Book Review – Richistan by Robert Frank
Robert Frank’s book titled Richistan is about the lives of the new rich and those who make up the wealth boom occurring in the United States. The book is 250 pages long and is fun to read. While we know there are millions of millionaires in the world, Frank exposes them in completely new ways, from how they hire butlers to the silly ways in which they make their fortunes. Frank gives us perspectives that we never think about when it comes to the self-made, rich population.
To start the book, the author gives the reader an idea of just how many millionaires there are in the United States; about eight million as of 2003. This number has risen drastically between 2003 and 2009. He also goes on to define the term “Richistan,” and divides his new country into three different categories based on household net worth. Lower Richistan consists of households worth $1 million to $10 million dollars. Middle Richistan consists of households worth $10 million to $100 million dollars. The elite Upper Richistanis consist of households worth $100 million to $1 billion dollars. There are only several thousand households in the Upper Richistani category.
Chapter one is titled, “Butler Boot Camp: Housetraining the New Rich.” This chapter serves as a great introduction to the secret world of the new rich households. Frank talks of butler boot camps, especially the boot camp held at the prestigious Starkey International Institute for Household Management. Here, men and women train to simply run the households of millionaires and billionaires and get paid a ridiculous amount of money to answer to the wishes and needs of the super rich. These butlers get paid anywhere from $75,000 dollars to well into six-figure territory. They must know how to please the super rich, and tasks include washing high-end cars, rolling cigars, setting up home entertainment systems, and the usual services such as cooking and babysitting.
Chapter two is titled, “The Third Wave: The Era of the Instapreneur.” There are thousands of people who are becoming instant millionaires every year. In fact, in 2005 there were about 227,000 new financial millionaires in the United States alone. Robert Frank describes in this chapter the six ways that most people acquire their wealth and points out several individuals who have instantly made millions of dollars through development and sales of several large companies. Jared Polis, for example, has developed more than a dozen companies and sold them all for more than a total of $600 million dollars.
Chapter three is titled, “Making It: Ed Bazinet, King of the Ceramic Village.” This chapter is devoted to those who have made fortunes in an unlikely manner. One person mentioned in this chapter is Sydell Miller. Ms. Miller operated a hair salon and developed a shampoo line called Matrix Essentials, which she was fortunate enough to sell to Bristol-Myers Squibb for a mere $1 billion dollars. Then there is the chapter’s title man, Ed Bazinet, who created miniature ceramic houses and ended up mass producing them for department stores. By taking a chance and producing his line of mini houses, he is worth over $100 million dollars. This chapter gives you the feeling that anyone can be rich if you have the will and a good idea.
Chapter four is titled, “Living It: Tim Blixseth.” This chapter talks about those who love their work and make their work their life. Men and women like Tim Blixseth do not seem to have the capability to relax; they are always thinking about business. Tim may be on vacation or relaxing on his yacht, but he never stops working on his business. Blixseth started in business at a young age by buying and selling timber to various other companies, and eventually started the Yellowstone Club, which charges $250,000 dollars to join and millions of dollars for the right to build a house on his land. This ultra-exclusive club has members such as Bill Gates and Dan Quayle who want their own retreat where privacy is at a maximum.
Chapter six is titled, “Barbarians in the Ballroom: New Money vs. Old.” Formal celebrations and balls are popular in the world of the ultra-rich. People are invited and expected to attend, knowing that a large monetary donation to the charity of choice is mandatory. The rich must donate large amounts of money and when they fail to donate, controversy arises. Not only are people expected to donate up to millions of dollars at a time, but there is also controversy about who is allowed or nominated to be chairperson of these formal events. The chapter goes on to discuss homes owned by Donald Trump and Sean Combs and how much property in various parts of the country can sell for. This chapter is the least interesting of the book, but still gives good information on the world of the ultra-rich.
Chapter seven is titled, “Size Really Does Matter: My Boat is Bigger than Your Boat.” The seventh chapter is all about comparing the property and expenses of the rich versus the ultra-rich. Mega yachts seem like standard property for a rich person these days, and boats are coming in huge sizes with all kinds of crazy options. Some foreign leaders are having boats made that are about 500 feet long, costing over $200 million dollars to build. The boats come with smaller boats, helicopter pads, dozens of hot tubs, swimming pools, theaters, gold-plated bathrooms, etc. The author goes on to mention how millionaires compare cars, watches, and homes, and spend vast amounts of money just so they can have the biggest and the best.
Chapter eight is called, “Performance Philanthropy: Giving for Results.” This chapter is intriguing, and it discusses entrepreneurial charity. People like Philip Berber who made a vast amount of money with an online stock trading company which he sold for nearly a half billion dollars, are finding new ways to spend their money. Berber started Glimmer of Hope, a company which uses large amounts of money to help make the world a better place. Other millionaires and billionaires like Michael Dell have donated millions of dollars to help Berber build schools, health clinics, waters wells, and vet clinics in countries where poverty is a severe issue. Men and women like Berber and Dell have high hopes to heal the world and have taken the initiative to help fight poverty with the fortunes they have accumulated.
Chapter nine is titled, “Move Over, Christian Coalition: The New Political Kingmakers.” The ninth chapter deals with the money that drives politics and campaigns. This chapter presents how policymakers ask for money to fuel their campaigns and the differences between the techniques Republicans and Democrats use to find their much-needed money. Four Democratic supporters in Colorado helped to elect their candidate to the House of Representatives. Not only did this happen in Colorado and the House of Representatives, but it happens all the time in the race for President of the United States. The Republican Party often gains large sums of money in a public manner while the Democratic Party often collects money from the ultra-rich in a more private manner. This chapter shows that people will stop at nothing to have their candidate nominated into office, even if it means donating millions of dollars every year.
Chapters ten and eleven are titled, “Worried Wealth: The Trouble With Money,” and, “Aristokids: We’ll Always Have Paris.” These two chapters talk about the troubles that come with large amounts of money. For example, more than half of America’s super-rich agree that money does not buy happiness. Money can dominate their lives and leave little time for personal time with kids and spouses. Money can cause such concern that millionaires have started meeting groups to discuss financial matters and meet with similar people in similar situations to get concerns out in the open. Who better to talk about your millions of dollars with than other millionaires? The final chapter of the book talks about the super rich children, or those who are in prime position to inherit fortunes. Kids today are attending classes to learn about manners and living the high-life. They also are being forced to learn about finances and what to do with millions of dollars so when they do inherit the money one day, they will not make unwise decisions and blow the money away like many of today’s celebrities and heirs/heiresses are doing.
Overall, Richistan is an engaging and enlightening book about today’s new rich. This book will keep you reading as you learn facts about the rich that you probably never knew. The chapters about prestigious butlers and how “bigger is better” are especially interesting and will give you a great idea how millionaires and billionaires really live and spend their fortunes. This book is rated 4.5 out of 5.