- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Crown Business (June 5 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307339262
- ISBN-13: 978-0307339263
- Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 2.8 x 24.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 454 g
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #795,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich Hardcover – Jun 5 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
When Frank, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, began noticing that the ranks of America's wealthy had more than doubled in the last decade, and that they were beginning to cluster together in enclaves, he decided to investigate this new society, where $1 million barely gets you in the door. The Richistanis like to consider themselves ordinary people who just happen to have tons of money, but they live in a world where people buy boats just to carry their cars and helicopters behind their primary yachts, and ordering an alligator-skin toilet seat won't make even your interior designer blink. But Frank doesn't just focus on conspicuous consumption. He talks to philanthropists who apply investment principles to their charitable contributions and political fund-raisers who have used their millions to transform the Colorado state legislature. He also meets people for whom sudden wealth is an emotional burden, whose investment club meetings can feel like group therapy sessions. It's only in the final pages that Frank contemplates the widening gap between Richistan and the rest of the world—for the most part, his grand tour approach never loses its light touch. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Frank, a Wall Street Journal columnist, observes the unprecedented rise of wealth in the U.S., which has essentially created a new country, here dubbed Richistan, with a net worth of $1$10 million in over 7 million households, $10$100 million in over 1.4 million households, and $100 million to $1 billion in thousands of households, plus more than 400 billionaires. Stemming from the rise of financial markets, new technology, and a freer flow of goods and information, this river of money courses around the world, seeking investments not only in stocks but in hedge funds, private-equity funds, and venture capital. Conducting extensive interviews, the author tells stories of these wealthy individuals, neither deifying nor denigrating them. With emphasis placed here on the increasing gap between the wealthy, middle class, and poor, we also learn about the challenges to society of this great disparity, the responsibility that this abundant wealth carries, and Frank's hope that some of this enormous pool of money will be used to solve widespread social problems. Excellent book. Whaley, Mary
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Page Seven: The distinctions that are made between 'Lower Richistan', 'Middle Richistan', and 'Upper Richistan.'
Chapter One: Butler Boot Camp (Pages Thirteen To Thirty-Five): Fascinating details are discussed around the 'Butler Bootcamps' opening up across the U.S. A high number of these jobs are being filled by women. Another fascinating detail: A butler can start out making anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 due to a shortage of qualified hires to meet the demand.
Chapter Eleven: Aristokids (Pages Two-Hundred and Nineteen To Two-Hundred and Fifty) Information is discussed on 'bootcamps' that teach wealthy children how to inherit and/or handle the riches made by their parents.
'Richistan' by Robert Frank is most likely to be enjoyed by those who are curious to know about self-made millionaires.
The book has many key lessons for the new rich:
1. If you want to be rich today, you'd better be someone who starts a successful business that can be sold for big bucks. Inheriting money is a loser's game.
2. Once you are rich, you'll be left feeling poor . . . because others have so much more. You'll lust for a way to instantly double your money.
3. You won't be able to hire the quality of help you need to get rid of daily frustrations. The help you hire will, however, charge you an arm and a leg and will complicate your life.
4. Unless you work hard to insulate them from your wealth, your children will simply be clueless about how to run their lives in any meaningful way. You, too, could be the parent of a rich parasite with a drinking or drug problem.
5. Unless you cash out, your sense of being wealthy can lead you to spend money that you can't afford to spend. A financial disaster could follow.
6. In the race to prove you count, buying things doesn't work very well. The scale of what's expected is rapidly ratcheting up . . . as are the costs. Many times, more is less in terms of satisfaction.
7. Turn your money toward self-directed philanthropy or changing the political environment, and a few million bucks can have a huge impact.
8. Your spending will reach obscene levels. Does any family really need $80,000 a year in massages?
9. You'll only feel comfortable with people with the same wealth you have. Those with less will see you as a mark. Those with more will put you down and make you feel poor.
The book also suggests (but doesn't really develop) the point that there's a split between the very rich and the merely rich, in terms of attitudes and lifestyle. The merely rich are the local professionals who vote Republican (the ones the best selling how to books emphasize) and want to belong at the country club. The really rich are entrepreneurs, and they think the whole system (whatever system it is) stinks. They plan to replace or improve on what the merely rich like (think Donald Trump).
The best parts, to me, were those where a person or a married couple were profiled. I was particularly interested in the story of Philip Berber, the Jewish Irishman, who is reshaping third-world philanthropy by nudging aside the NGOs in Ethiopia to let the people help themselves through his personal charity, Glimmer of Hope. His story begins on page 157.
The book is a very easy read, and it goes down like a good ice cream soda. Everyone will end up feeling superior to most of the people in the book. What more can you expect from buying and reading a book?
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
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.
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.