Cover image for The natural history of the rich : a field guide
The natural history of the rich : a field guide
Conniff, Richard, 1951-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2002]

Physical Description:
344 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HC79.W4 C657 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HC79.W4 C657 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Journalist Richard Conniff probes the age-old question "Are the rich different from you and me?" and finds that they are indeed a completely different animal. He observes with great humor and finesse this socially unique species, revealing their strategies for ensuring dominance and submission, their flourishes of display behavior, the intricate dynamics of their pecking order, as well as their unorthodox mating practices. Through comparisons to other equally exotic animals, Conniff uncovers surprising commonalties.
-- How did Bill Gates achieve his single greatest act of social dominance by being nice?
-- How does the flattery of the rich resemble the grooming behavior of baboons?
-- What made the British aristocracy the single most successful animal dominance hierarchy in the history of the planet?
-- How does Old Money's disdain for the nouveaux riches resemble the pig-grunting of mountain gorillas?

This marvelously entertaining field guide captures in vivid detail the behaviors and habitats of the world's most captivating yet elusive animal.

Author Notes

Richard Conniff is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has been featured in Smith-sonian, National Geographic, Worth, and other publications. He lives in Connecticut

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Conniff, who writes for Smithsonian and National Geographic, among other publications, submits a book evocative of Paul Fussell's Class (1983). Somewhat tongue in cheek, but emerging as a genuine social study of the very rich, Conniff's presentation yields entertaining yet revealing information. He utilizes the conventions of the naturalists to limn his subject (e.g., "The rules with baboons are the same as in a Jane Austen novel: maintain close ties with your relatives and try to get in with high-ranking animals" ). Conniff's brand of zoomorphism results in some humorous but dead-on descriptions (such as the "cultural subspecies, homo sapiens pecuniosus" or "Chimps and some other primates share food and practice social manipulation through raucous feeding clusters. Humans, particularly the rich and ambitious ones, do the same thing with feasts and parties" ). Unlike Fussell's work, of which one never tires, Conniff's approach grows tiresome after awhile. However, it is still a worthy attempt to poke fun at "the lifestyles of the rich and famous." --Allen Weakland

Publisher's Weekly Review

"It might be difficult to see the connection between a rich woman swanning around in her Manolo Blahniks and some underpaid clipboard-wielding biologist slogging through the bush in battered Tevas," Conniff writes, but readers of this unusual and delightful exploration of the richest members of the human species will understand that connection and a whole lot more. Journalist and essayist Conniff compares the super-rich to the animal kingdom in providing a frame of reference for their behaviors and actions. Butterflies and moths, which camouflage their true colors when not with their own kind, provide a context for discussing concealment, display and the "inconspicuous consumption" of those born to money: the signs of wealth are displayed subtly to be recognized by those in the know. Conniff finds an animal model for philanthropy in a bird called the Arabian babbler, which, after forcing a gift of food on a companion, "lift[s] his beak in a special trill... like a socialite posing for an event photographer at the Breast Cancer Awareness barbecue." Other chapters provide insight into mating habits, dominance (the rough way and the nice way) and other rules of social intercourse. A keen observer of both animal and human nature, Conniff who has written about the natural world for National Geographic and about the rich for Architectural Digest neither patronizes nor demeans his subjects (after all, he notes, we all hope to be rich some day). He merely uses them and the natural world to illuminate a class of people and range of behaviors that few among us will ever have the opportunity to observe firsthand. 8 pages of b&w illus. (Oct. 21) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Conniff takes on lifestyles of the rich (and variably famous) for the bookish and hip, that is, for an audience receptive to his jokes. And the jokes fill every page of the very funny, vaguely nausea-inducing travels he makes through the realms of the extremely wealthy, who do, of course, turn out to be very different from you and me. As Conniff finally has it, we are all pretty much the same, except that the billionaires beat us in every category, including access to sex, overhousing, and general nastiness. Conniff (Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World), a respected freelance journalist on the popular natural world beat, here extends to book length a piece he did on the culture of Monaco for National Geographic a few years back. Most conventional of the allegedly wise ideas he gleefully whacks are that old money is classier than new and that the rich mean it when they say there is more to their lives than money and power. Recommended for libraries of all types, with two caveats: Conniff is not immune to small errors of detail, and some of his humor is too deadpan to let readers distinguish outrageous hyperbole from assertion of fact. Even so, most will find this a fast-moving, instructive read.-Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. 7
Introduction: Naturally Rich?p. 9
Chapter 1 Scratching with the Big Dogs: How Rich Is Rich?p. 23
Chapter 2 The Long Social Climb: From Monkey to Mogulp. 39
Chapter 3 Party Time: The Dawn of the Plutocratp. 57
Chapter 4 Who's in Charge Here?: Dominance the Rough Wayp. 72
Chapter 5 Take This Gift, Dammit!: Dominance the Nice Wayp. 100
Chapter 6 The Service Heart: Subordinate Behaviorsp. 117
Chapter 7 Why Do Rich People Take Such Risks?: Display by Grandstandingp. 144
Chapter 8 Inconspicuous Consumption: Display by Muted Extravagancep. 157
Chapter 9 Living Large: The Habitats of the Richp. 191
Chapter 10 The Temptation of Midnight Feasts: Sex, Anyone?p. 224
Chapter 11 Family Business: Caught in the Perpetual Dynasty-Making Machinep. 257
Epilogue: A How-To Guide for Alpha Apesp. 289
Notesp. 299
Bibliographyp. 317
Permission Creditsp. 327
Indexp. 329