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on November 17, 2015
Pros: It was kind of fascinating to see how the nouveau riche make their fortunes and how they spend it. The author threw in just a bit of back ground as to how the 1% got so rich and the decline of blue blood wealth following the rise of the new rich. It was also interesting to see how precarious a lot of this new wealth is i.e it can all be lost via over spending or a bad investment move.

Cons: Kind of disgusting that there are actually people out there who have an entire staff to do everyday things the rest of us do. The author sort of makes a case as to why the wealth boom is positive via the onslaught of service jobs but still kind of doesn't really get into how this is bad for the rest of us in the long run. there is a mention of money corrupting politics which is a valuable observation. I would've liked to read more about the danger of too much too soon and what it can do or is already doing to our fragile economy particularly to the education system and healthcare system. The author touches on important economic topics but he isn't an economist so I understand the approach.

Conclusion: the author dabbles on in depth topics but only offers teasers which was a trifle disappointing. I think with some more research and conviction he would've had a solid read. Instead he tried to play neutral and delivered a slightly lackluster account on the state of affairs regarding wealth and class. Note also this book was written before the Great Recession of 2008 so it is a tad out of date. This book both piqued my interest and left me a bit annoyed at how the middle class is being squeezed and a select few are getting wealthier and wealthier with not enough political or socioeconomic explanations as to why.
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on September 29, 2012
Robert Frank's well-written, well-researched book has a bit of "pre-Lehman stink" to it. It's a matter of unfortunate timing. Regardless, it's a fascinating book. As the wealth reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Frank - more than any one else - has chronicled and essentially foretold the story of the concentration of the country's wealth over the past few years into the hands of the upper 1%. I don't know if Frank lays claim to branding the whole "1% vs. 99%" storyline that has shaped up over the past few years, but he could certainly stake a good claim to it. His passages here predate 'Occupy Wall Street' by five years, but read straight out of 2011/12 battle lines - his observations of the 1% taken by the 99% and turned back at them.

Published one year prior to 2008's Global Financial Crisis, the lives of many of the "Richistanis" portrayed here went topsy-turvy with that crash. Most notably, the chapter on Tim Blixseth is interesting for a very different reason than its descriptions of Blixseth's wealth. Rather, his fortunes since then has been so calamitous: bankruptcy, legal action galore and a divorce so nasty that his wife summed up her feelings with "I would rather feel the cold steel of a revolver in the roof of my mouth and pull the trigger than to ever think about living a day with that man again." Other than that, life's been good for him. So, it's curiously fascinating to listen to narrator Dick Hill (I listened to the Audio CD version) recount Frank's time with Blixseth. The then-billionaire had a casual, easy way about his wealth that clearly resonated with the author. As a result, it was one of my favorite chapters in the book.

Hands down my favorite chapter: The story of Department 56 founder, Ed Bazinet. It's a compelling tale of wealth created through what seems to be the most prosaic of product lines: hand-painted, ceramic buildings and villages with lights inside. How he built the business (the tales of creativity astound) is stirring. Frank tells it beautifully and Hill does a masterful job giving you his take on Bazinet's voice. He inherits the essence of what you'd expect the guy to sound like (Minnesota accent and all).

This tale, too, has a interesting twist! Bazinet was in the news in February 2012, the New York Post reporting that he "went on a bizarre shopping spree at the New York International Gift Fair, ordering $20 million worth of swank bric-a-brac before ending up in a mental hospital."

For those reasons alone, I'm very curious to read Frank's follow-up, The High-Beta Rich: How the Manic Wealthy Will Take Us to the Next Boom, Bubble, and Bust.
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on May 3, 2008
Richistan by Robert H. Frank is a breezy, fascinating account of the USA's richest citizens. He looks at a range of issues that the extremely wealthy face that are (to say the least) quite different from the issues faced by the rest of us. In Richistan, you learn about all of the favorite possessions and pastimes of the contemporary rich.

