Current Issues/Society

Review: Bobos in Paradise

Cover of "Bobos in Paradise," featuring a long-haired woman holding a coffee cup and sitting next to a laptop and a man in a suit holding a gardening trowel surrounded by trees and large flowers
Image from Goodreads

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

Author: David Brooks

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

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.

Review:

I read this book back in high school – it was one of the texts for my AP Sociology class. And I enjoyed it so much that I kept it after the class was over. Lately I’ve been wanting to reread it, so here we are.

This is mainly a sociological text examining the phenomenon of “bourgeois bohemians.” Brooks calls them “Bobos,” I explain them to people who ask what this book is about as “basically hipsters.” Because that’s pretty much what they are, with their “natural/rustic is better” aesthetic and their love of things that are new but look old and their willingness to pay lots of money for handmade/organic/artisan versions of normally cheap things. Brooks’ name for them comes from the way they developed as a blend of the bourgeois capitalist upper class and the artistic bohemian counterculture.

Brooks and I differ on what we consider “upper class,” though. What Brooks describes as upper class in this book is what I think of as upper middle class. Upper class is, to me, people like Jeff Bezos and the Koch brothers – people who have so much money they can’t think of anything better to do with it than buy politicians or research space travel. Whereas the people who Brooks describes are making $100,000+ per year and have debt from living beyond their means. Which sounds more upper middle class than middle class to me.

I’m also not sure how accurate this book is anymore. It was published in 2000, and while I can still see some of the things Brooks points out (especially in the area of cultural values), some of the things he says don’t seem applicable these days. Notably the chapter on politics – Brooks’ point in that section is that Bobos are more moderate and shy away from any sort of radicalism or anything that’s too ideological or dogmatic. And looking at the current state of American politics and our hyperconservative, highly ideological, highly dogmatic current administration, it’s pretty easy to see that that is not true.

Accurate or not, though, Bobos in Paradise is still a highly interesting (and entertaining) read and gives a glimpse of a lifestyle that seems simultaneously hypocritical and desirable. If you’re looking for insight into today’s world, this might not be the best place for you to go, but if you want to learn about hipsters and where the upper middle class was headed in the early 2000s, this book will be an enjoyable place to get your information.

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Current Issues/Society

Review: Quiverfull

Cover of "Quiverfull," featuring a white fist holding a bundle of eight arrows in front of a background of a blue sky with clouds
Image from Kathryn Joyce

Title: Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

Author: Kathryn Joyce

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: Spousal abuse, fundamentalist Christianity, patriarchy, institutional violence, male power over women

Back Cover:

Kathryn Joyce’s fascinating introduction to the world of the patriarchy movement and Quiverfull families examines the twenty-first-century women and men who proclaim self-sacrifice and submission as model virtues of womanhood—and as modes of warfare on behalf of Christ. Here, women live within stringently enforced doctrines of wifely submission and male headship, and live by the Quiverfull philosophy of letting God give them as many children as possible so as to win the religion and culture wars through demographic means.

Review:

For someone who is an outsider to this kind of ideology – a mainstream or liberal Christian, an atheist or agnostic, anyone from a non-Abrahamic faith – this book will be a point of curiosity, interest, and possibly anger. For someone who grew up with it, it will be profound.

If you’re not interested in reading about my past and my personal emotional reaction to the book, go to the next section.

I came from this background – sort of. My family was conservative, my parents homeschooled my siblings and I, we had modesty rules and a purity obsession and the expectation that my sisters and I would marry (specifically, marry men), have children, and be stay-at-home mothers and homemakers. But we were also allowed to wear shorts and tank tops, expected to go to college, and told that we would probably have to work outside the house before we had children because of the economy. It was in college that I bought into the extreme beliefs that Quiverfull explores, spending a solid month forcing myself to accept that I had to forget my career ambitions and content myself with raising children.

I normally wouldn’t talk so much about myself, but this background is important to understand my reaction to Quiverfull. Because I don’t believe this anymore. I am no longer a patriarchy-believing Christian. And reading this book was a strange experience for me.

Quiverfull was an in-depth, unemotional look at this culture from the perspective of an outsider. There was no passion and no condemnation, just anthropological curiosity. Which made it strange. On one hand, it was an engaging read about a fascinating subculture and while reading, I had nothing but unemotional curiosity. But it stuck with me.

I have a lot of pain that stems from being raised in this culture, and this book brought some of it back. (I actually had to take a break from writing this review to process some feelings about it.) But more than anything, it made me miss the community. Sure, Quiverfull spent a lot of time on community gone wrong, women attacked and ostracized for refusing to assist in their own subjugation. But it also brought back memories of a community of like-minded people, who all believed the same things and at least acted like they cared about one another. Though I am no longer Christian and do not wish to go back to it, it made me miss when I had a “church family” that seemed like they cared about me.

If you’re skipping my personal story, read from here on.

There’s a lot in Quiverfull. It covers a lot of different topics, from church discipline to the outbreeding-the-competition mindset to individual experiences of people who have left and interviews with people who haven’t. There are some very powerful stories, such as a woman who was not only excommunicated but harassed, attacked, and sabotaged for years by her church for daring to divorce her abusive husband. There are histories of how influential figures in the Quiverfull movement came to power. And there are also stories of women who seem perfectly content and believe in this ideology wholeheartedly.

Overall, though, this book is a look at the Quiverfull ideology through examples. These people believe that their brand of Christianity is the only true religion. They believe that they are in a literal war with the forces of Satan, that feminism and abortion are tools Satan is using to turn America away from God and their way to win is demographically, by outbreeding the secular people. (Their ideology’s name comes from the metaphor that children are like arrows in a quiver for fighting the spiritual war.) They believe that a woman must always be under the power of (in some interpretations, owned by) a man, whether that’s her father or her husband. They believe that the sole purpose of every woman’s life is to be a mother and homemaker.

