Yale sociologist Justin Farrell’s new book, Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West, is an amazing piece of scholarship that provides detailed insight into how wealth concentration is shaping the human (and more-than-human) communities in Teton County, Wyoming, which is both the richest county in the United States and the county with the highest wealth inequality (on various measures).
Farrell’s research, both qualitative and quantitative, is meticulous and presented in clear and accessible prose. The excerpted interviews provide candid (and sometimes stomach-churning) insight into the hearts and minds of both the ultra-wealthy and the working poor whose labor makes their lifestyles possible in Teton County and thereabouts. For various reasons that Farrell thoughtfully articulates, rural communities are under-researched, and accessing the ultra-wealthy for research purposes is challenging. But we can no longer afford to neglect such research and this book provides a model for much work that is yet to be done.
I strongly recommend this valuable book to anyone who is working on or simply interested in issues relating to climate change, conservation, wealth inequality, and/or social justice more broadly.
I love reading books that explicitly encourage us to stretch our imaginations. You don’t have to be an optimist to think that the way we organize the world and live our lives isn’t the best possible way. People with very different views can often agree that things, in general, could be better.
One of the things I liked most about this book is how it brings to our attention various historical events that aren’t as well-known as they probably deserve to be. The author has clearly done his research, but the writing is still quite accessible and conversational. It would be an especially good starting place for folks who haven’t previously given much thought to the specific policies he advocates (universal basic income, shorter workweeks, and open borders).
The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity was one of the first books I picked up purely for my reading pleasure after liberating myself from the ridiculously demanding work schedule that I had as a university professor. I am so glad that I did (that is, both pick up the book and leave that job behind)!
This hefty book has been getting a lot of press, positive and negative, so there are already tons of places that you might look for a summary, if you are so inclined. I’m not so sure that one can really successfully summarize a book like this one, though, so I’m not going to try.
I will mention some of the things that I most appreciated about it. From the start, it forced me to confront (not for the first time) the shortcomings and miserable failures of my own education when it comes to the indigenous cultures of North America. As the book progressed, I learned a lot about various cultures across wide swaths of space and time. Gaining a greater understanding of the great diversity of ways in which humans have intentionally chosen to organize their societies would be reason enough for many people to give some time and attention to the book.
But what I probably found most valuable for getting the old brain juices flowing were the authors’ discussions of some very fundamental freedoms. Over many years as a student and then also as a teacher, I’ve thought a lot about the ways in which many of us are socialized into obeying authorities rather than deciding for ourselves what a good life looks like (and how best to pursue it). This book enabled me to think about a whole host of related issues from a new angle, and I suspect some of the ways it has changed my thinking will be quite long-lasting.
Of course I’m neither an anthropologist or an archaeologist, so I don’t have the right kind(s) of expertise to assess the methods used to collect, analyze, and interpret data in the background research, but the book did also help me learn a lot about the preoccupations, habits, and assumptions that are common to many practitioners of those disciplines, which was both interesting and useful for me.