To me, the most interesting aspect of Richistan is the clash of values in old and new money. Of course, this is an oft-told tale. But you can learn a lot about contemporary American sociology by comparing the fading heirs to "old" fortunes with today's self-made entrepreneurs.

Another aspect of Richistan that I like is the fact that Frank tries not to judge his subjects. Unlike Thorsten Veblen (or many other commentators), Frank does not tell you what to think; he presents the facts and assumes that you are intelligent enough to draw appropriate conclusions. (To be fair to Veblen, conspicuous consumption is still much in style. Some of the things that people spend money on in Richistan are jaw dropping; for instance, billionaires build 500-foot yachts that must be docked next to freighters (not other yachts) due to their size).

Frank's chapter on the problems of the rich is also interesting. He finds that the rich are almost never satisfied with the amount of money that they have; regardless of their wealth, people in Richistan consistently estimate that they need twice their current wealth to be comfortable. It is difficult to read Richistan without at least a few pangs of envy; perhaps this information will provide some balm for your ego.

At the end of the book, Frank speculates on the future of Richistan. Frank states that the concentration of wealth among just a few Americans will continue into the indefinite future; the best that the rest of us can hope for is that the Richistanis will use some of their wealth for worthy causes. I am not sure that I agree with Frank; American history shows that popular opinion on political issues is fickle. My best guess is that, at some point, the 99% of Americans who don't live in Richistan will no longer support the present distribution of wealth. That, however, is just one person's best guess.

In short, if you want to read a fun book about the contemporary wealthy, Richistan is difficult to beat.
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on November 8, 2009
A Wall Street Journal writer summarizes his experiences reporting on "the rich and famous". The good news is that many have earned their money, added value to society directly and through "trickle down", and remain busy earning more money and wealth. More have begun to adopt responsibility for society ala Carnegie. The bad news is that the rich tend to have no more self-awareness than you and I. They are stuck on the treadmill of "more, more and conspicuous consumption" described by Thorstein Veblen 100 years ago. Whatever they have, they need more. The recent spate of books on "happiness" and the lack of correlation with income for individuals, countries and timeframes tells this same tale. Those who are wealthy, parents, educators, uncles, mentors, counselors, lawyers, accountants and advisers should read this book. The rich and soon-to-be rich can benefit from self-awareness, accountability, community and spiritual growth, and the impact on society is magnified. Thanks to Frank Rich for telling a neutral and accessible story.
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on May 1, 2013
This book is an eye-opener. Why scorn the noveau riche, when we can study them? Study their backgrounds, their spending habits, and more importantly...how they came to be? Robert Frank does this fantastically, complete with data and references. For someone like me who unabashedly desires to be among this group of people, I studied this like a textbook. It makes me aware of the great economical divide in this country, and how to jump it.
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on July 21, 2017
Richistani is a long and drawn out book that excessively repeats the same conclusions. The entire outlook and view I received from this book was that being rich brings more problems than it solves. In a world where money matters, this book provides a negative outlook on the lives of the ultra rich and stems from what I believe the author's jealousy. After getting about half way through the book, you begin to realize the repetition and 5 examples per story becomes overkill.
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on July 19, 2008
This book was well written, easy to read, entertaining, and funny.

The author hung around places where really rich folks hang out for a year or two, then wrote a book based upon his findings. I can think of a lot worse ways to do research for a book!

The author says the very wealthy are so insulated from the rest of society that they make up their own country within a country.....aka Richistan.

The author divides the millionaire crowd into 3 wealth segments:

Lower Richistan.......$1-10M
Middle Richistan......$10-100M
Upper Richistan.......$100M to $1B

The author reports that as of 2004...the number of millionaire+ households was:

$1M.........9,050,000
$5M.........1,440,000
$10M.........530,000
$25M.........110,000

If we assume there were about (320M population divided by 2) 160M households in the U.S. back in 2004......that means about 6% of U.S. households had millionaire status (9.05M/160M).

The author reported a new rule-of-thumb which I had not heard of before.......that regardless of your wealth level.....you think you need 2X your current wealth level to feel "really wealthy".

