It has been twenty-six years since Robert Coles published Privileged Ones, the originally unplanned fifth volume of his series on children in crisis. Coles’s work previously had focused exclusively on poor children, black and white, and his study of America’s rich and well-off children was an afterthought, written after parents of poor children he was studying urged him repeatedly to go and talk also with “the rich white folks.” As Coles relates, the social psychiatry that anchored his work in 1977 was in its infancy; but interest in studying the rich has only grown since then.
What’s distinctive about the work reviewed here is that in Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth: A Life Guide for Inheritors, the reader will meet an inhabitant of that rarefied realm in the flesh. The author, Thayer Cheatham Willis, heir to one of America’s fortunes—her family founded the Georgia-Pacific Corporation—has experienced firsthand the downside from which the book’s title comes. It led her into psychotherapy, first as a patient or client and later as a therapist specializing in the personal security and spiritual problems of rich people like herself—people with scads of money but psychologically too much adrift for their wealth to give them much of either security or fulfillment. What saved her, Willis writes, was the hard-won development of her own Christian spirituality, and that road is the one she tells clients will lead to peace, fulfillment, and the best use of money and resources that they’ve acquired through inheritance.
Gerry Fitzgerald is In Trust’s book editor.