cover image Quiet Street: On American Privilege

Quiet Street: On American Privilege

Nick McDonell. Pantheon, $27 (144p) ISBN 978-0-593-31678-8

Journalist and novelist McDonell (The Council of Animals) excavates his own privileged Manhattan upbringing in this slim but piercing study of classism in America. Though he fondly remembers his formative experiences at elite private schools in New York, and later at Harvard and Oxford universities, McDonell characterizes the culture of these institutions as a “superficial meritocracy” masking profound entitlement. He describes “The Bubble” that ensconced him and his prep school peers and the methods by which they reconciled the cognitive dissonance of their position at the top of the social hierarchy with their education’s purported values of “kindness, fairness, [and] generosity.” These reflections support the author’s assertion—underscored at the end of the book through conversations with former classmates—that it is not loss of wealth that America’s elite fear most from reform, but rather a loss of self tied to that wealth. McDonell’s prose is ingratiating, and his recollections carefully drawn, but sun-washed memories of summers spent on Amagansett make this occasionally feel like an apologia for the 1%. Still, it’s an earnest and piercing examination of the mindset of the upper class. (Aug.)