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Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There


Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There Cover

ISBN13: 9780684853789
ISBN10: 0684853787
Condition: Standard
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This book started with a series of observations. After four and a half years abroad, I returned to the United States with fresh eyes and was confronted by a series of peculiar juxtapositions. WASPy upscale suburbs were suddenly dotted with arty coffeehouses where people drank little European coffees and listened to alternative music. Meanwhile, the bohemian downtown neighborhoods were packed with multimillion-dollar lofts and those upscale gardening stores where you can buy a faux-authentic trowel for $35.99. Suddenly massive corporations like Microsoft and the Gap were on the scene, citing Gandhi and Jack Kerouac in their advertisements. And the status rules seemed to be turned upside down. Hip lawyers were wearing those teeny tiny steel-framed glasses because now it was apparently more prestigious to look like Franz Kafka than Paul Newman.

The thing that struck me as oddest was the way the old categories no longer made sense. Throughout the twentieth century it's been pretty easy to distinguish between the bourgeois world of capitalism and the bohemian counterculture. The bourgeoisie were the square, practical ones. They defended tradition and middle-class morality. They worked for corporations, lived in suburbs, and went to church. Meanwhile, the bohemians were the free spirits who flouted convention. They were the artists and the intellectuals — the hippies and the Beats. In the old schema the bohemians championed the values of the radical 1960s and the bourgeois were the enterprising yuppies of the 1980s.

But I returned to an America in which the bohemian and the bourgeois were all mixed up. It was now impossible to tell an espresso-sipping artist from a cappuccino-gulping banker. And this wasn't just a matter of fashion accessories. I found that if you investigated people's attitudes toward sex, morality, leisure time, and work, it was getting harder and harder to separate the antiestablishment renegade from the pro-establishment company man. Most people, at least among the college-educated set, seemed to have rebel attitudes and social-climbing attitudes all scrambled together. Defying expectations and maybe logic, people seemed to have combined the countercultural sixties and the achieving eighties into one social ethos.

After a lot of further reporting and reading, it became clear that what I was observing is a cultural consequence of the information age. In this era ideas and knowledge are at least as vital to economic success as natural resources and finance capital. The intangible world of information merges with the material world of money, and new phrases that combine the two, such as "intellectual capital" and "the culture industry," come into vogue. So the people who thrive in this period are the ones who can turn ideas and emotions into products. These are highly educated folk who have one foot in the bohemian world of creativity and another foot in the bourgeois realm of ambition and worldly success. The members of the new information age elite are bourgeois bohemians. Or, to take the first two letters of each word, they are Bobos.

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. Their moral codes give structure to our personal lives. When I use the word establishment, it sounds sinister and elitist. Let me say first, I'm a member of this class, as, I suspect, are most readers of this book. We're not so bad. All societies have elites, and our educated elite is a lot more enlightened than some of the older elites, which were based on blood or wealth or military valor. Wherever we educated elites settle, we make life more interesting, diverse, and edifying.

This book is a description of the ideology, manners, and morals of this elite. I start with the superficial things and work my way to the more profound. After a chapter tracing the origins of the affluent educated class, I describe its shopping habits, its business culture, its intellectual, social, and spiritual life. Finally, I try to figure out where the Bobo elite is headed. Where will we turn our attention next? Throughout the book I often go back to the world and ideas of the mid-1950s. That's because the fifties were the final decade of the industrial age, and the contrast between the upscale culture of that time and the upscale culture of today is stark and illuminating. Furthermore, I found that many of the books that really helped me understand the current educated class were written between 1955 and 1965, when the explosion in college enrollments, so crucial to many of these trends, was just beginning. Books like The Organization Man, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Affluent Society, The Status Seekers, and The Protestant Establishment were the first expressions of the new educated class ethos, and while the fever and froth of the 1960s have largely burned away, the ideas of these 1950s intellectuals continue to resonate.

Finally, a word about the tone of this book. There aren't a lot of statistics in these pages. There's not much theory. Max Weber has nothing to worry about from me. I just went out and tried to describe how people are living, using a method that might best be described as comic sociology. The idea is to get at the essence of cultural patterns, getting the flavor of the times without trying to pin it down with meticulous exactitude. Often I make fun of the social manners of my class (I sometimes think I've made a whole career out of self-loathing), but on balance I emerge as a defender of the Bobo culture. In any case, this new establishment is going to be setting the tone for a long time to come, so we might as well understand it and deal with it.

