Rich Russians: From Oligarchs to Bourgeoisie

The lives of wealthy people have long held an allure to many, but the lives of wealthy Russians pose a particular fascination. Having achieved their riches over the course of a single generation, the top 0.1 percent of Russian society have become known for ostentatious lifestyles and tastes. Nevertheless, I argue in this book that their story is far more complex than the caricatures suggest.

In Rich Russians I take a look at this group and examine how they tick. I look at their personal stories, trajectories, ideas about life and how they see their role and position both on top of Russian society as well as globally. These people grew up and lived through a historically unique period of economic turmoil and social change following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But when taken in a wider historical context, their lives follow a familiar path, from new money to respectable money; parvenus becoming part of Society.

Based on 80 interviews I conducted with millionaires, billionaires, their spouses and children, I conclude that, as a class, they have acquired all sorts of cultural and social resources which help consolidate their personal power. They have developed distinguished and refined tastes, rediscovered their family history, and begun actively engaging in philanthropy. Most importantly, they have worked out a narrative to justify why they deserve their elitist position in society – because of who they are and their superior qualities – and why they should be treated as equals by the West. This is a group whose social, cultural and political influence is likely to outlast any regime change.

Publisher: Oxford University Press

“Rich Russians is a superb and fascinating study of the new Russian rich that combines elegant writing, compelling narrative, a cast of outrageously colourful characters and scholarly analysis of the social and culture development of the superwealthy potentates known as the Oligarchs that places them in Russian society and power structures.” Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs, Catherine the Great and Stalin

“Elisabeth Schimpfössl is a gifted observer and a sharp analyst. Rich Russians, based on unique access to the country’s financial inner circle, dispels the myths around the Russian plutocracy and explores how today’s rich emerged, often from the Soviet nomenklatura, to espouse global neo-liberalist values without wholly sacrificing the communitarian past. A compelling and cogent guide to today’s Russia.”
Catriona Kelly, Professor of Russian, University of Oxford

“This amazing book is a stunning combination of serious sociological analysis combined with the astonishing stories of the lives of super-rich Russians. In the process of learning how the novye russkie of the 1990s became proper members of the Russian and British social upper classes, we also learn about rising social inequality in general from an entirely new angle.”
G. William Domhoff, author of Who Rules America? The Triumph of the Corporate Rich

“This unique inside-look at the history and soul of fabulously rich Russians and their quest to trade vulgarity for Russian respectability has it all: robber barons, the wild East, and their fortunes. A must read to understand the new Russian bourgeoisie.”
Derk Sauer, Founder of The Moscow Times and Vedomosti

“This book offers an original and nuanced look at the Russian bourgeoisie in the contemporary moment. Schimpfossl uses her impressive access to millionaires and billionaires to explore their family origins, their lifestyles, and the narratives they draw upon to legitimate their privilege, as well as how their practices have changed since the cutthroat period of the 1990s. Rich Russians makes a valuable contribution to the growing field of research on global elites and cultures of wealth.”
Rachel Sherman, author of Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence

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Elisabeth Schimpfoessl

About Elisabeth Schimpfössl

My research focuses on elites, philanthropy and social inequality as well as questions around post-Socialist media and self-censorship. I did my PhD at the University of Manchester and taught at Liverpool University, Brunel and UCL before taking up my current post as Lecturer in Sociology and Policy at Aston University, Birmingham, UK. I live in London.