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Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt

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Vanderbilt: the very name signifies wealth. The family patriarch, "the Commodore," built up a fortune that made him the world's richest man by 1877. Yet, less than fifty years after the Commodore's death, one of his direct descendants died penniless, and no Vanderbilt was counted among the world's richest people. "Fortune's Children" tells the dramatic story of all the ama Vanderbilt: the very name signifies wealth. The family patriarch, "the Commodore," built up a fortune that made him the world's richest man by 1877. Yet, less than fifty years after the Commodore's death, one of his direct descendants died penniless, and no Vanderbilt was counted among the world's richest people. "Fortune's Children" tells the dramatic story of all the amazingly colorful spenders who dissipated such a vast inheritance.


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Vanderbilt: the very name signifies wealth. The family patriarch, "the Commodore," built up a fortune that made him the world's richest man by 1877. Yet, less than fifty years after the Commodore's death, one of his direct descendants died penniless, and no Vanderbilt was counted among the world's richest people. "Fortune's Children" tells the dramatic story of all the ama Vanderbilt: the very name signifies wealth. The family patriarch, "the Commodore," built up a fortune that made him the world's richest man by 1877. Yet, less than fifty years after the Commodore's death, one of his direct descendants died penniless, and no Vanderbilt was counted among the world's richest people. "Fortune's Children" tells the dramatic story of all the amazingly colorful spenders who dissipated such a vast inheritance.

30 review for Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dem

    3.5 Stars Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.( Benjamin Franklin) The very name Vanderbilt is synonymous with the Gilded Age. The family patriarch, "the Commodore,” built a fortune that made him the world's richest man by 1877. Yet, less than fifty years after his death, no Vanderbilt was counted among the world's richest people. I love books on the gilded age and was delighted to get my hands 3.5 Stars Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.( Benjamin Franklin) The very name Vanderbilt is synonymous with the Gilded Age. The family patriarch, "the Commodore,” built a fortune that made him the world's richest man by 1877. Yet, less than fifty years after his death, no Vanderbilt was counted among the world's richest people. I love books on the gilded age and was delighted to get my hands on a copy of this one as it is a very detailed account of the fall of the House of Vanderbilt. I had visited Newport some years ago and did a tour of some of the Mansions and the Marble House and the Breakers were among them which were built by the Vanderbilt family. I really enjoyed the read and first third of the book deals with " The commodore" and how he managed to build his fortune and the remainder of the book focus on the his decedents and how they managed to squander millions. The book is very well researched and written wih a numerous photographs, notes, bibliography and Index. I loved reading about The Commodore (Cornelius Vanderbilt) and how he built up his fortune to make him the world's richest man by 1877. The book is very detailed and we are introduced to several key members of the Vanderbilt family and learn about their marriages how they squandered the fortune that Commodore built up. By the end of the book I was exhausted reading about the opulence and the dreadful waste and greed of this family. The book does become quite repetitive and I think it could have been slimmed way down by at least 100 pages and it would have had much more an impact on me. Having said that I did enjoy the read and although it was a bit of slog it is certainly interesting and satisfied my curiosity about the Vanderbilt family.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    This book proved to me that writing a review in which you can't stand the characters is not easy. This is the history of the rise and fall of the Vanderbilt dynasty and the absolutely idiotic squandering of money just because they had it. Each branch of the family tried to outdo the others and it became a race to see who could have the biggest, the best, and the most. The writing is not bad (the author is the son of the man who built the still extant Biltmore House in Asheville, NC.) but the exc This book proved to me that writing a review in which you can't stand the characters is not easy. This is the history of the rise and fall of the Vanderbilt dynasty and the absolutely idiotic squandering of money just because they had it. Each branch of the family tried to outdo the others and it became a race to see who could have the biggest, the best, and the most. The writing is not bad (the author is the son of the man who built the still extant Biltmore House in Asheville, NC.) but the excesses are almost beyond belief. I hate to admit that it kept me interested to a point but I certainly was no fan of the players. Proceed at your own risk!!

