An examination of WASP culture through the lives of some of its most prominent figures. Envied and lampooned, misunderstood and yet distinctly American, WASPs are as much a culture, socioeconomic and ethnic designation, and state of mind.
Charming, witty, and vigorously researced, WASPS traces the rise and fall of this distinctly American phenomenon through the lives of prominent icons from Henry Adams and Theodore Roosevelt to George Santayana and John Jay Chapman.
Throughout this dynamic story, Beran chronicles the efforts of WASPs to better the world around them as well as the struggles of these WASPs to break free from their restrictive culture. The death of George H. W. Bush brought about reflections on the end of patrician WASP culture, where privilege reigned, but so did a genuine desire to use that privilege for public service.
In the time of Trump—who is the antithesis of true WASP culture—people look at the John Kerry, Bobby Kennedy, and Philip and Kay Grahams of the world with wistfulness.
And even though we are a more diverse and pluralistic nation now than ever before, there is something about WASP culture that remains enduringly aspirational and fascinating.
Beginning at the turn of the 20th century, Beran’s saga dramatizes the evolving American aristocracy that forever changed a nation—and what we can still glean from WASP culture as we enter a new era.
This colorful survey from biographer Beran (The Last Patrician) traces the rise and fall of the "WASP ideal" from 19th-century New England to the burial of George H.W. Bush in 2018. Identifying the animating impulse of WASP culture as the belief that "patrician privilege... could be justified through meritorious public service," Beran spotlights American political dynasties including the Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Harrimans, and delves into the role that elite institutions including Groton and Harvard played in shaping America's ruling class. Henry Adams's romantic travails and "failure as a public man" are discussed, as are the philanthropic inclinations of J.P. Morgan and other WASPs who "were never more comfortable with art than when it was safely shut away in a glass case." Beran also depicts Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to chart a middle course between "reform WASPs" and "Wall Street WASPs" during the Great Depression, and describes how the Vietnam War, public scandals, and scathing takedowns by outsiders including Truman Capote permanently tarnished the WASP image in the 1960s. Beran stuffs the account with juicy details, though the constant name-dropping and tossed-off literary allusions can be aggravating. Still, this is a rewarding study of a vital yet slippery aspect of American history and culture.
Wasp Love Affair
Like the Curate’s egg….good in parts. A love anthem to a lost race. Entertaining.