Triumph of the Yuppies: America, the Eighties, and the Creation of an Unequal Nation

For anyone old enough to remember the 1980s, the term "young urban professional" and its shorthand "Yuppie" may conjure up a prototypical BMW-driving, suspenders-wearing investment banker who personified the notion of a certain kind of frenetic careerist striving. But as former Philadelphia magazine editor-in-chief Tom McGrath explains in his lively popular history Triumph of the Yuppies, the short-lived flourishing of this archetype signaled more than a passing assortment of fads.

In the 1970s, the postwar consensus built around rising living standards and the projection of international power by the United States began to crumble under the weight of long lines at the gas pump, stagflation, and foreign debacles like the 1979 Iran hostage crisis that doomed Jimmy Carter's presidency. McGrath contends the country was launched irrevocably on the path of increasing economic stratification. Yuppies--highly educated and pouring into knowledge-driven professions like finance and law--were determined to be among the "haves" in what they saw as a zero-sum game.

McGrath neatly integrates his comprehensive research with brief, magazine-style profiles of well-known characters of the era including 1960s antiwar activist turned unlikely 1980s entrepreneurial capitalist Jerry Rubin. He shares concise evocations of shared cultural touchstones like the TV series Dallas, the Jane Fonda-inspired workout craze, and the rise of MTV. Triumph of the Yuppies concludes with the stock market crash of October 19, 1987. That event may have marked the demise of the Yuppies as a social phenomenon, but in a short span of years animated by a spirit that glorified unbridled acquisitiveness, McGrath writes, "the country had created a new economic and social order that couldn't easily be undone." --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

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