You've seen them: They sip double-tall, nonfat lattes, chat on cell phones, and listen to NPR while driving their immaculate SUVs to Pottery Barn to shop for $48 titanium spatulas. They tread down specialty cheese aisles in top-of-the-line hiking boots and think nothing of laying down $5 for an olive-wheatgrass muffin. They're the bourgeois bohemians--"Bobos"--an unlikely blend of mainstream culture and 1960s-era counterculture that, according to David Brooks, represents both America's present and future: "These Bobos define our age. They are the new establishment. Their hybrid culture is the atmosphere we all breathe. Their status codes now govern social life." Amusing stereotypes aside, they're an "elite based on brainpower" and merit rather than pedigree or lineage: "Dumb good-looking people with great parents have been displaced by smart, ambitious, educated, and antiestablishment people with scuffed shoes."
Bobos in Paradise is a brilliant, breezy, and often hilarious study of the "cultural consequences of the information age." Large and influential (especially in terms of their buying power), the Bobos have reformed society through culture rather than politics, and Brooks clearly outlines this passing of the high-class torch by analyzing nearly all aspects of life: consumption habits, business and lifestyle choices, entertainment, spirituality, politics, and education. Employing a method he calls "comic sociology," Brooks relies on keen observations, wit, and intelligence rather than statistics and hard theory to make his points. And by copping to his own Bobo status, he comes across as revealing rather than spiteful in his dead-on humor. Take his description of a typical grocery store catering to discriminating Bobos: "The visitor to Fresh Fields is confronted with a big sign that says 'Organic Items today: 130.' This is like a barometer of virtue. If you came in on a day when only 60 items were organic, you'd feel cheated. But when the number hits the three figures, you can walk through the aisles with moral confidence."
Like any self-respecting Bobo, Brooks wears his erudition lightly and comfortably (not unlike, say, an expedition-weight triple-layer Gore-Tex jacket suitable for a Mount Everest assault but more often seen in the gym). But just because he's funny doesn't mean this is not a serious book. On the contrary, it is one of the more insightful works of social commentary in recent memory. His ideas are sharp, his writing crisp, and he even offers pointed suggestions for putting the considerable Bobo political clout to work. And, unlike the classes that spawned them--the hippies and the yuppies--Brooks insists the Bobos are here to stay: "Today the culture war is over, at least in the realm of the affluent. The centuries-old conflict has been reconciled." All the more reason to pay attention. --Shawn Carkonen [via]