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You get two books for the price of one here. The overall book explains how the social elite was transformed from old family, old money lineage to a mass elite based on education and social values. David Brooks isn't sure he likes the new elite, and lampoons them as savagely as Swift did the English aristocracy. Whether or not you agree with his criticisms, the material is often very funny and could serve as a comic's monologue.
His point is a subtle one that many will mistake. He is describing the arrival of an educational elite as the reigning class. Those who are older will get the Bohemian part of Bobo -- they've all seen pictures of the Village in the 50s or read On the Road.
It's the other "bo" that will confuse some people about this book. It stands for Bourgeois. To Brooks, Bourgeois is concerned with all the classic middle class values -- income, savings, uprightness, proper appearance and behavior in public, and hard work. Elites have always wanted to be set apart from those values, even though they might have to espouse them in public. So it's interesting that this new elite is connected to these values.
His thesis is actually pretty good. In these politically correct times, educated people have been conditioned since that first preschool class to look down on traditional patterns of the rich and powerful. When they, in turn, become rich and powerful, they want to have a little fun with it, but have to put on a social mask to make that fun acceptable. A variety of things work in this context: being environmentally sound; politically correct; and not having any connection to a status symbol of the old elites. Naturally, it's a cynical view that all of this is posturing. I'm sure that most of what people do is actually based on their own firm values about having a healthier, more open, and environmentally safer world.
One of the funniest parts of the book for me was how status and money play off against one another. It's okay to make a lot of money, but you have to do it in a noncommercial way to be esteemed. A writer can have a best seller about ecology and have high status, while a script writer for a James Bond movie might make 100 times the money and have very little status. Despite enjoying the humor, I'm not offended by that result.
The connection from where we were in the 1950s and earlier is much too long, and isn't really very necessary. The fundamental contradictions of the current lifestyle of Bobos has to be funny to almost everyone, including the Bobos.
The book could have done a lot more to talk about how the fusion of the two sets of ideals could be made better for all concerned. Hearing about the meetings of the leather-clad people to do B & D soon becomes tiresome. Surely all of this energy can be directed into something more wholesome!
Perhaps the funniest story in the book was about the woman who builds her dream house in Montana, and the Grim Reaper calls. I won't spoil it for you, but be sure to read that section near the end.
Enjoy . . . even if the humor is at your own expense! Learning to laugh at ourselves is a great lesson.
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on 23 March 2001
"Bobos" stands for "Bourgeois bohemians" - according to David Brooks, to be a member of the new élite you need to be highly educated and/or talented but also to demonstrate your social conscience and anti-materialism at the same time. This is how the contemporary élite is trying to improve on the élite of the last generation - somehow balancing the striving ambitious attitudes of the 1980s with a 1960s-style desire for fun, love and human values. Although you're unlikely to laugh out loud while reading this book, it is quite funny in places, partly because it is so true to life. Even though all the examples relate to the USA, those in the UK and the rest of Europe will surely recognise that a big element of "Bobodom" has arrived on our side of the pond too. If you have a demanding career, yet are uncompromising on ethics and collect African and South American gewgaws like they're going out of fashion, preferably acquired on an adventure holiday-cum-charity project in a far-off corner of the world, then this book holds up a mirror to you. Find out how your life and that of many others have become so full of bizarre contradictions.
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on 8 July 2014
This book says it all - the entire Yuppie turned eco-conscious Bobo - at the end of the 90's and into the year 2000. Goes into social attitude, work management ethos and how they decorate their homes. Brilliant analysis and insight as to how your boss, and your boss' boss, thinks and lives, which can allow you to modify your behaviour, dress and behaviour around them in order to become more promotable in your position. A lot of it was lost during the so-called "Great Recession" (since they'd eliminated the word "depression" from economics language), but the meritocracy still lives up to this ideal, as I am fully aware. The book was written for Americans, about American culture, but a great deal of it - especially the mindset and ethos of the echelons of top level management - remains virtually the same in the UK.
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on 27 October 2006
I thought this was one of the funniest and most astute books on this area of study for many a while. Brooks pokes fun at Bobos but in a gentle, rather friendly way. He actually finds some of them rather admirable, if a little silly at times. He admires the genuine hatred of racial and sexual prejudice, for example, and the desire to soften the hard corporate edges of capitalism by embracing a libertarian ethos.

He also notes how the modern Bobo business executive actually works longer hours than some others and the cynic might conclude that Bobo culture is a way to make hard-driving American capitalism more acceptable to the masses. But if people are genuinely enthused by their jobs and prefer to drink latte instead of martinis, who is to say this is wrong?

Most Bobos are us. And as Mark Steyn once remarked, some of the American passengers on board Flight 93 who overcame their hijackers were "Bobos" on the sort of definition that Brooks gives us. Truth is, that we may eat organic vegetatables and read Jane Jacobs, but that does not mean that this generation is any less capable of bravery than the so-called Greatest Generation.

