Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology #24) (Paperback)

Staff Pick Badge
Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology #24) By Justin Farrell Cover Image

Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology #24) (Paperback)

Staff Reviews


One of the most compelling and frustrating books I’ve read in a long time. It is relevant for everyone, regardless of whether your income is in the top or bottom 1% or somewhere in between. It provides a bleak and stark truth about what happens when a small western community is taken over by extreme wealth and second homes. Farrell does not hold back; he presents the information collected through his interviews with professionalism and a matter of fact directness that makes his work even more undeniable. His thoroughness in research and comprehensive interviews make it impossible to dismiss his work as vindictive or salacious. He cracks through the carefully crafted but fragile veneer that money doesn’t matter because they have the same interests and uses the words of his interviewees to show the stark contrast between the perceptions and assumptions of the ultrawealthy and the reality of life for those who serve them in the moneyed world of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. You will find yourself shaking your head at the naivety on both ends of the spectrum as the wealthy defend their lifestyles as hard earned while those working three jobs to try to make ends meet are unable to acknowledge or recognize that their own hard work will never allow them to accomplish similar results. He uses compelling terms including Gilded Philanthropy and Connoisseur Conservation that demonstrate that philanthropy is being used to preserve and create an idyllic playground where views, wildlife, and art are given extraordinary amounts of money.  In contrast, the working poor have multiple jobs, sleep in shifts, go to bed hungry, and commute 100 miles a day to serve a group of people who could easily afford to pay them a living wage but do not. While confirming they can blend in as they move through the community by donning the costumes of the working poor, Farrell tears apart their mistaken belief that they are part of a happy community and have genuine friendships with those whose impoverished circumstances they either romanticize as a choice for a “simple” way of life or are willingly ignoring as a inconvenient truth that does not fit into the idealized view of their escapist sanctuary and community. 

— Cori

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

Billionaire Wilderness takes you inside the exclusive world of the ultra-wealthy, showing how today's richest people are using the natural environment to solve the existential dilemmas they face. Justin Farrell spent five years in Teton County, Wyoming, the richest county in the United States, and a community where income inequality is the worst in the nation. He conducted hundreds of in-depth interviews, gaining unprecedented access to tech CEOs, Wall Street financiers, and other prominent figures in business and politics. He also talked with the rural poor who live among the ultra-wealthy and often work for them. The result is a penetrating account of the far-reaching consequences of the massive accrual of wealth and a troubling portrait of a changing American West where romanticizing rural poverty and conserving nature can be lucrative, socially as well as financially.
Justin Farrell is a professor at Yale University in the School of the Environment. Twitter @J_Farrell
Product Details ISBN: 9780691217123
ISBN-10: 0691217122
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: March 2nd, 2021
Pages: 392
Language: English
Series: Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology