Getting to know the super-rich, a reading list

For those wanting to reach the unreachable here are initial pointers to help you on your way. When we started there was very little out there, this brief list will be almost doubled in the coming year or two as a slew of edited collections and monographs appears. Social scientists, journalists and pressure groups have firmly begun to challenge forms of privacy and social closure that left such groups hidden from view and ignored by conventional social research as too hard to reach. Those days are long gone and perhaps the really exciting prospect now is of a new-found relevance to research that informs public opinion and political choices amidst a popular hunger to know more about the roots of inequality and the excesses of our system more broadly.


Dorling, D. (2014) Inequality and the 1%. Verso Books. Dorling highlights the gap using relevant data and arguments on how wide the gap has become and how problematic this is for us all today. A great complement to Pickett and Wilkinson’s Spirit Level.

why-we-cant-afford-the-rich-fcSayer, A. (2014) Why we can’t afford the rich. Bristol: Policy Press. An angry and systematic analysis of the perversity and deep impacts of the rich on contemporary society, Sayer has spent a long time assembling deep arguments that highlight the problematic position and illegitimacy of excessive wealth in our society and others.

Capital_in_the_Twenty-First_Century_(front_cover)Piketty, T. (2014) Capital in the 21st Century, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Read this or the summaries because you want the evidence base that explains the long-run fortunes of the wealthiest groups in society. If anything this is more powerful because it is from someone who is signed-up to the capitalist model of running things but who would join those pushing for swingeing cuts to the wealth bases of the 1%. This is the good news bible of those looking for a more equal society and ideas for how to do it, the writing is beautiful too.

di muzioDi Muzio, T. (2015) The 1% and the Rest of Us: A Political Economy of Dominant Ownership, London: Zed Books. Examines capital and wealth as forms of power that affect the rest of us in subtle and more direct ways. Perhaps most interesting for thinking through the deeper political ramifications of what is going on that pushes back against the idea that TINA.

pinconPinçon, M., & Pinðcon-Charlot, M. (1999). Grand Fortunes: Dynasties of Wealth in France. Algora Publishing. A useful and very interesting insight into the lives of the true bourgeois families in France. Despite criticism from some quarters the book is a revelation and a great insight into the patrician sensibilities and everyday life of those who are wealthy but perhaps a long way from being the footloose, globe-trotting and more selfish super-rich of a decade and a half later.

plattPlatt, S. (2015) Criminal Capital: How the Finance Industry Facilitates Crime, London: Palgrave. Important for what it says about the culture of the finance industry and the impediments to reforms that might see a more effective stemming of the facilitation of mass criminal activity and laundering which, as Platte reveals, have become the everyday stuff of the global financial economy. It remains a thorny issue that governments will not challenge the cash cows of their finance/service economies and a source of great international anger. Worried about drug trafficking, corruption and the subversion of government agendas? Start here and gem-up on how it works.

51ZwR240C0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hay, I. (Ed.). (2013). Geographies of the Super-rich. Edward Elgar Publishing. Unfortunately you will be need to be rather well-off to buy this collection but it offers an excellent selection of very useful essays that goes well beyond social geography and takes in contributions from a range of social scientists responding to the charge that the rich had been getting away with it for far too long – look out for his new handbook, with Jonathan Beaverstock, out next year.

mindsAndreotti, A., Le Galès, P., & Moreno-Fuentes, F. J. (2014). Globalised Minds, Roots in the City: Urban Upper-middle Classes in Europe. John Wiley & Sons. Terrific analysis of the ambitions, choices and urban lifestyles of managers in three European cities. This takes on the idea that the upper middle classes have exited the urban system in some sense and reveals a grounded and engaged group, despite using education to get their children ahead. I don’t think this contradicts the work of others on the idea of urban secession by the very successful, it isn’t about the super-rich or gated dwellers but a great addition to the literature.

sampsonSampson, A. (2004). Who runs this place?: the anatomy of Britain in the 21st century. John Murray. A sad loss not to have writers like Sampson anatomising the establishment and dissecting them for all to see, arguably not supplanted by Jones’ The Establishment, Who Runs This Place? Offers a great insight into the key institutions and a prescient analysis of the international schools, mobility, influence and suburban presence of a growing class of the super wealthy that could have been written today.

plutocratsFreeland, C. (2012) Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. Penguin. This books is interesting for being one of the few to say something about the rich themselves, using interviews and anecdotes we gain an impression at least of the hyper-mobility, the bitchiness and competition within the ranks of the super-rich themselves. This is a light treatment but the arguments about ‘cognitive capture’ of politics by money is important and worth remembering.



The Mayfair SetThe Mayfair Set – Seminal film from Adam Curtis that explores what the establishment did following the realisation of the declining place of Britain on the world stage and murky adventures in the arms and other trades. James Goldsmith’s off-shore palace, which features in the documentary, is now a luxury hotel.

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