A New York City–based advertising executive candidly reflects on the tastes, habits, and lifestyles of his superrich Upper East Side acquaintances and their friends.
New York has always been a city known for socioeconomic extremes. However, as Kirshenbaum (Madboy: Beyond Mad Men: Tales from the Mad, Mad World of Advertising, 2011, etc.) suggests in this series of revealing essays, it has now become a place where the influence of the richest .01 percent “has spawned an era of excess, entitlement, grandiosity, and outright glitz not seen since the Roaring Twenties.” The author begins by examining the dynamics within overprivileged families, where fathers serve as little more than “invisible ATM[s],” parents often find themselves “smoking, popping and snorting” every drug imaginable, and nannies and chauffeurs double as surrogate parents for their employers’ delinquent children. Divorce is practically nonexistent, but for economic rather than emotional reasons. As one of Kirshenbaum’s informants observes, the only people who gain from marriage breakups are lawyers, who are nothing more than “undertakers for the living.” Dating among those who do divorce—and in particular, women—is an exercise in settling for one of three things: “sex, money or a warm body.” Friendship is often equally as devoid of feeling as romantic relationships. Kirshenbaum shows how wealthy people often surround themselves with individuals who “provide companionship and offer courtlike flattery” in return for financial gifts and favors. Where personal appearance is concerned, physical perfection isn’t merely a quest: it’s a way of life. The humor in this book is as understated as it is successful and derives largely from the way Kirshenbaum reports what he sees and hears in the world of the superrich and refrains from judging. Instead, he lets his informants—e.g., the divorced, wealthy businessman who shaves his body hair for his lovers and likens it to giving “consumers what they want”—reveal their foibles and foolishness themselves.
A witty, eye-opening collection.