In keeping with its tradition of sending writers out into America to take the pulse of our citizens and civilization, The New Yorker over the past decade has reported on the unprecedented economy and how it has changed the ways in which we live. This new anthology collects the best of these profiles, essays, and articles, which depict, in the magazine's inimitable style, the mega-, meta-, monster-wealth created in this, our new Gilded Age.
Who are the barons of the new economy? Profiles of Martha Stewart by Joan Didion, Bill Gates by Ken Auletta, and Alan Greenspan by John Cassidy reveal the personal histories of our most influential citizens, people who affect our daily lives even more than we know. Who really understands the Web? Malcolm Gladwell analyzes the economics of e-commerce in "Clicks and Mortar." Profiles of two of the Internet's most respected analysts, George Gilder and Mary Meeker, expose the human factor in hot stocks, declining issues, and the instant fortunes created by an IPO. And in "The Kids in the Conference Room," Nicholas Lemann meets McKinsey & Company's business analysts, the twenty-two-year-olds hired to advise America's CEOs on the future of their business, and the economy.
And what defines this new age, one that was unimaginable even five years ago? Susan Orlean hangs out with one of New York City's busiest real estate brokers ("I Want This Apartment"). A clicking stampede of Manolo Blahniks can be heard in Michael Specter's "High-Heel Heaven." Tony Horwitz visits the little inn in the little town where moguls graze ("The Inn Crowd"). Meghan Daum flees her maxed-out credit cards. Brendan Gill lunches with Brooke Astor at the Metropolitan Club. And Calvin Trillin, in his masterly "Marisa and Jeff," portrays the young and fresh faces of greed.
Eras often begin gradually and end abruptly, and the people who live through extraordinary periods of history do so unaware of the unique qualities of their time. The flappers and tycoons of the 1920s thought the bootleg, and the speculation, would flow perpetually—until October 1929. The shoulder pads and the junk bonds of the 1980s came to feel normal—until October 1987. Read as a whole, The New Gilded Age portrays America, here, today, now—an epoch so exuberant and flush and in thrall of risk that forecasts of its conclusion are dismissed as Luddite brays. Yet under The New Yorker's examination, our current day is ex-posed as a special time in history: affluent and aggressive, prosperous and peaceful, wired and wild, and, ultimately, finite.
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The New Yorker caters to America's upper classes; it's the kind of magazine meant to be accompanied by a glass of pricey Merlot. Over the years its elitism has waxed and waned. Ex-editor Tina Brown worked valiantly to inject a dose of pop-cultural crassness into its ivory-tower sensibilities: profiling celebrities and publishing fashion issues where models stared out from every page, looking chilly. When David Remnick took over in the late '90s, the magazine shifted, grew quieter and more circumspect, and the old guard breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The New Gilded Age collects essays and profiles from 1999 and 2000 and reveals Remnick's New Yorker to be obsessed with money and business--arguably less interesting than celebrity, but also deeper ways of looking at America and power. The title refers to the period of technological revolution symbolized by the rise of Microsoft, the booming of Silicon Valley, and the end of the belief that an Ivy League education will get you anywhere.
What's admirable about this New Yorker is its timeliness; the way, without seeming like a panicked "edge" magazine, it managed to document and acknowledge the shifting sands of the millennial moment. Standouts in this regard: William Finnegan on the protesters behind the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle; Ken Auletta following Bill Gates through various meltdowns as he comes to terms with the federal government's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft. These are painstakingly reported pieces in which style is submerged. The more audacious writers tend to be women. In "Everywoman.com," Joan Didion describes Martha Stewart in a flood of rapt lyricism:
This is not a story about a woman who made the best of traditional skills. This is a story about a woman who did her own I.P.O. This is the "woman's pluck" story, the dust-bowl story, the burying-your-child-on-the-trail story, the I-will-never-go-hungry-again story, the Mildred Pierce story, the story about how the sheer nerve of even professionally unskilled women can prevail, show the men; the story that has historically encouraged women in this country, even as it has threatened men.In "Landing from the Sky," Adrian Nicole LeBlanc creates a portrait of a young Puerto Rican woman with too many kids and too much trouble. The writing here is exquisite and passionate: "Jessica created an aura of intimacy wherever she went. You could be talking to her in the middle of Tremont and feel as if a confidence were being exchanged beneath a tent of sheets."
Jessica's story seems far from the world of The New Yorker's target audience. When in "My Misspent Youth" Meghan Daum laments her poverty and credit card debt, then reveals she lives alone in a $1,500-a-month apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side, you have to wonder: Did the poor thing ever hear of roommates? As both a document and celebration of such rarefied and privileged attitudes, The New Gilded Age is a rich, informative glimpse into America at the turn of the millennium--before the NASDAQ crashed and the dot-com kids went home to count their losses. --Emily WhiteFrom the Back Cover:
"The New Yorker . . . has done an amazing job of bringing its signature journalism to the zeitgeist of the Internet Age."
"Whether you believe the 1990s was an era of unparalleled greed or the dawn of an entrepreneurial era, this much is clear: It was a golden age for business writing. For proof, look no further than The New Gilded Age."
"This potent collection captures the mercantile madness of the last decade. It also offers one ray of hope in a hurried and greedy world: The New Yorker is still home to its prized, impeccable style that balances wit with depth in essays that are at once delectable and galvanizing."
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