, as the author highlights in the book, one may wonder whether there were nobody else in the nation who could have done an equally good or even better job when given the opportunties to serve.
Although nepotism may be allowable or even desirable in other situations for weaving together a harmonious family or society, it should nevertheless be absolutely avoided in the government. To do so, there are two solutions I can think of. One is to introduce an explicit policy for government officials to avoid nepotism as the US government has been doing, and the other is to establish a punitive system that can hold those who egregiously promote their own relatives or friends accountable for any bad consequence of their nepotism. The removal of nepotism will make our government one step closer toward the ideal of a government of, for, and by the people. The removal of nepotism in the government will also promote justice to advance our society to be truly meritocratic.
However one important point Bellow repeatedly makes is that ' being a close relative is not alone enough'. If one lacks the talent and ability then in time one loses the power and place.
I myself take a special interest in the passing of spiritual legacies generation to generation, and dynasties of great 'minds'. One interesting point which does not particularly relate to this book. None of the great philosopher as far as I know has a child who is a great philosophers. But in the world of Jewish spiritual life, and Torah learning, there are great dynasties like for instance the Soloveitchik family. Here the heritage and the education within the family are crucial. A parallel might be made in the world of music with the Bach family, with their one overwhelming genius, their two top flight composers and their hundreds of musicians through many generations.
This book should be of interest to everyone who cares about people, and about the way the world works. It is an outstanding study.
Most recent customer reviews
Take a public speaking course.
Thanks Jim Adams.