Frank, Robert 1968-
Frank, Robert 1968-
Born June 6, 1968; married; children: one.
Overseas Press Club award, 1998, for team coverage of developing economies.
Richistan: A Journey through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
A senior writer for the Wall Street Journal, Robert Frank has been reporting on financial matters for more than thirteen years. In Richistan: A Journey through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, he tours the world of the superrich to reveal their curious customs and behaviors. He argues that the new rich, who earned their spectacular incomes in the 1980s and after, are different in significant ways from those who obtained their wealth in earlier times. For one thing, their incomes—mostly earned, rather than inherited—are proportionately larger than those of the traditional rich; what is more, there are many more millionaires and billionaires than ever before. And they are not ashamed of or embar- rassed by their extraordinary wealth. They are happy to be conspicuous consumers and to enjoy all the trappings of luxury. As a result, reports David A. Geracioti in Trusts & Estates, the new rich have built "a self-contained world unto themselves," complete with gated communities, private jets and yachts, concierge doctors, and other amenities beyond the experience of the merely wealthy, let alone those in lower income brackets. This world is the "country" that Frank calls Richistan.
Richistan, as Frank makes clear, does not intend a deep analysis of the causes or long-term social consequences of extreme wealth. Rather, it focuses on description and anecdote. Frank reports on typical household expenses for Richistanis, including starting salaries in the range of 80,000 to 120,000 dollars for household managers, known as butlers in an earlier age, who are expected to coordinate building maintenance and security, staffing, and travel plans for the owners. Richistanis also spend millions of dollars annually on club memberships and beauty treatments. Frank also discusses some of the dilemmas that the superrich face, such as the pressure to ensure that their money earns ever-bigger returns, since the cost of being wealthy continues to go up. As Frank shows, many residents of Richistan have little leisure time in which to enjoy their wealth, because they are busy with various work and organizational responsibilities. Many are involved with politics, funding candidates and programs that they consider worthy. Others have chosen to pioneer their own philanthropic projects.
Though Frank expresses some hope that Richistan's wealth might eventually trickle down through such philanthropies, the evidence in his book more likely suggests, as many reviewers pointed out, that the income gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider. Alex Beam, for example, wrote in his New York Times Book Review assessment of Richistan that the inhabitants of this rarified world "sound dreadful and not very happy." For Beam, a telling detail of the book is Frank's description of Fort Lauderdale's International Boat Show, held immediately after Hurricane Wilma had destroyed thousands of homes in lower-income areas of the city. Apparently unaware of the misery of the newly homeless, attendees could enjoy the spectacle of a chocolate fountain and twenty-million-dollar yachts for sale. "Look out the window," wrote Beam. "It's Pooristan. Hmmm. I wonder who lives there. And will anyone be writing a book about them?"
Other critics, however, took a lighter view, enjoying Richistan for its entertainment value. A writer for the Wall Street Journal described the book as "revealing and funny," while Corporate Counsel contributor Brian Zabcik called it "wealth porn at its best."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biography, summer, 2007, "Rich People."
Booklist, May 15, 2007, Mary Whaley, review of Richistan: A Journey through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, p. 8.
Corporate Counsel, October 2007, Brian Zabcik, review of Richistan, p. 117.
New Statesman, August 6, 2007, Tristan Quinn, "Nation of Millionaires," p. 51.
New York Times Book Review, June 10, 2007, Alex Beam, "Lifestyles of the Rich," p. 8.
Observer (London, England), July 22, 2007, Tim Adams, "How the Other 1 Per Cent Lives."
Publishers Weekly, April 23, 2007, review of Richistan, p. 41.
USA Today, June 18, 2007, Russ Juskalian, "Richistan Shares ‘Thoroughly Entertaining’ Tales of New Rich," p. 7.
Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2008, review of Richistan.
American,http://www.american.com/ (November 6, 2007), Rachel DiCarlo Currie, "Welcome to Richistan."
Philanthropy Roundtable Web site,http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/ (December 17, 2007), Keith Whitaker, "Adventures in Richistan."
Social Affairs Unit Web site,http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/ (October 8, 2007), Richard D. North, review of Richistan.
Something Jewish,http://www.somethingjewish.co.uk/ (February 13, 2008), Marcus J. Freed, review of Richistan.
Trusts & Estates,http://trustsandestates.com/ (September 19, 2007), David A. Geracioti, review of Richistan.