Bobos in Paradise : The new upper class and how they got there

by David Brooks

Hardcover, 2000




New York : Simon & Schuster, c2000.


Do you believe that spending $15,000 on a media center is vulgar, but that spending $15,000 on a slate shower stall is a sign that you are at one with the Zenlike rhythms of nature? Do you work for one of those visionary software companies where people come to work wearing hiking boots and glacier glasses, as if a wall of ice were about to come sliding through the parking lot? If so, you might be a Bobo. In his bestselling work of "comic sociology," David Brooks coins a new word, Bobo, to describe today's upper class -- those who have wed the bourgeois world of capitalist enterprise to the hippie values of the bohemian counterculture. Their hybrid lifestyle is the atmosphere we breathe, and in this witty and serious look at the cultural consequences of the information age, Brooks has defined a new generation.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member heidilove
brooks claims to be looking at the bohemian bourgeoise [the first two letters of each creating the word bobo], but this is actually a clever deceit. a better and more accurate title would be How to Be A Conservative in the Post-Woodstock Era. A fascinating analysis, welll-written, and
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LibraryThing member mbowen
this would be a much better book if it were not for the fact that a bobo is writing it. you should expect a marvelous thesis which is certainly coherent and compelling, but if you expect a serious tone throughout, you are headed for disappointment.

i didn't expect to be laughing page after page as
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brooks discovers a new set of slams against yuppies. in fact, if you replace 'bobos' with 'yuppies', you'd get the kind of 'so what' feeling ahead of time that this book often merits. there were certain passages, especially in the description of the career path of a fictitious intellectual, that i thought that i was reading a less acerbic p.j. o'rourke. that is certainly entertaining enough, but what is never really addressed in this work are the consequences for an america whose elites are all great compromisers.

as a description of this group, the book excels, but the context in world-historical form is what i was looking for. instead of providing insight to what counterbalances the excess of bobo equivocation 'bobos in paradise' becomes something of a high falutin' mockumentary, complete with references to bagehot, toqueville et al.

very much like bobo ethics, this book impresses you with its self-importance and gently nudges you around by being intellectually convincing. yet for all its perception, it lacks even the spirit of a dennis miller rant.

i am in agreement with the theory that the 60s and 80s have been moderated into that clintonesque goo of the bobocracy. and i agree that now is the right time for that moderation to prevail, but i have no way to be certain that such values will matter to gen-x as they eventually replace the suv crowd. and so 'bobos in paradise' remains but a clever snapshot in time.

i was hoping for a bit more.
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LibraryThing member Kplatypus
Yet another book about the American class system. This, as opposed to Class: a guide through the American Status System, is somewhat more up-to-date and less cranky. The author self-identifies as a member of the class he is discussing, the Bohemian Bourgeoisie, or the educated elite, aka BoBos, and
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seems extremely pleased with himself about, well, everything.

First he explains how the BoBos came to be (basically as a synthesis of '60s radicalism and pre-'50s ambitions) and then how they, with their "meritocracy" came to take the place of the monied classes as the social leaders. He then spends the rest of the book detailing what it means to be a BoBo. He tells us what they wear, what they eat, what they buy and buy, where they travel, what they spend money on, and so on. He ends by stating that the BoBo age is here to stay and peace and prosperity will abound for those wise enough to buy into their belief system.

Anyone who has lived in the Bay Area will immediately recognize the people he is describing- think Noe Valley, Mill Valley, actually, anywhere in Marin pretty much, Berkeley, parts of Oakland, etc. Also, the Village in NYC has a lot of them these days, as do parts of LA, though it's more spread out there. My point, though, is that yes, these people exist. However, the author made a few egregious mistakes. First, he wrote this in 2000.

Yes, this is definitely a pre-9/11 book. A lot of what he says about the American economy and American social values are going to seem just as dated as those in Fussell's book. Right- we're living in the age of global supremacy, peace, and prosperity, which is why it cost me $9 to buy a coffee when I was in England this summer. However, back in 1999, or 2000, I can see how it might have looked that way, especially for someone really optimistic.

The other mistake that really bothered me is that this author takes a lot of good ideas/motives/goals and then turns them all wrong. Like being environmentally conscious while wanting to own nice things. These are both reasonable goals, right? His solution? Buy a Range Rover! Wait, what?! How in the world is that environmentally conscious? And so on. The book is filled with statements like that. I found myself saying yes, yes, yes, NO! DEAR GOD NO! often throughout the book. Reading about the BoBos, according to Mr. Brooks, was like reading about an evil version of me with a lot more money and a lot less honesty.

