Wildland Book Summary - Wildland Book explained in key points
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Wildland summary

Evan Osnos

The Making of America's Fury

3.4 (34 ratings)
28 mins
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    Greenwich, Connecticut became the epicenter of a new capitalist vision.

    Greenwich, Connecticut has a storied history in the world of American wealth. It was a farming, fishing, and quarry town until 1848, when the newly built railroad made it accessible by train. Developers began advertising it as a place for weary folks to retreat from the bustling metropolis of New York City. Soon, Greenwich became a hotbed for wealth where Wall Street financiers built opulent, Gilded Age mansions.

    In the early 1900s, however, conspicuous consumption went out of fashion in both Greenwich and America as a whole. Displays of wealth became passé. During this period, Greenwich adopted a coat of arms bearing a simple motto: fortitudine et frugalitate, or “courage and thrift.”

    But that trend didn’t endure. In the early 2000s, Greenwich’s wealthy residents returned to the world of Gilded Age opulence –⁠ and then far surpassed it.

    Here’s the key message: Greenwich, Connecticut became the epicenter of a new capitalist vision.

    Around the 1980s, financiers and economists began devising a whole host of new ways to make big gains on the US stock market – primarily through high-risk, high-reward investment pools known as hedge funds. Those new advantages compounded, and by 2017, Wall Streeters were making 23 percent of the entire country’s corporate profits.

    Many of those Wall Streeters lived, of course, in Greenwich. The amount of individual wealth that accumulated in the area was so high that tax officials began monitoring the quarterly payments of the half-dozen richest taxpayers. Their personal earnings affected the budget of the entire state. 

    The changes in Greenwich reflected broader shifts in the American economic ecosystem. Top earners had begun to separate from the rest of the country’s population in numerous ways. The most obvious was their wealth. By 2007, the top .01 percent of earners –⁠ about 16,000 households –⁠ held $1 of every $17 earned in America: the highest share since data collection began in 1913. Then there were all the advantages that wealth afforded these families, like better health care, tax advice, and education for their children.

    Less obviously, the ethical values of the wealthy also began to shift away from the culture as a whole. Business leaders prioritized short-term profits over long-term gains; restraint went out of fashion in favor of grabbing as much money as you could, as quickly as possible. Financial gain was the only value that seemed to matter.

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    What is Wildland about?

    Wildland (2021) recounts the story of how America became unraveled throughout the first two decades of the twenty-first century. Drawing on stories from residents of three US cities –⁠ Greenwich, Connecticut; Clarksburg, West Virginia; and Chicago, Illinois –⁠ it examines the undercurrents of change that tie together the fates of these varied landscapes. Finally, it describes how the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 laid the foundation for the violent insurrection on January 6, 2021. 

    Who should read Wildland?

    • Americans trying to make sense of the changes in their country
    • Students of American politics and culture
    • Activists looking for a holistic picture of the grievances of average Americans

    About the Author

    Evan Osnos is a journalist who has worked as a staff writer at the New Yorker since 2008. Previously, he worked for the Chicago Tribune – first as a metro reporter and then as a national and foreign correspondent stationed in the Middle East and China. His book Age of Ambition won the 2014 National Book Award for nonfiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

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