Copyright © 2000 by David Brooks

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Gold Gato, June 14, 2015 (view all comments by Gold Gato)
"Dionysius, the god of abandon, has been reconciled with Prometheus, the god of work."

That sentence aptly describes the Bobo. What, you may ask, is a Bobo? A Bourgeois Bohemian. In essence, they are the New Establishment, having replaced the pure Yuppies who replaced the pure Hippies who replaced the Beats who replaced the Old Establishment. Bobo.

If Christopher Columbus had been a Bobo, he would have returned to Spain and exclaimed, "We didn't find China, but we did find ourselves". Perhaps you work with one. They have a tendency to wear rugged and very expensive mountaineering gear as their work outfit with highly reflective sunglasses (just in case an avalanche might hit the office).

I didn't warm up immediately to this book, but the author's sly sarcasm finally took hold. David Brooks proudly refers to himself as a Bobo, noting all the good things that have come from Bobo-ism (less smoking, respect for the earth, focus on life). We all have a little Bobo in us, I guess. In my life, I am surrounded by them, like leaves on a tree. The book helped me to understand them better. Like a travel guide.

Book Season = Year Round (pass the organic beef jerky)
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Product Details

Brooks, David
Simon & Schuster
Brooks, David
New York
United states
Sociology - General
Popular Culture
Middle class
Elite (Social sciences)
Upper class
Popular Culture - General
United States Social conditions 1980-
United States Social life and customs.
Edition Number:
1st Touchstone ed.
Edition Description:
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
March 2001
Grade Level:
8.44 x 5.5 in 8.715 oz

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » American Studies » 80s to Present
History and Social Science » American Studies » General
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture
History and Social Science » Sociology » American Studies
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
Metaphysics » General

Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Simon & Schuster - English 9780684853789 Reviews:
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "It used to be the Bohemians vs. the Bourgeois. Now, says a senior editor of The Weekly Standard, there are 'BoBos' — a confusing blend of both." Library Journal "What makes the book work, aside from its intelligence and nearly pitch-perfect humor, is the fact that Brooks confesses to being a Bobo himself....A mixture of heartfelt fondness and dead-on ridicule, animated by an energetic, glass-half-full ambivalence....Funny and smart."
"Review" by , "[A] delectable new book of social criticism....a tartly amusing, all too accurate guide to the new establishment and its self-serving ways....The serious underpinnings of this book concern the compromises at the heart of Bobo culture."
"Review" by , "It's a sociological study of the current generation of bourgeois bohemians."
"Review" by , "The most delightful dissection of the brainy classes since A.C. Spectorsky's The Exurbanites 40 years ago."
"Review" by , "The self-loathing yuppie is dead! Love live the BoBo! An absolute sparlker of a book, which should establish David Brooks — not that he needs establishing — as the smart, fun-to-read social critic of his generation."
"Review" by , "The new Dodge minivan is named the Kerouac. Maynard G. Krebs brokered the AOL/Time Warner deal. They're selling Amway products from Ken Kesey's Magic Bus. Yow. This is much worse than the sixties. Bobos in Paradise is cool, mean, and excellent."
"Review" by , "Put on your REI hiking boots, climb into your Range Rover, get your mocha at Starbucks, and dive into this book to find out why you're a BoBo and why you're so happy. David Brooks is one shrewd, thoughtful, and immensely entertaining social critic. He has sharp eyes, a tough mind, and a richly ironic understanding of how we live now and why. Read, weep, ponder, laugh."
"Synopsis" by , It used to be easy to distinguish between the bourgeois world of capitalism and the bohemian counterculture, but now the "bos" are all mixed up and it is impossible to tell an espresso-sipping artist from a cappucino-gulping banker. Read how the "Bobos" define our age.
"Synopsis" by , Do you believe that spending $15,000 on a media center is vulgar, but that spending $15,000 on a slate shower stall is a sign that you are at one with the Zenlike rhythms of nature? Do you work for one of those visionary software companies where people come to work wearing hiking boots and glacier glasses, as if a wall of ice were about to come sliding through the parking lot? If so, you might be a Bobo.

In his bestselling work of "comic sociology," David Brooks coins a new word, Bobo, to describe today's upper class — those who have wed the bourgeois world of capitalist enterprise to the hippie values of the bohemian counterculture. Their hybrid lifestyle is the atmosphere we breathe, and in this witty and serious look at the cultural consequences of the information age, Brooks has defined a new generation.

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