Kay's Reviews > The Natural History Of The Rich: A Field Guide

The Natural History Of The Rich by Richard Conniff
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's review
Aug 03, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: social-observ, anthropology, americana, natural-histry, gilded-age, nonfiction
Read in June, 2004

An extended comparison between various animal species (everything from bluebirds to elephants) and that most peculiar subset of human species, the very, very rich. Although at times Conniff tries a bit too hard to link displays of wealth to evolutionary biology, he's never ever dull. Who doesn't, after all, love to hear tales of the rich and famous, especially when said R&F are being taken down a peg?

Using the animal kingdom as a reference point, too, leads to interesting themes Conniff explores in such chapters as "The Long Social Climb: From Monkeys to Moguls," "Living Large: The Habitats of the Rich," or "Take This Gift, Dammit!: Dominance the Nice Way." Thus virtually all behaviors the rich are famed for (and a few previously unconsidered) are linked to the quest for social dominance, mating displays, and natural selection. It's a refreshing and sometimes startling way to view this much-envied (and very small) sector of the population.

For sheer anecdotal value, this book comes up trumps. Conniff seems to have penetrated practically every überwealthy haunt around the globe, from Monaco to the palaces of the Mughals. The breadth of his survey over the natural kingdom and the social scene is impressive, not to mention that he dishes more juicy dirt than any tabloid rag could come up with, all ostensibly in the Name of Science. Great stuff.

I've got several of Conniff's books on the animal kingdom, Spineless Wonders and Every Creeping Thing, so it's interesting to see that he's extending his turf now to homo sapiens. His most recent book, The Ape in the Corner continues to examine human nature in terms of Nature.

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