Best Weller's Pick

Every other month the staff of Weller Book Works nominates and then votes on books we deem worthy of extra attention, our Best Weller's selection. We discount these books to you by 20% during the months for which they're chosen because we believe in them.

Review by Frank

In one of the most idyllic areas of our country the landscape is changing not only environmentally but economically as well. Teton County in Wyoming has one of the wealthiest populations per capita. Here, the incredibly wealthy come to build multimillion-dollar homes, enjoy the breathtaking beauty, and ostensibly turn to a simpler rural lifestyle.
Justin Farrell explores this phenomenon through tireless research and intimate interviews of these wealthy billionaires. The book is an important addition to the study of the growing income inequality in our country. We have seen an increasing amount of research on the poor, and yet very little on the super wealthy in our society. I wondered if I would want to read a book about the super wealthy, but it is this group which is wielding increasing power and changing the political landscape of our country.
Farrell interviews many of the wealthy in the area, his ticket to being accepted is that he is a Yale graduate, professor, and author. He has them share perspectives on their influence, environmental responsibility, and how they feel about interacting with the working poor they employ.
He shows how the wealthy take advantage of the tax shelter in Wyoming to avoid paying any income tax, and how they acquire huge areas of land under private ownership, driving out the less wealthy. The low-income families that work in the area can’t afford to live there and must drive long distances on dangerous roads to get from home to work.
Farrell likewise points out the complex reality of the wealthy's relationship with the land. He interviews them about their commitment to the environment they so deeply enjoy. He finds they employ capitalistic efforts of acquiring land for their own use, but don’t necessarily realize that the money they make comes with the high price of damaging the environment they love.
Despite this conflict, the wealthy want to be seen as “normal” folks who enjoy the spirit and lifestyle of the West. To quote Farrell:
This approach also corresponds with the view that nature is a much needed (and deserved) therapeutic cure-all, enabling the ultra-wealthy to remain sane amid the stress-inducting powder keg of a high-profile career, great wealth, and family demands. This safe approach to conservation, which emphasizes a vague “everything in balance” use of science, is aimed to preserve and purify an imagined Eden for the purpose of providing health-giving aesthetic beauty. In the end, this veneer prevents engagement with many of the most pressing, contentious, costly, self-demanding, and ‘unsafe’ environmental problems that we face today (for example, energy transition, climate change, modern consumption, drought, deforestation, and so on).”
This is a deep book with a large amount of information gathered from many sources. Farrell has done vast work to show the contradictions of the wealthy: they idealize the simple lifestyle of the West and the values of those who love nature, yet ultimately don't realize the costly means of their influence on it.


Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780691217123
Availability: On Our Shelves Now

Published: Princeton University Press - March 2nd, 2021

A revealing look at the intersection of wealth, philanthropy, and conservation