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« Cry Me a Volga River | Main | Interventions, by Noam Chomsky »


Richistan, by Robert Frank

By an everyday book reader
July 1, 2007

"America's super-rich have returned to the days of the Roaring Twenties. As the rest of the country struggles to get by, a huge bubble of multi-millionaires lives almost in a parallel world. The rich now live in their own world of private education, private health care and gated mansions. They have their own schools and their own banks. They even travel apart -- creating a booming industry of private jets and yachts. Their world now has a name, thanks to a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank which has dubbed it 'Richistan'." - Paul Harris, The Observer UK

Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich
by Robert FrankBook Picture

Hardcover: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780307339263, 0307339262
Crown
June 2007

The rich have always been different from you and me, but this revealing and funny journey through "Richistan" entertainingly shows that they are more different than ever. Richistanis have 400-foot-yachts, 30,000-square-foot homes, house staffs of more than 100, and their own "arborists." They're also different from Old Money, and have torn down blue-blood institutions to build their own shining empire.

Richistan is like the best travel writing, full of colorful and interesting stories providing insights into exotic locales. Robert Frank has been loitering on the docks of yacht marinas, pestering his way into charity balls, and schmoozing with real estate agents selling mega-houses to capture the story of the twenty-first century's nouveau riche:

  • House-training the rich. People with new wealth have to be taught how to act like, well, proper rich people. Just in the nick of time, there's been a boom in the number of newly trained butlers - "household managers" - who will serve just the right cabernet when a Richistani's new buddies from Palm Beach stop by.
  • "My boat is bigger than your boat." Only in Richistan would a 100-foot-boat be considered a dinghy. Personal pleasure craft have started to rival navy destroyers in size and speed. Richistan is also a place where friends make fun of those misers who buy the new girlfriend a mere Mercedes SLK.
  • "You want my money? Prove that you're helping the needy!" Richistanis are not only consuming like crazy, they're also shaking up the establishment's bureaucratic, slow-moving charity network, making lean, results-oriented philanthropy an important new driving force.
  • Move over, Christian Coalition. Richistanis are more Democratic than Republican, "fed up and not going to take it anymore," and willing to spend millions to get progressive-oriented politicians elected.

"My name is Mike and I'm rich." Think that money is the answer? Think again as Robert Frank explores the emotional complexities of wealth.

And, as Robert Frank reveals, there is not one Richistan but three: Lower, Middle, and Upper, each of which has its own levels and distinctions of wealth - the haves and the have-mores. The influence of Richistan and the Richistanis extends well beyond the almost ten million households that make up its population, as the nonstop quest for status and an insatiable demand for luxury goods reshapes the entire American economy.

"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." - Publishers Weekly

Robert Frank is a senior special writer at The Wall Street Journal, where he writes a weekly column and daily blog called The Wealth Report. He has been with The Journal for 13 years, with postings in Atlanta, London, Singapore and New York. He was part of a team of reporters that won an Overseas Press Club award in 1998 for its coverage of developing economies. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

"But many think it must change. To a large degree, the debate over the booming lives of the super-rich is an argument about the American soul. America is a country that has always worshiped wealth, where the creation of a fortune was seen as virtuous and a source of pride.

"But now that huge wealth has started to squeeze the 'middle class' out of existence, leaving the haves and have-nots in very separate worlds. It is possible that political will may develop to address the problem or that the problem will correct itself. The notorious end of the Gilded Age came in the panic of 1893 that sank America into depression." - Paul Harris, The Observer UK

"I couldn't put it down. Frank's field guide to the new rich is as funny as it is fascinating." -- Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine and author of "The Long Tail."

"There's no group in society that fascinates me more than the new rich, or the nouveau riche, as they used to be called, especially the ones with social ambitions. The great 19th century English novelist Anthony Trollope created one of literature's greatest new rich characters in Augustus Melmott, who gave a ball for the emperor of China and everybody of social importance, who had sworn they'd never speak to him or his common wife, came and danced the night away. In Robert Frank's riveting book, Richistan, the same sort of attention-getting extravagance continues. Frank understands how great fortunes are made and how great fortunes are spent. I had a wonderful time reading this book." -- Dominick Dunne

"Robert Frank truly understands the lives of today's wealthy. His entertaining profiles and fresh analysis make this a great read and a definitive portrait of the current boom." - -Ronald O. Perelman, billionaire financier, philanthropist

"Let's face it: we all want to know about the Rich. We know they're different than us, but how? We want to pry, but we're too polite or inhibited to ask, even if we get the chance, which is increasingly rare since they're walling themselves off in gated estates, floating around on mega-yachts or hiding behind the telephones at Christies auctions. Thank goodness the Wall Street Journal has unleashed Robert Frank as its 'wealth reporter,' a title which hardly does him justice. His inexhaustible curiosity, piercing eye for detail, and understated wit reminds me of Tom Wolfe, which is about the highest praise I can bestow. I can't remember the last time I've had so much fun with a work of non-fiction as I did reading Richistan." - -James B. Stewart, author of "Den of Thieves" and "DisneyWar."

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