An inside story of privilege, inherited wealth, and the bizarre values and customs of the American upper crust.
We Used to Own the Bronx tells the story of a woman born into the proprieties of an East Coast dynasty who nevertheless leaves her world of privilege for a career as an investigative reporter. Recounting her upbringing, Eve Pell offers an inside look at the bizarre values and customs of the American aristocracy, from debutante balls and the belowstairs hierarchy of the servant class to the fanatical pursuit of blood sports and private men’s clubs whose members were cared for like sultans. In the patriarchal world of the upper crust, girls were expected to flatter and defer to boys and men: her scholar-athlete sister was offered a racehorse if she would refuse to attend college. A parade of eccentrics populates the book, from the cockfighting stepfather who ran away from boarding school with a false beard and a stolen motorcycle to the Brahmin great-uncle who secretly organized the servants in Tuxedo Park to vote for Teddy Roosevelt.
But as she moved beyond the narrow world she was expected to inhabit, Pell encountered people and ideas that brought her into conflict with her past. Equally unconventional are the muckrakers and revolutionaries she met in the 1960s and 1970s, and her subsequent adventures and misadventures while working with radical activists to reform the California prison system. As Pell traces her absorbing journey from debutante to working mother, from the upper crust of the East Coast to the radical activists of the West, from a life of wealth and privilege to one of trying to make ends meet, she provides exceptional insight into the prickly and complex issues of social class in America.
“… refreshingly direct… Pell… uses her lively memoir of growing up in aristocratic style to ask a series of provocative questions: Is it possible to choke on a silver spoon? What good is a sense of entitlement? Are riches wasted on the rich? Her candid account of bristling at her birthright transcends the stereotype suggested by the subtitle to divulge the psychic pressures of living with inherited privilege in a meritocracy-mad country… To her lasting credit, We Used to Own the Bronx is a graceful object lesson in how perspective is gained not all at once but by accretion, the reward of years of methodical observation.” — Truthdig
“…first-rate… absolutely fascinating… We Used to Own the Bronx is written from a rare combination of inside and outside. Both are essential.” — New York Social Diary
“…a literary treat… Pell gives us a kind of cultural anthropology of the closest thing in America to a landed gentry.” — Wall Street Journal
“With cheeky wit and considerable bravery, Pell takes on her upper-crust upbringing of horseback riding and private schools… Readers fascinated by New York history and society will appreciate the entertaining stories of rich eccentrics and social movers and shakers.” — Library Journal
“Eve Pell gives us a fascinating glimpse into a secret world of unfathomable wealth and privilege. Hers is an unexpected and ultimately hopeful journey of rebellion and reconciliation.” — Jane Fonda
“An intriguing look at a world of arcane, white-gloved ritual and great privilege by a writer rebellious enough to leave it behind, wise enough to know that doing so is no quick and simple matter, and aware enough to know that the alternative worlds she discovers have their own moral complexities as well.” — Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost and Bury the Chains
A journalist, grandmother, and champion age-group runner, Eve Pell has received awards for her outstanding print reporting and television documentaries. Her books include Maximum Security: Letters from Prison, as well as the award-winning The Big Chill: How the Reagan Administration, Corporate America, and Religious Conservatives are Subverting Free Speech and the Public’s Right to Know. She lives in San Francisco.
The hardcover could be purchased here.