Review of The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class

Benjamin Schwarz is perhaps in a class of his own in that his reviews are marvelously entertaining while remaining on point substantively. The danger for books reviewed by him — good, bad, or indifferent — is that his secondary commentary typically outshines the target work. Anyway, the discussion centres on what Jonathan Haidt has termed “lifestyle enclaves.” (Not sure what Schwartz and Currid-Halkett would have to say about my unapologetic Gordian knot of “deplorable” and “highfalutinculture).

[A]s The Sum of Small Things establishes, many of the elite’s purchases are made in the name of protecting the environment. But the notion that self-denial—rather than buying things to gratify oneself—might better serve that end seems absent from the elite worldview.

Given that this class’s identity depends on a form of consumption that revolves around the display of cultural capital, it’s unsurprising that so much of the elite’s intellectual and political life is merely gestural.

They “like feeling smart without doing work—two hours in a theater is easier than ten hours with a book.”

As befits these engines of global capitalism, these cities and their inhabitants are pulling away with growing momentum from their native countries and cultures.