WASPS traces the rise and fall of the elite class that wielded tremendous power in American life from the 19th through 20th centuries, exploring the lives of prominent WASP icons from Henry Adams to Edie Sedgwick. Envied and lampooned, misunderstood and yet distinctly American, WASPs can be viewed through the lens of socioeconomics, ethnicity, culture or sensibility.
Many fascinating women flit across the pages of Wasps ... It is curious that Beran, in his shrewd analysis of Wasp society and culture, fails to mention the origin of the acronym. It seems to have been coined by Stetson Kennedy, a wealthy aristocratic southerner who became a left-wing radical, even infiltrating the KKK ... But this is a minor blemish. In every other respect, Wasps is a delight: meticulously researched, exhaustive, slightly bonkers, a smorgasbord of delicious and outrageous details[.]
... there is something almost entomological about Beran’s new book. Under his glass, we see his subjects beyond their propensity for silly nicknames and membership in the Skull and Bones club, and we look more closely at what made a WASP a WASP ... A warning, though: The reader hoping for something of an American Downton Abbey is in for a surprise. At its center, 'WASPS' is a think piece, a colossal essay that assumes a measure of sophistication about the topic on the part of the reader ... Good writers tell us what happened; greater writers make meaning of what happened. Beran is a great writer who seeks to connect dots others wouldn’t see. Too often, though, this effort slides into peripatetic wandering...and can make it easy to lose track of the point. This was, for me, more than a small hurdle to overcome. Still, there is much to love in 'WASPS.'
This colorful survey...Beran stuffs the account with juicy details, though the constant name-dropping and tossed-off literary allusions can be aggravating. Still, this is a rewarding study of a vital yet slippery aspect of American history and culture.