Wealthy & Wise: Secrets About Money , edited by Heidi L. Steiger. John Wiley & Sons, 288 pages, $24.95.
Does sudden-wealth syndrome still exist?
If it does, and if you’re suffering from it (I realize I must be talking one in a million here), this is the book for you. A collection of readable, informative essays about how to cope with being rich, how to manage your fortune and how to enjoy it, Wealthy & Wise will be useful to you if, say, you’re bickering with your wife about whether to spend more than $100,000 on a “sweet sixteen” party for your daughter; conspiring with 15 cousins and a cantankerous uncle to establish a family foundation; embarking on a second (third?) career as a collector of contemporary art; or realizing-now that you’ve sold your mail-order business for $20 million-that your husband ought to sign a post-nuptial agreement.
Wealthy & Wise could also come in handy if you’re a novelist writing about the very rich (quoth Fitzgerald, “They’re different from you and me”); or if you’re writing a screenplay about Nasdaq millionaires and scouting for authentic detail; or if you’re a con man looking for fresh ideas, a new angle of access. (How about posing as an Homme D’Affaire, a sort of financial major-domo? According to Ellen M. Perry, a consultant who specializes in family office design, there’s an emerging generation of “transaction-oriented professionals” willing to serve as “a family retainer or protector.” Imagine the possibilities!)
But for most of us-and perhaps especially those who once fretted about the imminent onset of sudden-wealth syndrome, only to experience, suddenly, spontaneous wealth-evaporation syndrome- Wealthy & Wise is a voy-euristic thrill, an opportunity to experience vicariously the joy of acquiring certain big-ticket items (“Buying a plane is very exciting”), or learning to be a philanthropist (which may involve becoming what Ellen Remmer calls a “venturesome donor”), or wrestling with the dilemmas that haunt the filthy rich, like how to instill a work ethic in your children when they begin to realize they need never, ever earn a salary. Writing your will is a gloomy and necessary business, a bit like flossing, unless you happen to be a “wealth possessor.” If you actually have an estate worthy of the name, if you can utter the word legacy and mean it, the establishment of trusts and all the attendant consultation with accountants, tax lawyers and investment advisers (marshaled, perhaps, by your Homme D’Affaire ) becomes an engrossing challenge-a fine way to fill those empty afternoon hours when you’ve retired at 50 with a cool $100 million.
The first third of Wealthy & Wise is about living with money. These are essays about resolving family conflicts when the real issues (mostly emotional) are obscured by a bothersome tally of sums equivalent to El Salvador’s G.D.P; about coming to grips with the way people look at you when you’re loaded (the grossly unfair assumption that “people with money should never be overweight, unkempt, or looking any less than their personal best”); about the always-tricky business of marriage (“It is a truth universally acknowledged … “). Several of the chapters in this part of the book are a little soft and obvious. Who needs to be told that “Wealth can alienate you from others, within your family and outside of it, and even from yourself”? The better chapters are celebrity divorce lawyer Robert Stephan Cohen’s sharp, no-nonsense contribution about protecting assets before, during and after matrimony, and a delightful memoir by a 99-year-old investor who still goes to the office everyday. (More about him later.)
The middle third of the book gets down to dollars and cents: the onerous business of managing huge piles of money. Because Wealthy & Wise was edited by Heidi L. Steiger, an executive vice president of the investment firm Neuberger Berman (the firm’s name is blazoned on the book jacket), it’s perhaps no surprise that the advice on offer boils down to this: If you possess “serious personal wealth,” you should hire a team of savvy professionals with a hot track-record to handle your investments. Don’t worry, though, about slogging through an outright sales pitch in these pages. This is anything but hard-sell.
The final third of the book is a well-deserved reward: an essay on collecting, on the contemporary art scene, and on the fine art of “Enjoying the Good Life.” (Hint: “Self-denial may be necessary while making a fortune, but once you are rich, its value in anything other than spiritual terms is debatable.”) The very last chapter, about personal security-bodyguards, protective vehicles, alarm systems-is a sobering send-off, but when you add the threat of terrorism to all the other risks the rich run, it’s a scary world out there.
Very few of us will live a life as charmed as that of Roy Neuberger, the 99-year-old patriarch who founded Neuberger Berman in 1939. A seven-page synopsis of his fabulous career (his first job was at B. Altman), this plain-spoken mini-memoir warns against retirement (Mr. Neuberger knows an alarming number of people who died shortly after they stopped working) and trumpets the virtues of an abiding passion-in his case, buying art. In Paris, where he’d gone to “educate” himself, Mr. Neuberger read a biography of Vincent van Gogh. Shocked by the tragedy of the painter’s life (“He died in poverty”), Mr. Neuberger decided to make sure “that the same fate did not befall contemporary artists in America.” Years later, he tells us, he bought Jackson Pollock’s Number 8 -which allowed the artist to pay his heating bills. Mr. Neuberger eventually donated his vast collection to New York State: He created the Neuberger Museum of Art, housed on SUNY’s Purchase College campus in a building designed by Philip Johnson. Ah, yes: the good life.
It takes a minute, after you’ve closed Wealthy & Wise , before you remember that your own portfolio is more like a thin manila envelope, and that the days when the market spiraled endlessly upward are, for now, a distant memory.
Adam Begley is the books editor of The Observer.