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Richistan review

by: Marcus J Freed - Last updated: 2007-09-05



What would you call an island that is populated entirely with billionaires? Marcus J Freed reviews Richistan, an engaging journey into the lives of the newly rich.

Phillip Berber is a Jewish Irishman who lives in Texas, made his money through an online trading company and is now a full-time social entrepeneur. Berber decided to bypass traditional charities and NGO’s, and his foundation works to improve the lives of poor Ethiopians. Impressively, they’ve built over 1500 drinking wells, 190 schools and 99 clinics. Giving money away is a complicated business, as Richistan reveals.

Robert Frank’s compelling expose tells the stories of many newly-rich business people and explores how they are spending their hard-earned cash. He writes about tensions between the nouveau riche and Old Money, public competitions for writing the largest cheques at charity balls and the burden of giving trust-fund kids the life skills to protect and sustain their inherited wealth.

Although some of the book is voyeuristic, enabling the reader to look through the gold-plated window frames to see how CEOs are spending their profits, Frank discusses the politics of funding socialially responsible projects and the ethical challenges involved.

The global economy is vastly different to 40 years ago and today’s new billionaires include the Jewish boys from Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, along with thousands of other ‘instapreneurs’. Some things, however, haven’t changed, with a couple of Florida country clubs who have ‘few if any Jewish members’, preferring their traditional WASP clientele. Nevertheless, if you can afford to live on the island of Richistan, chances are that you can just go elsewhere and build your own club. 

Richistan by Robert Frank is available for £12.99 from Piatkus;