Monday, December 11, 2006

Essential Books: Bobos in Paradise

I have always had a love for sociology. That statement can mean alot of things. Let me say what it does not mean. I do not like at all the Marxist foundations on which the discipline was built, nor do I like much of its contemporary academic manifestations. However, I do like very much the practice of observing culture, which is what some good sociologists do. One such person is David Brooks, a writer for the New York Times who has made a career (and a fortune) from recording his pithy observations of American society in the books Bobos in Paradise and Paradise Drive.

I'm doing this series not simply to type three paragraphs so that my fingers can get exercise, or so that I can tell you what I like, but to recommend books to you. I think that you should read the books I'm recommending and think through them. With that said, I think you should read both of the books mentioned above. In each of the books, Brooks looks at the nature of postmodern society as revealed in its capitalist behavior. To give you my take of his thesis in each work (more or less), Brooks examines the strange nature of postmodern society in which people from divergent ethical backgrounds purchase the same goods and traffic in the same pleasures. This is a fascinating thesis, and Brooks sketches it out in colorful detail. His writing is pure candy for a sociological junkie. He is particularly fond of observing the ways in which globalism and consumer culture brings different people groups together. In Bobos in Paradise he wryly notes how the snotty upper crust and the hippy revolutionaries now share much of the same ethos and, tellingly, shop in many of the same places. This is an important insight, one that makes for great reading.

Have you noticed that? I certainly have. My wife loves the store Whole Foods, a store that draws a strange blend of folks. Look at the parking lot, and you see glistening Range Rovers which get 8 mpg parked right next to 30-year-old Volvo station wagons with fading Grateful Dead stickers. It is a most odd scene and yet it is replicated all over the country. The stridency of the revolutionary message has faded just as the upper crust has gone enviro-conscious, and the resulting mix is quite hilarious. Uptight trophy wives shop next to dreadlocked wanna-be Rastafarians. Only in America, one thinks. And we see this only through the fun and important sociological work of David Brooks, the commentator whose political and moral views I often care little for but whose sociological skill is a treat in itself.


Anonymous BC said...

I find it odd, Owen, though perhaps I should not, that I've read all of the books that you've reviewed to date.

Les BoBos is an excellent book, though it is best read as a descriptive account of contemporary life than a normative one.

I would also like to raise an objection to its treatment of religion and, let's say, certain social issues. The suggestion that "the argument is over; to be educated means to think X" is quite pernicious indeed.


7:20 AM  

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