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Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks Simon & Schuster, 2001, 284 pp., $25 Bobos in Paradise, by David Brooks, is a deliriously witty look at the goals and values held by America's newest upper class, those Land Rover-driving achievers who greet the day with, "Double latte, please." After working in Brussels for four and a half years as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Brooks returned to the United States and discovered a new Zeitgeist. The power brokers holding sway on America's trading floors and in its media outlets and techno-parks aspired to seemingly contradictory goals: they wanted to do good while doing well. They attempted to fuse the hippie bohemian values of the sixties with the "greed-is-good" bourgeois aspirations of the eighties: hence the name "Bobo"—Bourgeois Bohemian. According to Brooks, nothing distinguishes a Bobo so much as education , and nowhere is the ascendancy of the educated elite more evident than on the society pages of the Sunday New York Times. No longer the exclusive province of old-money WASPs, the Times wedding announcements now confer imprimaturs on multiethnic , multidegreed couples. In place of Mayflower ancestors and landgrant parchments, Bobo brides and grooms present sheepskins—many, many sheepskins. Ivy League sheepskins are preferable, but ones from Stanford, Duke and Virginia are good, too. Between them, Bobo brides and grooms frequently have five degrees and half a million dollars' worth of postsecondary education. What the Times' society page shows, says Brooks, is the rise of a meritocracy, a leadership class based on achievement. If the wedding announcements are to be believed, Bobos are smart twenty-four-seven. They play cello in string quartets on alternate Wednesdays. They cultivate bonsai. They make treks to Buddhist monasteries; they make paper; they make bread. They make money. And whatever they make, they make very, very weU. Given its breezy tone, it would be easy to regard Bobos in Paradise as a piece of fluff, but to do so would be a mistake. While some parts, such as Brooks's excursion to a Seattle outdoor emporium, are laugh-outloud funny, his research is thorough. Moreover, he has a keen appreciation for the basic principles underlying American society and for the postwar decades in which Bobo culture has its roots. Brooks traces the origins of this new meritocracy to the fifties, when, fearful that their institutions were establishing an aristocracy, America's elite colleges raised their SAT standards. As a result, feckless WASP scions lost their places in the Ivy League to boys from Queens and Newark. Brooks continues to document the Bobos' rise through the tumultuous sixties and the reactionary eighties. The shifting cultural attitudes during these decades point to the heart of the Bobo dilemma: How do you meld the bohemian values of self-expression and creativity with the bourgeois values of discipline and materialism? According to Brooks, Bobos, always confident of accomplishing what they set out to, solve this dilemma with a type of metis, a Greek term for a 202 · The Missouri Review combination of skül and savvy. Because they have metis—and metis cannot be taught, only acquired— Bobos adjust easily to new and challenging situations. At home with the concept of interrelatedness and possessing a gift for improvisation, Bobos have the perfect mind-set for a fluid society such as ours. For them there are no obstacles, only a series of problems to be solved. In readable prose, Brooks examines virtually every aspect ofBobo life: where they live, what they buy, how they love, what they believe, how they play and what we, as a nation, can expect from them in the future. Given the power of their collective intelligence as well as the wealth it generates, Bobos are fast becoming America's new standard-setters. They are the ones transforming small towns and small urban neighborhoods into communities centered on a coffee shop, books and a bike path. They are the ones designers have in mind when they create cars with yesteryearbodies and high-tech engines. And they are the ones who pay more than lip service to the idea of tolerance for all, for if Bobos have one credo, it...


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pp. 202-203
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