In Pursuit of Privilege
by Clifton Hood
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Released: Nov. 1, 2016
Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
Book Description, Modified from Amazon:
A history that extends from the 1750s to the present, In Pursuit of Privilege recounts upper-class New Yorkers' struggle to create a distinct world guarded against outsiders, even as economic growth and democratic opportunity enabled aspirants to gain entrance. Despite their efforts, New York City's upper class has been drawn into the larger story of the city both through class conflict and through their role in building New York's cultural and economic foundations.
Clifton Hood merges a history of the New York economy in the eighteenth century with the story of Wall Street's emergence as an international financial center in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as the dominance of New York's financial and service sectors in the 1980s. Bringing together several decades of upheaval and change, he shows that New York's upper class did not rise exclusively from the Gilded Age but rather from a relentless pursuit of privilege, affecting not just the urban elite but the city's entire cultural, economic, and political fabric.
In Pursuit of Privilege is a collection of essays about the New York City upper class covering 1750 to modern times. The author focused on seven time periods where major events created changes in the upper class, though he also talked about what happened between those times. Those time periods were: 1750s/1760s (changed by the 7 Years War), 1780s/1790s (by the Revolutionary War), 1820s (by major growth in NYC), 1860s (by the Civil War), 1880s/1890s (Gilded Age), 1940s (by WWII), and 1970s (by a financial crisis).
Different topics were covered under the different time periods, but each covered what defined the upper class (lineage, wealth, etc.), what they valued (manners, wealth, power, etc.), and how they interacted. The author also described things like where they built their houses, their social diversions (like clubs), what role or social responsibilities they felt regarding the common people, what they desired in schools for their children, how they spent their wealth, and the development of the NY Stock Exchange. He also briefly compared the NYC upper class's values and behavior to those of the upper class in other major cities.
The tone of the writing was distant, looking back at events with hindsight and clinically dissecting each topic. While some specific people were named, they're used as a brief example to make a point. As in, it's not a popular history that puts you in the time, focuses on specific people, or shows their behavior in context. While the tone was academic, the writing wasn't dry and I found the topics interesting. I'd recommend this book to readers interested in the changes that have occurred in the upper class of NYC.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.