Certain to be one of the most controversial books of the year, In Praise of Nepotism is a learned, lively, and provocative look at a practice we all deplore — except when we’re involved in it ourselves.
Nepotism, the favored treatment of one’s relatives, is a custom with infinitely more practitioners than defenders — especially in this country, where it is considered antidemocratic and almost un-American. Nepotism offends our sense of fair play and our meritocratic creed that we are supposed to earn what we get — not have it handed to us on a proverbial silver platter. For more than two centuries, a campaign has been waged against it in the name of fairness and equality in the courts, the legislatures, and in the public and private arenas — a campaign that has been only partly successful. For, far from disappearing, the practice has become so resurgent in recent years that we can now speak of a “new nepotism.” In settings ranging from politics, business, and professional life to sports, the arts, and Hollywood, the children of famous and highly successful people have chosen to follow in their parents’ career footsteps in a fashion and in numbers impossible to ignore. George W. Bush, Al Gore, Jr., and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton are only the tip of the iceberg that is an accelerating trend toward dynasticism and family “branding” in the heart of the American elite. Many see this as a deplorable development, to which Adam Bellow replies, Not so fast.
In this timely work (surprisingly, the first book ever devoted to nepotism), Adam Bellow brings fresh perspectives and vast learning and research to bear on this misunderstood and stigmatized practice. Drawing on the insights of modern evolutionary theory, he shows how nepotism is rooted in our very biological nature, as the glue that binds together not only insect and animal societies but, for most of the world and for most of history, human societies as well. Drawing on the disciplines of biology, anthropology, history, and social and political theory, Bellow surveys the natural history of nepotism from its evolutionary origins to its practice in primitive tribes, clans, and kingdoms to its role in the great societies of the world. These include the ancient Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the democratic and capitalistic societies of the past two centuries, with extended consideration of the American experience. Along the way, he provides fascinating (and freshly considered) portraits of such famous and/or infamous figures as Abraham, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Benjamin Franklin, and such families as the Borgias, the Rothschilds, the Adamses, the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, and the Bushes.
In his final chapter, Bellow argues that nepotism comes down to the bonds between children and parents, the transmission of family legacies, the cycle of generosity and gratitude that knits our whole society together. And since it is not going away anytime soon, he makes the case for dealing with nepotism openly and treating it as an art that can be practiced well or badly. In Praise of Nepotism is a book that will ruffle feathers, create controversy, and open and change minds.
About Adam Bellow
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Published July 15, 2003
Political & Social Sciences.