As an addition to the panoply of books about the US's social structure, it was alright, though neither as amusing as Class, nor as useful as, well, not being oblivious to reality.
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LibraryThing member alyce413
A really interesting book on a shift in our economic and intellectual struture in America.
LibraryThing member rameau
Or what happens when the soft relativist college students described in Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind graduate and start making real money. Many reviews at the time chastised Brooks for letting the Bobos off the hook. In the last chapter, the worst of the book, he does pull back and
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blathers that the Bobos have potential to be "the class that led America into another golden age. (This was not borne out by subsequent events.) However, I don't think Brooks understood what he did here. He tries to pull off an "aw shucks, I was just joshing" attitude; however, in the previous chapters, just by describing Bobo culture, he stabbed these people in the heart and twisted the knife. For instance, he has a vignette of Death coming to a Montana second home that just drips with gleeful contempt for the shallow soul described. (By the way, even though Brooks accurately described the Bobos, the word did not catch on here, but it did in France. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, Brooks has summed up some of my attitudes and accoutrements.)
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
David Brooks offers a convincing argument that the modern times are led (in thought and consumption) by the bourgeois bohemians, the result of the aristocrats and the hippies melding during the past 30 years. Their ultimate goal is self-actualization. "To calculate a person's status, you take his
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net worth and multiply it by his anti-materialistic attitudes." (p.50) The justification of the bourgeois is that economic growth has made for abundance, health, etc. Now, it's ok to spend large sums on tools or experiences, but not vain decor. Regarding bohemians, "Fifties intellectuals discussed No Exit. Contemporary intellectuals discuss no-load mutual funds." (p.149) In the section called "The Economy of Symbolic Exchange," he discusses cultural capital, academic capital (the right degree), political capital (affiliations), etc, all as equally useful for trade. He discusses the plight of aspiring intellectuals (professors, writers, columnists, and consultants), pointing out the difficult path and the importance of a useful, well-timed market niche (pick something a lot of shows and conferences will want you for, be either radical or moderate - advantages to each, there are still two classes of Bobo - the wealthy and the written; successful at either, bobos then go for the other).
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LibraryThing member nog
Brooks assumes that the Bobos at some point in their lives have shared counter cultural, radical, and creative ideas associated with bohemians. Is this the case, or are they merely tourists of the lifestyle? I am reminded of John Lennon's observation about "Day Trippers", the weekend bohemians of
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the 60s. B. would have us think that the bourgeois synthesized Bohemia into the Bobo, but the book does not provide the evidence for some such Hegelian process. Instead, he runs down a seemingly inexhaustible (and exhausting) list of their lifestyle choices, concentrating especially on their consumer habits, sometimes to humorous effect. Eventually, though, the act becomes tiresome, and he rather lamely attempts some serious analysis.

This is where the book falls flat, and the thud is deafening. If the Bobo had truly incorporated bohemian values into the upper class sensibility, we would not see them purchasing SUVs, for instance. These vehicles get terrible gas mileage, which is incompatible with the Bobos' supposed deep caring for the environment. Also, these expensive vehicles pose a danger to those less fortunate motorists who can only afford a small car. Such contradictions can be found elsewhere in the opening chapters (electricity-gobbling appliances, for instance); they should be kept in mind when the reader gets to the weak arguments of Bobo morality and spirituality in the later chapters.

B. claims that the Bobos are concerned with preservation of America's older neighborhoods, to save older structures and our heritage, yet the facts speak to an utter lack of concern of the Bobos when it comes to their own "needs." Witness the gentrification of the Mission District in San Francisco, which has forced the traditional Hispanic population out because of sky-high rents. There is a noticeable lack of mention of the lower classes in the book, in fact. The Bobo is depicted unintentionally as a classic elitist, with a narcissistic streak that would make the 70s "Me Decade" seem tame by comparison. Thus, the horrific reaction some readers might have when they discover that B. not only thinks the Bobos are a positive force of nature, but that he counts himself as one.

If B. were approaching the subject critically, he would undoubtedly have tackled the psychology of the Bobo, and why the fascination with bohemian culture. He never tackles this very key point; the possible issues of guilt and self-esteem, for instance. Or how about the Info Age obsession with research? Is this lifestyle optimized based on careful study of all the facts? Is the incorporation of the bohemian a sign of neurosis instead? Don't the descriptions of consumption sound like classic obsessive-compulsive disorder? How does the Bobo grapple with Bobo ethical questions, such as the dilemma posed by optimizing his lifestyle choice by buying the "best" coffee from a plantation that exploits its workers, against the "lesser" coffee that would be more politically correct? The more you ponder these contradictions, the more you are apt to recognize the absurdity of buying B.'s arguments.

