A powerful if uneven collection of essays on the New Economy and the changes it’s wrought.
New Yorker editor Remnick (Lenin’s Tomb, 1994, etc.) has gathered 33 illuminating glimpses into the lives of entrepreneurs, businesspeople, socialites, as well as some less visible members of our age—the struggling actor who won $45 million in the New York State Lottery, for instance, and the mother of four who was the girlfriend of the largest heroin distributor in the Bronx. The result is an entertaining and thoughtful compendium of profiles. There’s Joan Didion’s “Everywoman.com.,” which claims Martha Stewart as the ideal of “female power,” conquering Wall Street by teaching housewives everywhere to make ornate (and costly) doilies; there’s Ken Auletta’s assessment of Bill Gates, which sees him not as a capitalist demigod or spirit-crushing monopolist but as a man who has never known professional failure or rebuke, who has been subject to no authority other than the “invisible hand” of the market, and who simply doesn’t know how to react to the government’s directives; and, perhaps most interesting, there are essays on those the e-conomy has left behind: the published novelist who works at a soup kitchen because he is close enough to the edge to see the drop; the freelance writer who generated $75,000 in debt by living in contemporary New York, et al. Included as well are articles on cultural trends: In “A Sense of Change,” John Updike considers our romantic fascination with coins, and David Brooks, in “Conscientious Consumption,” discusses the new elite’s disdain for old styles of opulent wealth and the displays of riches they judge “acceptable.”
Thoughtful and thought-provoking, but, with only the most tenuous connections linking the various pieces, it seems little more than a clothbound special issue of the New Yorker.