I found the section on butler boot camp to be funny. There are so many millionaires needing butlers (or household managers) to take care of their 3 or 4 houses and yachts that demand exceeds supply of butlers. For a mere $12K, you can attend butler boot camp for 8 weeks, and get an average starting pay of $75K.......with a top end pay of $120K. The down side is you have to put up with prima Dona chefs and manage many vendors with an annual operating budget in the $2M range.

I found the section on "performance based philanthropy" interesting. Some entrepreneurs make their fortune then decide to be philanthropists. When they investigate the large, traditional philanthropic organizations.......they find that less than $0.50 of every dollar donated actually does real work for the beneficiaries. Some organizations have tremendous over-head which reduces their efficiency. A few philanthropists decide they can run a more efficient organization......and then up super efficient organizations which then compete against the large traditional organizations.

The section on rich kids points out the age-old difficulty of preventing large family fortunes being spent within 3 generations.

The "who can buy the biggest yacht" section was also entertaining. It seems that to display your super rich status, you need at least a 400 foot long yacht. Of course, the bad news is the regular marinas can't handle a boat that big......so you have to park your trophy yacht out by the rusty ocean going vessels!

The final conclusion of the author is that the U.S. is at risk for another minor social revolution because of the disparity of wealth.....with the top 1% now controlling 33% of the total wealth. He points out the 2 previous social revolutions in the U.S. where in the early 1900's Teddy Roosevelt broke up the large business trusts and the 1930's with FDR and his many New Deal proposals.

Of course, the fact there are disparities in the wealth distribution is not new news. Wilfred Pareto found that in several European countries in the late 1800's and early 1900's.....20% of the population controlled 80% of the wealth. If you check the latest figures for the U.S., you will find Pareto's 80:20 Rule still applies today.

Over-all, this book is easy to read and gives an entertaining view of the world of the citizens of Richistan.

In this age of full disclosure, it can be noted that I am the author and publisher of the book INDEX MUTUAL FUNDS: HOW TO SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE AND BEAT THE PROS. This book is an introduction to the concept of index funds is and is sold on Amazon. I am also a contributing author to the book THE BOGLEHEADS GUIDE TO RETIREMENT PLANNING available from Amazon with an estimated release date of October 2009. I have also written 21 short stories on investing which are also available on Amazon.

Other books which may help you gain citizenship to Richistan are shown below:

 The Richest Man in Babylon
Bogle on Mutual Funds: New Perspectives for the Intelligent Investor
The Millionaire Next Door
The Four Pillars of Investing: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio
A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing, Ninth Edition
The Coffeehouse Investor: How to Build Wealth, Ignore Wall Street, and Get On With Your Life
The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing
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on September 22, 2007
On one hand this book brings to mind the excessive height of several civilizations. Greed is not only good, it seems a requirement in modern America. On the other hand it offers an optimistic new American Dream. The idea of the instant billionaire as someone who not only builds a better mousetrap, but has an exit strategy for selling his company to a bigger company before even starting. No empire builders needed, just a quick ride to the Forbes 400. The sad part is that for many there is never enough, family, friends, and time to enjoy success are all items to be jettisoned for the sake of more. Nonetheless, a great read.
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on December 20, 2008
I found this to be a really interesting and entertaining book although a bit disturbing. One could only hope that as you accumulate wealth that you keep in perspective what it's all about. Richistan gives the reader an insider's view of not only how the rich live and how they make their fortunes but how greed can move in quickly to become a very dark mistress. It's truly fascinating how people bright and wise enough to make massive fortunes find ways to lose all perspective and risk squandering it all, often due to oversized egos. This book should provide a moment of pause to those of us who are, or aspire to be wealthy so we can gather up our common sense and clutch it tightly to our chest so that our lives will not only be filled with financial freedom and liberty but also health and happiness.
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on December 27, 2014
Frank gives an all-access look at how the rich think and act, for better or worse. It's a very powerful portrayal of the microcosm that is Richistan and the data to show just how influential and fragile this group really is. Bravo, man. I want the 2014 version right away.
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