B. later talks of the Bobo spiritual life, wherein they pick and choose freely from an ever-changing menu of religious beliefs. Again, the consumer approach to salvation. Yet the earlier chapters allow one to reach a different conclusion: that the real spiritual instinct has been supplanted by entertainment itself, in the form of food, gadgets, and popular culture that are considered superior and "hip". It is this obsessive approach to lifestyle that fills the void left by the decline of true religious commitment. Religion then becomes yet another item for research and eventual consumption.

As this is a conservative's project to convince us of the likability of the Bobo over previous elite classes, he distracts the reader from his true purpose: to celebrate the death of true bohemianism, by co-opting it and robbing it of its alternative world view, which stood in opposition to that of the global exploits of the bourgeois in the realms of commerce and politics. This is the core piece of bohemianism that the Bobo rejects, which makes the so-called synthesis impossible. A much, much better analysis of the Elites and their effect on the erosion of democracy worldwide is presented in Christopher Lasch's "The Revolt of the Elites," which is the work of a true intellectual, not the faux sort exemplified by David Brooks.
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LibraryThing member mjgrogan
In a nutshell, Brooks does two things here. He presents a well-considered thesis about how, since the 1980s, the various positions – political, religious, economic, polemical – and general societal outlook of the educated classes have shifted to the middle. As a special supplement, he delves
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into hilarious anecdotes about how this manifests itself as regards the BOBO’s professional, material, and leisure choices. His description of a visit to REI left me rolling in my subway seat! (or I would have been had I been able to procure a seat). I mean they supposedly sell “outdoor” crap yet not a baseball anywhere!

Anyway, one might charge that Brooks grossly stereotypes his group. He frequently acknowledges the obvious exceptions within this demographic and certainly it’s not as absurd as some of the generalizations about “Millennials” that get espoused in corporate seminars, NPR interviews, and by jack-ass Today Show “experts” (read, busy-body housefraus). Perhaps not balanced, this is definitely funny and mostly palatable.

An obvious, contemporary parallel would be the “white people” as defined by Christian Lander. In fact it seems that half of his blog/book is a less well-written rip off of this BOBO exposé. The remainder simply plugging in updates such as white folk’s preoccupation with (or disdain towards) Mad Men, Ed Hardy, and girls with bangs. Where, I silently ask myself, do hipsters (of whom my wife commented, “They seem nice enough but they all dress like shit.” after a recent visit to Williamsburg, Brooklyn) fit into the Brooks-Lander Whitey matrix?
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LibraryThing member carterchristian1
The chapter that follows American literary history from 720 should be required reading for the typical high school, maybe eve core class inin college before tackling Benjamin Franklin, Emerson and his crowd, on to Hemingway, then the would explain why the students are still sujected to
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things like the transcendentalists. Funny how Franklin is still so understandable, as we read all of those "habits" books.

A great book,and Brooks just keeps on writing.
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LibraryThing member lindap69
sad to see all of the thinkers and activists of the 60's that sold out to their new establishment so much of having it all rather than being it all
LibraryThing member MissJessie
Gross oversimplification I thought, though it went on and on and on and on......
LibraryThing member sixslug
What kind of person buys new furniture put through a distressing procedure to make it look old? Many of us, according to author David Brooks in his book, Bobos in Paradise. With keen insight and occasional wit, he dissects the urban educated elite of today, a weird amalgam of the bourgeois and
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Bohemian, or “Bobo” for short. Brooks sprinkles his book with a good dollop of research, which fortifies his thesis but feels needlessly academic at times. While there is many humorous rest stop observations along the way, Brooks takes his time getting to his punch lines; for example, the telltale tendency for Bobos to feel everything in their life must be approached as if it’s an aptitude test, including comfortless vacations that serve as grueling endurance tests rather than relaxing and enjoyable getaways. If you want to know who the Bobos are around us, read this book. Be warned however, you find you’re holding a mirror.
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LibraryThing member neurodrew
27 June 2001
Bobos in Paradise
David Brooks
The author is a journalist for the Economist, and he believes he has found a new elite, the bohemian bourgeois. Some of his stories are very funny, and very revealing about the class of individuals who were admitted to major universities on the basis of
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merit, and have since defined the upper class of the meritocracy. They are partly grounded in the bohemian culture of Greenwich village espresso bars and so on and partly are thoroughly interested in middle class comforts and conveniences. Mortal sin is failure to recycle, but all sorts of cultural relativism is expected. The argument is based on some well-observed journal pieces, but is not as profound as the author would believe. He thinks he has coined the term of the 90's, akin to the Yuppies of the 80's, and is concerned to lay copyright claim to it. Amusing but very lightweight.
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