JACKPOT is the debut book-length work from Michael Mechanic, the senior editor at Mother Jones. It's a pitiless - but empathic - look at the lives of the (mostly) American super-rich.

The sociology of wealth is an odd paradox. On the one hand, many of the wealthiest people are celebrities (both in the sense that celebrities are wealthy, and that wealth creates celebrity). On the other, plutes don't usually unburden themselves to social scientists.


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By contrast, we know an awful lot about college kids (because they're easy for university researchers to study) and poor people (who need the pitiful budgets available to researchers to compensate their subjects).

The wealthy produce accounts of themselves, of course - through publicists and reputation management firms and vicious attack lawyers who send bowel-loosening threats to journalists who criticize them (I've gotten these from multiple billionaires, including the Sacklers).


So with Jackpot, Mechanic has set himself a heroic - and, frankly - impossible task: to find out what life is truly like for the wealthy. Mechanic is a first-class investigative journalist and manages to pry loose many tales from the enablers of the ultra-rich.

Shrinks, lawyers, PAs, managers, personal bankers, exclusive private school administrators, and those who offer services like one-of-a-kind status cars or ridiculous private-jet/private-island safaris.


He also talks to several people who "hit the jackpot" - lottery winners, unexpected inheritors, and so on. And he manages to talk to a few of the stratospherically wealthy people: lucky dotcommies, the odd VC, even a few hereditary plutes.

The picture of obscene wealth that emerges is...obscene. Yes, there are some genuine perks of ultrawealth - if every kid got the kind of education that they give out in exclusive, $50k/year private schools, the world would be a far better place.


But the rest of it - the transactional relationships, the paranoia and fear, the greed, the lavish goods, the rootless pingponging from one home to another, the feuding, ruined offspring, the constant preoccuptation with accumulation... It's ghastly. Legitimately horrible.


Now, it's possible that this is all sampling bias. Maybe somewhere in the system are dynastic fortunes of people whose money makes them happy, but if so, none of them wanted to boast about it to Mechanic, and none of them were procuring the services of Mechanic's sources.

I don't think so.


From where I sit, it sure seems likely that the corrupt, rotten system that the wealthy have created and make worse by the day is only making them absolutely miserable - depressed birds in diamond-crusted, gilded cages.

In the back half of the book, Mechanic documents this corruption with a Mother Jones editor's eye, the way that their wealth isn't just their misery - it's OUR misery, too. It's a system that serves no one.


Reading about the weird excesses of the super-rich was fun, then it was astonishing ,then it was depressing, and finally, enraging. I imagine that a plute reading the book might end up in the same place - but I wonder if they'd do anything about it.


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