Conniff, who specializes in the animal world (Every Creepy Thing, 1998, etc.), casts an inquisitive eye on the human race’s big dogs in their diverse habitats, from the Breakers to Blenheim.
Rich folk have bigger parties and better tchotchkes; they also live longer than the rest of us. “It’s good to be king!” observed the great philosopher Mel Brooks, and Conniff uses many parallels in the animal world to show just how good it is, explaining as well how the feral people in charge got that way. Chimps and champs, of course, have essentially the same DNA, and even rats and plutocrats possess pretty much the same genome. What’s true of gibbons and gorillas is true of CEOs and movie stars. Messrs. Gates, Turner, and Murdoch compete in scent-marking territories. Benevolent pro bono show-offs are much like simian bonobo show-offs, but the human alphas outdo their animal cousins when it comes to hoarding in a world where “more” always beats “enough, already.” The author surpasses Veblen in his analysis of the habits of the seriously affluent in matters of food, hobbies and sex, travel, nesting and sex, high jinks, foibles, inbreeding and sex. As with lesser fauna, size matters, and so does body language. The animal illustrations are entertaining, and the fun is equaled by illustrative chitchat about people from the venerable Churchills we have read about in Burke’s Peerage to the new Internet maharajas we have read about in supermarket tabloids. A limited gene pool, thin women, fat wallets, and flattery separate these special individuals from common folk. Amusing anecdotes about nouveau riche with a penchant for ballooning, and old aristocracy who “grew up with servants and practiced being incompetent from birth,” serve to illustrate Conniff’s point that among the truly loaded, “even the sane ones often had a special relationship to reality.”
A clever, invaluable zoomorphic study with a wealth of information on what makes the rich tick. (Photo insert)