The Rich: From slaves to super-yachts, a 2,000-year history
Hachette, $32.99 pb, 479 pp
Just how different are the rich from everyone else? F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in a 1926 short story that they are ‘soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.’
This assessment is both confirmed and challenged by John Kampfner’s history of the very wealthy since ancient times. While it is true, in Kampfner’s view, that down the centuries the super-rich have had in common the possession of a massive superiority complex, it is not the case that the great emperors, imperialist adventurers, robber barons, industrialists, oligarchs, property tycoons,bankers, and uber-geeks are the least bitsoft, though their cosseted and often troubled descendants may turn out to be.