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Louis Untermeyer


Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

By David Brooks
A Touchstone Book, 284 pp, 2000

Okay, so what's a Bobo?

According to author David Brooks, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a Bobo is a bourgeois bohemian. 

What's a bourgeois bohemian?

That's not quite as simple. According to Brooks, the bourgeois ethos was predominant in America in the 1950s through the early 1960s. The bourgeois, made up the upper class, consisted of old money and well-connected offspring. The bourgeois believed that birth and heritage determined success. Membership in certain clubs was valued and necessary, a sign of prestige and acceptance. The bourgeois believed in thrift, self-restraint, discipline, and duty. And most of all, making money. A lot of it.

But then the bohemians came along, the well-connected offspring, and changed everything. Bohemians valued merit and work. Heritage mattered little, but a degree from Harvard meant a great deal. Bohemians valued the spirit, creativity, self-expression, art. They dominated the later 60s and 70s. The bourgeois made a brief comeback in the 80s, but the 90s saw a new phenomenon. The bohemians integrated some characteristics of the bourgeois while still retaining their bohemian values. They became Bobos.

Brooks examines aspects of Bobo life - their religion (whatever feels good, with some boundaries, but few firm beliefs), work (work hard, have fun), play (play hard, learn something, become one with the environment), and so on. He pokes gentle fun, but does not entirely disapprove. In fact, he finds much to admire in the typical Bobo.

Funny at times, sad at others, this is a gem of a social critique. As an added bonus, if you're a writer, you could use this book to create some interesting characters.

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