One of the functions of the rich, says Dalrymple, is to ‘preserve and increase the beauty of the world’.
Yet many wealthy people, he points out, are ‘tactless, offensive, vulgar, and tasteless’. They very often ‘have no better taste than the poor’.
Take the business mogul Mukesh Ambani and the 27-floor structure he calls home. Known as Antilia, it is a version of Xanadu, though a thousand times uglier than the mansion in the Welles film. Dalrymple writes:
When Mr. Ambani built his domestic skyscraper in Bombay I was appalled not by the expenditure (though I had walked through the slums of that city) but by the aesthetic worthlessness of what he had built. To spend a billion dollars on a house and to detract, slightly, from the beauty of the world is, in a way, an achievement.