WASPs: The Splendors and Miseries of an American Aristocracy

Michael Knox Beran. Pegasus, $29.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-64313-706-3
This colorful survey from biographer Beran (The Last Patrician) traces the rise and fall of the “WASP ideal” from 19th-century New England to the burial of George H.W. Bush in 2018. Identifying the animating impulse of WASP culture as the belief that “patrician privilege... could be justified through meritorious public service,” Beran spotlights American political dynasties including the Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Harrimans, and delves into the role that elite institutions including Groton and Harvard played in shaping America’s ruling class. Henry Adams’s romantic travails and “failure as a public man” are discussed, as are the philanthropic inclinations of J.P. Morgan and other WASPs who “were never more comfortable with art than when it was safely shut away in a glass case.” Beran also depicts Franklin Roosevelt’s efforts to chart a middle course between “reform WASPs” and “Wall Street WASPs” during the Great Depression, and describes how the Vietnam War, public scandals, and scathing takedowns by outsiders including Truman Capote permanently tarnished the WASP image in the 1960s. Beran stuffs the account with juicy details, though the constant name-dropping and tossed-off literary allusions can be aggravating. Still, this is a rewarding study of a vital yet slippery aspect of American history and culture. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 06/01/2021
Release date: 08/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 546 pages - 978-1-63936-210-3
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