Definitely recommended reading.
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on 4 September 2011
I enjoyed this analysis of where the smart set are headed in the 21st century. Although written by an American about and for Americans, the changing aspirations he charts of the so-called US "upper classes" chime equally with those of the UK and European middle-classes. Having said that, they probably apply to European aristocratic values too. You only have to look at the younger UK Royals to see they are enthusiastic followers of the current zeitgeist shrugging off privilege, dressing down and dropping titles wherever they can. The book describes the historical context of what were once considered desirable life style choices and how these have reversed (eg, opulence and flaunting of wealth are now naff - think footballers' wives -while shabby chic, natural earthy materials, and the simple life are definitely in). Similarly, extreme political allegiances are also unfashionable today, Brooks points out. Widely-held political opinions and philosophies of several decades ago have undergone a seismic shift to reach those of now. Clearly we have come a long way on both sides of the pond and are settling in to a more pragmatic middle-ground classless approach to life with recognition hanging more on achievement in different spheres. The bourgeoisie and the bohemians of today have become somewhat homogenised (boho's) and are no longer poles apart but are fundamentally sharing the same space . Bohemians today have a commercial edge while the bourgeoisie embrace art and strive to be more quirky, creative and laid back. Really, the book merely articulates much of what we have already observed and absorbed for years without stopping to properly register. This is a collection of diverse insights into the anxieties of middle-class people, whether in business or creative professions, and how they behave. The collective pursuit of political correctness, the avoidance of overt displaying of the trappings of inherited wealth, the espousal of green credentials and much more deemed de rigour today show the new pressures on the educated and creative middle classes to conform if they want to be cool and accepted. Success is no longer valued in monetary and hereditary terms. Status from professional, academic or creative success is much more key along with possession of the right values. Brooks compares the insecurities of the status-rich but income-poor creative achievers with the anxieties of high income individuals who have limited cultural capital. Few people apparently are comfortable with their position. These are just a few examples of the ground Brooks covers in this book. I found it a fascinating read that holds up a mirror to so many aspects of modern life it would merit a second or third reading.
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on 25 January 2013
Predates The Social Animal, and was published just before 9/11 but well worth a read. If you have wondered why your organisation promotes 'empowerment' but at the same time creates an environment where it feels impossible to get things done you may find that you have a team of Bobos at the top so busy dismantling old boundaries and expressing themselves that they have forgotten that telling people what to do and explaining how to do it when they don't know can be helpful sometimes.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 July 2012
David Brooks purports to present a new social class, replacing the previous upper middle classes, so aptly described in Fussell's Class: A Guide through the American Status System - namely bobos - the bohemian bourgeoisie. His observations start in the 50s and he follows the transformation of two distinct social groups (historically at loggerheads), namely the bohemians and the bourgeoisie into a merged one.

Even though the author identifies himself as a member of the group (and quite some of the readers are likely to be, too), he does not really pull punches, meaning he is a pretty acerbic commentator of the behaviours and identifiers of the group. If you can stomach laughing at yourself, the book delivers well - the examples are certainly something many readers will recognise (to an extent) from their own lives or from the environment in which they live. Everything from relation to work, to shopping, cultural and rcreational pursuits, spirituality, education, sexuality... will be covered, often with humorous anecdotes.

The author also does a fair job of describing the gradual process of the group's emergence, the drivers behind it, the set of guiding values, etc. Where I feel the book works less well is in perspective. Brooks is heavily US focused and while many elements described will also work for the Western European society, the applicability starts dropping, when you move elsewhere on the globe.

His focus on the one class is of course acceptable but his implications that this 'class' totally supplemented many of its predecessors, or that it is indeed the dominant or only game in town amongst the well off educated population are neither supported nor particularly easy to buy without further justification on the author's part. Quite why the bobo is likely to outlast all other forms of humankind, and remain the only surviving social group (as claimed in the introduction) is also a mystery not solved in the book itself.

And while he does bow to Veblen's Conspicuous Consumption (Penguin Great Ideas) as a volume of historical merit, he neither gives the impression of having studied the ideas in it thoroughly, nor an explanation why he believes the 'conspicuous consumption' ideals are dead (ostentation changes shape and form through time).

So overall a very amusing and to an extent enlightening book, which makes good light reading, is certainly well written but which will need some complements (Veblen and Fussell spring immediately to mind) for a fuller picture.
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on 3 July 2014
I don't think the case has been made for the Bobo as the finished article, more a transitional species undergoing evolution by constant re-invention but more out of boredom than from necessity of form, surviving mostly on his entertainment value.
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on 8 November 2013
This is about US Bobo ( not European , as the word Bobo may sound ) Easy read, a few nice hippy quotes. Do not expect to learn much from this book.
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on 14 August 2009
This is a great read, very insightful, articulate and completely acurate. Once again David Brooks is a pleasure to read!
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