BILLIONAIRE WILDERNESS by Justin Farrell

BILLIONAIRE WILDERNESS

The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

An examination of income inequality through the lens of Teton County, Wyoming, which is “both the richest county in the United States and the county with the nation’s highest level of income inequality.”

Teton County has become the primary or secondary home for a large influx of multimillionaires and billionaires, who are attracted by the breathtaking natural beauty and the absence of a state income tax. A similarly large population—perhaps 30% of the county—consists of low-income families who live in Teton County to fill jobs that serve the wealthy residents. Farrell (Sociology/Yale Univ.; The Battle for Yellowstone: Morality and the Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict, 2015), a Wyoming native, found that the bulk of the low-income families are immigrants who speak Spanish as their first language. The author also writes about how he was raised by a mother who depended on rich people for income as a house cleaner. Farrell eventually moved away, becoming a first-generation college student and an academic researcher. In his chronicle of his return to where he grew up, he examines both sides of the divide. The book contains some sections packed with academic jargon, including one about the research methodology underlying the 200-plus in-depth interviews of the wealthy and the working poor who serve them in various capacities. Farrell learned that the wealthy tend to view themselves as sensitive, generous philanthropists, part of a county where everybody gets along and where distinguishing between the rich and the poor is mostly irrelevant because they are all friends. The laborers, on the other hand, do not perceive the relations as friendships. While the author found little overt hatred among the laborers, he did uncover puzzlement about why the wealthy seemed to lack empathy and self-awareness. “The working poor,” writes the author, “called into question many of the positive perceptions ultra-wealthy people have of themselves….They pointed out the irony and false virtue of affluent environmentalism, and link it to the ongoing suffering of the working poor.”

An eye-opening look at a specific element of economic and social inequality.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-691-17667-3
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2020