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

David Brooks
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 6 2001
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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You've seen them: They sip double-tall, non-fat lattes, and chat on mobile phones while driving their immaculate SUVs to Pottery Barn to shop for £25 titanium spatulas. They tread down speciality cheese aisles in top-of-the-line hiking boots and think nothing of laying down £4 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 our 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 anti-establishment people with scuffed shoes".

Bobos in Paradise is an American-focused, but 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 analysing 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. 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 the Hardcover edition.

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 the Hardcover edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Conflation and Gross Stereotypes Jan. 2 2004
Bobos in Paradise is a work employing such gross stereotypes and historical conflation as to be close to unuseable. Funny, witty, yes. Accurate and up to date, no. He takes Wayne, Pennsylvania as an example of the BoBo paradise and then tells us about mass tastes that are more than a decade old. In order to sound hip he uses pop cult phrases that are just dead wrong or off the mark. For example, he says these Bobo's like "Bruise Colors", actually a phrase primarilly used for young girls "punk" lipstick, blues, greens, red browns, when what he is talking about are the standard Pottery Barn colors. Founding Fathers "went in for clean classical styles, not gaudy baroque ones" as proof of their bourgeois values. Evidently he doesn't know that the Baroque style was The style from about 1690 to 1730 and the Rococo dominated everything from about 1740 to 1790 and, in many places, well beyond. What is this guy talking about? "They were smart but not overly intellectual" WHAT ! Franklin was the intellectual par excellance. That was one of the reasons he was so popular in France. At a dinner for Nobel Prize winners, JFK said that "There has not been so much talent assembled in this room since Jefferson dined alone." People like Franklin, Jeffeson, Madison and many, many others had continual corrspondence with the leading intellectuals all over the globe. Brooks does as badly with the contemporary scene. He makes no clear differentiation between the distinctly different generations that have emerged from the mid century mark. Brooks has a spin, a very self congratulatory spin, he wants to put on his ideologically driven vision the facts be dammed. Read this for what the Neocons are up to and how they want to view the world. Read more ›
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Perils of Upbeat Criticism June 19 2004
By George
Brooks appears on Matthews show, and seems intelligent. That's why I bought the book. Generally, this book hits all the high points of American intellectualism. He tosses out the right names. The book is sort of satiric, and sort of serious.
Since it was written in the Bubble period, one can be charitable. Maybe this was the most criticism one could offer up. Now things are more serious. The discussion of how elite universities, how they held their power, could be channeled to ask why academics were so wrong in Iraq? Why are America's ideas, like neo-conservatism, so, um, lame? Is that the word?
Brooks gets into a very long discussion of moral absolutes. It's kind of a "Well, if you aren't on the plan, why aren't you going to Hell?" approach. It's a little breathtaking. One can argue that religions differ on the standards, the absolute standards, so if we are here to reconcile religious differences, life is going to be very bloody. He doesn't seem to accept this point, which is fine. Unfortunately, it devalues his idea of moral relativism and the Bobos, though he doesn't use that term, as I recall.
I guess it turns out that being shallow, a bit insipid, and totally materialist has a downside. A lot of the poor world tends to hate you, and wants to destroy you. Oh, dear. What a drag. So many snags.
So, his point about academia and top schools is interesting, as history, but what are these schools really churning out? Why do we have such a large income disparity? Why are we working so hard to build an elite? It's like Brooks is saying the elite is good enough, why sweat it, but I'm not really in it for vague and undefined reasons.
You have to be bright to pull it off. One could ask why anyone would want to pull it off? To have a bestseller?
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4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing study of the "new meritocracy" June 15 2004
While it may not be as catchy as "preppie" or "yuppie," in "bobo" David Brooks has coined a new term for a newly visible and significant segment of society. A Bobo, he claims, is a hybrid of the bourgeois and the bohemian--a "new meritocracy" or "educated elite." Bobos are the new movers and shakers of American business--in banking, law, the media, anything connected to the high-tech industry, even Hollywood. And like the preppies and the yuppies before them, they're making their mark on the rest of us: Starbucks, for example, was specifically envisioned as a Bobo hangout.
Brooks claims that Bobos despise yuppies, but a close study of his book will show that the two groups have several significant things in common. Both are educated professionals (though many Bobos, especially those in computer-connected fields, are college dropouts or never-wents, Bill Gates being the most obvious example) pulling in high salaries (from a minimum $100,000 annual gross to several million); couples are always dual-income. Both are comfortable with high tech in all its latest manifestations. Both take conscientious care of their bodies--no smoking, no drugs, only moderate alcohol consumption, health-club memberships, toning sports like running, skiing, and racquet games. Both are attracted to highbrow culture (Bobos are mad for museums and listen to NPR). Both enjoy vacationing in remote, out-of-the-way spots that don't expose them to the thundering herds of "fat tourists" pouring on and off busses. Both are entranced by "professional-grade" kitchen appliances and want to own a restaurant's worth of lesser tools and equipment.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Flavor of the Times Without Exactitude
David Brooks is a fine writer. I have always enjoyed his articles in the Weekly Standard, the Atlantic Monthly, and currently his column in the New York Times. Read more
Published on May 14 2004 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Why they are how they are...
Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks gives readers a look at the characteristics of America's upper class today. Read more
Published on April 12 2004 by "scholarlykatie"
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Fun
If you've ever been to San Franciso or Seattle, you've seen those coffee shops selling All-Natural Sumatran Earth-Grown Kenyan Blend, or those organic supermarkets selling Pete and... Read more
Published on March 21 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Funny but seriously fawed.
Brooks is a breezy and energetic writer who loves to brand name drop ad nauseum. The book is witty and fun to read. But dont expect any edification. Read more
Published on March 21 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Mildly interesting but ultimately flawed
One day, the upper middle classes woke up and discovered the bohemians. Enchanted, they did away with the formality of grandmother's parlour and embraced bare wood floorings,... Read more
Published on March 5 2004 by E. T. Sprenkle
5.0 out of 5 stars Bohemians merged into the bourgeoisie--a clever notion
The author discovered in the college educated that rebel attitudes and social climbing are mixed together. This is a consequence of the information age. Read more
Published on Feb. 1 2004 by Mary E. Sibley
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for: who dont understand the People of the 60's
This book is a must read!
It talks about why Bobos will spend $15,000 on one thing but not on another. Read more
Published on Jan. 28 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars The Meritocracy Won??
If David Brooks, now resident Bush Apologist for the New York Times, is right that the Meritocracy defeated the Aristocracy, why is the ultimate "legacy" George W. Read more
Published on Jan. 21 2004 by Marshall Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, sad and witty
As the Amazon review states, we all know who the Bobos are. If we don't see them buying or wearing outrageously expensive items, we must listen to them as they blab about buying... Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2004 by Avid Reader
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent concept, uneven execution
I am a fan of all kinds of sociological studies and I had been looking forward to reading this ever since it came out. Read more
Published on Dec 3 2003
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