Chrystia Freeland's Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else strikes me as another important book that a lot of people are probably dismissing as "chick nonfiction." Dismissing this is a mistake. Freeland has been an accomplished financial journalist with the Financial Times and Thomson Reuters; she cut her reporting teeth on describing the rise of Russia's post-Communist billionaires in Sale of the Century. Sure, she writes charmingly about the milieu of her subjects -- but it's the dimwitted reader who misses the edge she brings to her topic.
In this book she chronicles the two current Gilded Ages she sees global plutocrats exploiting concurrently.
Freeland, not surprisingly given her experience, is one of the many smart critics of plutocracy who adopts the view that un- and under-regulated free market capitalism is the worst of all possible systems -- except any other that humans have created.
Like at least one other female financial journalist I can think of (Gillian Tett), Freeland approaches her subjects with an ethnographer's eye.
Freeland seems to find the plutocrats she has reports on alluring, if also slightly horrifying; I find them repulsive. Their myopic worship of money and undisguised greed leave me wondering how their mothers can have failed so utterly to knock some humane values into them.
But Freeland knows that the society these men are building is a house of cards that can't last if plutocrats succeed in warping our institutions entirely to their benefit. She explores some of the contradictions between the one percent and the .01 percent that provide some space for efforts to rein in the global super rich. She covers some of the same ground explored in Why Nations Fail, such as the example of the Venetian Renaissance elite who stifled innovation and social mobility and ended up losing their preeminent position in commerce. A Gilded Age, new or old, is delightful for global winners and their hangers on, but it is devastating for most of us.
If you want your plutocracy charmingly and bitingly described, this is a book for you.