The book's author, David Brooks, returned to America after living abroad for some years in the 1990s to find that his suburb had dramatically changed. There was a sprinkling of arty cafés, an artisanal bakery, and a well-stocked alternative bookstore. He also noticed that worn chinos were appearing at board meetings and executives were sporting the wire-framed spectacles once reserved for intellectuals. "America once again has a dominant class that defines the parameters of respectable opinion and taste", he writes.
He dubbed this new elite "bobos" from the first two letters of bourgeois and bohemian. Brooks tampers somewhat with the classical definitions of the two terms, but there is no denying that his portrait hits a nerve with its playful depiction of this new class. According to him, bobos had combined bohemian values and culture with the acquisitiveness and upward striving of the bourgeois of the 1980s. They espoused the anti-materialist and anti-elitist ideologies of the left, while unashamedly striving after success in academia and the corporate world.
Bobos have reason to be supremely self-satisfied because they exercise absolute power over the thinking of their fellow citizens, he writes. They impose their values not only on their children but on society as a whole. The paradise of the title eludes a concrete definition, but, according to Brooks, Americans act the way they do because they "live under the spell of paradise", a paradise always in the future which will be the "the fulfillment of our [American's] dreams."