OLD MONEY: The Making of America's Upper Class by

OLD MONEY: The Making of America's Upper Class

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The values and manners of the silver-spoon set, as described by a cleareyed member of the club. Men and women born to privilege are proud to be different. Money in trust lets kids grow up above the fray, they argue, allowing them to cultivate higher virtues--public service, true connoisseurship. But Old Money was, of course, once New: Aldrich's great-grandfather was a mill-hand's son turned Senator from Rhode Island who turned a corrupt deal into a neat multimillion-dollar nest egg. As money passes through the generations, however, it becomes a culture with its own rites of passage: boarding school, ""battles"" with nature, military service. But what happens when the trust-fund kids grow up and claim their degree from ""synecdochic Harvard""? Aldrich roams freely through recent history to describe the meanderings of the aimless. Some choose public service, some serve as trustees, some try to protect the family business from grabby entrepreneurs and trained managers. Some turn to drugs and/or alcohol. And most raise families of their own and continue the cycle. Aldrich sprinkles his prose with almost throw-away insights (""Blind as the envious are to what they have, they are exquisitely observant of what others have: objects, traits, positions and honors that, if they only had them, would fill up the void inside themselves""). And when he takes his examples from real life, the book comes alive. All too often, though, he writes in erudite abstractions that will discourage all but the most committed readers. And what is the central argument here? Aldrich, in his historian's fairness, his careful avoidance of pop-psych formulations, skitters around his subject, offering loosely organized description, but never venturing to answer the questions raised. Is it lack of hunger that deprives so many of these lives of focus? What's the weird trick of human nature that makes these privileged few seem so unfree?

Pub Date: June 15th, 1988
Publisher: Knopf