cover image Bobos in Paradise the New Upper Class and How They Got There

Bobos in Paradise the New Upper Class and How They Got There

David Brooks. Simon & Schuster, $25 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-684-85377-2

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)