Bobos in Paradise is a 2000 non-fiction book by journalist David Brooks, describing the rise of what he calls "Bobos"--- the bohemian bourgeois. The book's central thesis is that the values of mainstream culture and the counterculture have synthesized and produced a middle-class mentality that prizes both old bohemian values such as spontaneity, authenticity, originality and direct experiences, with old bourgeois values such as responsibility, achievement, education and moderation. The book uses examples from different fields, such as workplace mores, religious beliefs, habits of eating and exercise, and things like taste in decorating and fashion to make its point. Some of these observations are fairly serious analysis of sociological trends, while others are more light-hearted comments on contemporary manners.

This is a very interesting and important book, as well as being a well-written and amusing one. If I had read it in the first few years after publication, I probably would have been stung by some of the ways it seems to have deflated my sense of uniqueness. Even today, parts of it hit pretty close to home, but in a way that was more amusing than anything. For example, I regularly ride my bicycle in the mountains. As Brooks describes, this combines romantic notions (being alone, being in nature, doing something without tangible benefits) with notions of self-control (I keep a regular schedule of when I want to ride and count my miles carefully). It was also a revelation when he pointed out that kitchens were traditionally kept as utilitarian areas, and that the idea that a middle-class man (such as myself) would be proud of a glass-top stove and a cabinet full of exotic spices is quite unusual, in historical terms. So when the book talks in large terms of general changes in social attitudes, it can be quite insightful. In general, it is true that the middle-class has become more fond of individualistic behavior, authentic attitudes, and "roughness" in decor, food and clothing.

One of the big weaknesses of the book is that Brooks seems to be following a narrow focus in his examples. I am personally a member of the "Educated Class" that he talks about, having a Master's Degree. But my Master's Degree is in a professional field from a state school, so my experience as an underemployed GED teacher in a community college is a far cry from what he thinks of as the existence of the "Educated Classes", with a 115,000 dollar job as a tenured professor at the University of Chicago. A world in which you describe someone who has a household income of 180,000 dollars a year as being envious of their more wealthy peers who work as currency traders is a large cry from how most of the "Educated Class" live. Even given the economic euphoria of the 1990s, Brooks' vision is a little skewed. One thing he fails to mention is that many Bobo behaviors are not the result of affectation but of necessity. For every mutual fund analysis going up to Vermont for furniture that looks like it is rustic, there are dozens of people with Master's Degrees buying their furniture from Goodwill because they are spending a quarter of their income on student loans.

Another important point of this book is that it is now outdated. It was written during the economic boom of the 1990s, which was probably in domestic and foreign policy one of the most prosperous and least troubled eras in American history. The book has "in paradise" in its title, but after the recession of 2000, 9/11, two wars that went on for a decade, the collapse of Enron, the financial crisis of 2008 and the great recession, and the fact of continuing income stagnation and underemployment, calling the life of the educated classes "Paradise" seems to be somewhat quaint.

I think this is an interesting and important book to read to understand the changes in middle class attitudes and beliefs. But its approach can be somewhat narrow and fails to see counter-currents to its predictions.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.