Quiverfull tries its best to be neutral and not condemn these beliefs, but anyone who isn’t entrenched in it will find a lot to condemn.

This is a very informative and in-depth book. If you’re looking for a quick overview or something light, Wikipedia might be your better bet. Quiverfull is engaging, yes, and you won’t get bored reading it, but you really need to have a lot of curiosity or a desire to know all the details to be interested (or have left that ideology and want an unemotional look at it).

Quiverfull is an excellent book, but you have to be in a specific audience to read it. If you’re interested in religions in general, want to know more about fundamentalist Christianity, or want an uncritical, unpassionate, and/or super in-depth look at Christian fundamentalism, this is your book. If not, you’ll probably be very bored.

Current Issues/Society

Review: Outliers

Cover of "Outliers," featuring dark text on a white background with a small purple marble in the middle
Image from Malcolm Gladwell

Title: Outliers: The Story of Success

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: Racism

Back Cover:

There is a story that is usually told about extremely successful people, a story that focuses on intelligence and ambition. Gladwell argues that the true story of success is very different, and that if we want to understand how some people thrive, we should spend more time looking around them-at such things as their family, their birthplace, or even their birth date. And in revealing that hidden logic, Gladwell presents a fascinating and provocative blueprint for making the most of human potential.

In The Tipping Point Gladwell changed the way we understand the world. In Blink he changed the way we think about thinking. In Outliers he transforms the way we understand success.

Review:

I almost started this review by saying I had low expectations for this book, but that’s not really true – I didn’t have really any expectations for this book. I picked it up mainly because it was an audiobook, I’d had it on my reading list for years, and his other book The Tipping Point was okay. I didn’t expect to be thrilled, but I also didn’t expect to be let down.

Outliers surprised me.

Of course, I have the same complaint with Outliers as I did with The Tipping Point – it’s not very practical. It explores the path to success for lots of people (including Bill Gates, hockey players, a New York lawyer, and a middle schooler from the Bronx), but it doesn’t explain how to become a success (or predict if you or someone else will become one). But also, there’s kind of a reason for that.

You know the American idealism of “if you work hard enough you’ll succeed”? In Outliers, Gladwell surrounds that concept with a ton of TNT and lights the fuse.

His entire premise with this book is that success takes hard work, but it also takes being born into or being given a particular set of circumstances that make all the difference. For example:

  • Bill Gates was born at the right time so he was a teenager when computers started appearing in universities and businesses and had wealthy parents who could send him to an elite private school that got a computer – therefore enabling him to have a ridiculous amount of practice with and understanding of computers by the time he dropped out of college.
  • Canadian hockey players are unlikely to succeed if they’re born April through December, because the league cutoff date is January 1 and players born at the beginning of the year are slightly older (and therefore bigger, more coordinated, and better) when it comes time to pick the best players for better training in elementary school.
  • Lawyer Joseph Flaum was born to immigrant parents who had been in America long enough to afford send him to law school, but was Jewish so unable to get a job at a big law firm – so he started his own firm taking acquisitions cases that no one else would take, and when acquisitions suddenly became a big business he and his firm were already on top.
  • And Chris Langan, one of the smartest people in the world by IQ, who spent most of his life working as a bouncer in a New York bar and never finished college – because he came from a low-income background and never learned how to negotiate with authority to get what he needed.

Though it’s not labeled as such, Outliers is really about how privilege affects success and how the circumstances of your birth influence the rest of your life. Though it doesn’t touch much on race or gender, if you want to start exploring class privilege and its effects, this is a good book to start with. And if you want to know why higher classes seem to get ahead faster with less work, despite America’s “work hard and you’ll succeed” idealism, definitely give it a read.

(A note on the trigger warning: I honestly didn’t see racism in the book, but I am white. It was pointed out to me during an anthropology class a couple years ago that Gladwell’s treatment of Koreans in chapter 7 is racist, so I listed that as a trigger.)

Current Issues/Society

Review: The Tipping Point

The cover of "The Tipping Point," featuring dark green text on a light tan background and a small image of an unlit match
Image from Malcolm Gladwell

Title: The Tipping Point

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger warnings: Mentions of murder/death

Back Cover:

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

Review:

Confession time: I “read” this as an audiobook. Actually the first audiobook I’ve listened to since Stuart Little in third grade. So my experience with this book (and how much I retained from it) is a little different than if I’d have read it as a traditional book. I picked it up, though, precisely because it was an audiobook, as my morning commute has gone from 10 minutes to 40 minutes and I decided to try to maximize my driving time. I also picked it up because I have several Malcolm Gladwell books on my reading list, and I honestly didn’t even read the back cover.

This book was definitely interesting. Gladwell presents a framework that explains how all trends, from fashion to products to crime rates, happen and why. He also explains the role of different kinds of people (who he calls “Mavens,” “Salesmen,” and “Connectors”) in starting and influencing trends. All in all, it made for a fascinating theory.

The main drawback is that it seems like just theory. The book was more illustrative than prescriptive – it gave a lot of examples of how things from crime to shoes fits into his framework, but it doesn’t actually give any practical advice on how to use that framework. There’s nothing that tells you specifically how to start a trend, influence a trend, plot the course of a current trend, or predict what’s going to be the next trend. It’s more about fitting what’s happened in the past into his framework than anything – which is interesting, but I’m all about practical application.

Overall, this was a good book. It was interesting, and the concept of the tipping point makes a lot of sense. But even though it was interesting, I didn’t find it useful, and that’s a big strike against it in my book.