  3. 5 out of 5

    BAM The Bibliomaniac

    Reading this book reminded me of a game of Monopoly. The dynasty of the Vanderbilts began in 1784 with the Commodore, and 100 years after his death, his wealth had been divided among 787 descendants, making it practically worthless. This was against his wishes. He wanted to keep his wealth concentrated in one generation, similar to primogeniture. By the time his grandsons inherited, this wish had been broken. But what was fascinating about this book was the importance the females had during the G Reading this book reminded me of a game of Monopoly. The dynasty of the Vanderbilts began in 1784 with the Commodore, and 100 years after his death, his wealth had been divided among 787 descendants, making it practically worthless. This was against his wishes. He wanted to keep his wealth concentrated in one generation, similar to primogeniture. By the time his grandsons inherited, this wish had been broken. But what was fascinating about this book was the importance the females had during the Gilded Age. The males weren't the leading personalities. The distaff line produced the headlines. Alva, Alice, Gertrude, Gloria-all of these women are easily identified. Young Gloria's terrifying custody battle closes the book. It makes an easy segue way into The Rainbow book she wrote last year with her son, Anderson Cooper. I really enjoyed this book. I learned much about this family consisted American royalty.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Peggy Graves

    I applied for (and got) a job working at the Biltmore in Guest Relations at The House. Oh yeah. Dream job. I am so excited. It's so beautiful. I've been thru Marble House, The Breakers, Hyde Park, years ago so I was quite aware of the Commodore and some of the family history. But what a story! Although the book said very little about George Washington Vanderbilt, the Biltmore Vanderbilt, it was educational to learn much detail about his family. They were the Trumps, Kardashians, And Hiltons of the I applied for (and got) a job working at the Biltmore in Guest Relations at The House. Oh yeah. Dream job. I am so excited. It's so beautiful. I've been thru Marble House, The Breakers, Hyde Park, years ago so I was quite aware of the Commodore and some of the family history. But what a story! Although the book said very little about George Washington Vanderbilt, the Biltmore Vanderbilt, it was educational to learn much detail about his family. They were the Trumps, Kardashians, And Hiltons of their time all rolled into one. Family drama. Divorce. Disinheritence. Alcohol. Money. More money. Society. Fashion. Parties. Houses and more houses. And boredom that comes from having too much with no struggle. A baby elephant parading thru a dinner party for no reason other than no one else had done it?! I can see why George W. Vanderbilt sought refuge from it all in these wonderful North Carolina mountains! Very well written. Very informative. I read for hours at a time.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    The book profiles the Vanderbilt heirs. The first chapter, obligatorily about the Commodore, is a tale often told, most recently in The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. which led me to this 1989 book. The following chapters describe children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a few great-great-grandchildren. The female scions, who are essentially disinherited, are dropped right away, as are the Commodore's son Cornelius and his progeny. There are a few tales of some high The book profiles the Vanderbilt heirs. The first chapter, obligatorily about the Commodore, is a tale often told, most recently in The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. which led me to this 1989 book. The following chapters describe children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a few great-great-grandchildren. The female scions, who are essentially disinherited, are dropped right away, as are the Commodore's son Cornelius and his progeny. There are a few tales of some high profile disinheritances. The writing takes the reader into the society of Gilded Age with its lavish houses and parties. The descriptions of other major players such as Mrs. Astor, Mrs. Fish, the Lehr's and Ward McAllister are interesting, but I'd rather have had the space devoted to more on the Vanderbilts. One chapter is devoted to Alva (a Vanderbilt for only 20 years) who brought this socially shunned family into society by building the most lavish homes and throwing the most lavish parties. Her sad mother-daughter story appears in several places throughout the book. For more on this relationship I recommend Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age. The sub-title implies that the Vanderbilt wealth is gone, as does the discussion at the end. This is not entirely proved since not all Vanderbilts are covered, and not all who are covered are followed up on. The Biltmore, while not a residence, and is now shrunk to 8,000 acres, is still in the contol of Vanderbilt heirs. There are some females, such as Gertrude, who joined their inheritances (modest in Vanderbilt terms) through marriage creating new assets that probably continue to produce great wealth today. The Commodore's plan to keep the wealth together in the male (named) line clearly did not pan out. The Commodore could have never envisioned Doris Duke The Richest Girl in the World: The Extravagant Life and Fast Times of Doris Duke. another outsider to Society, who kept the Duke tobacco and energy fortune together through equally turbulent times. The book is a good read. The writer, Arthur T. Vanderbilt, makes it flow. He never discloses his place in the family tree. I checked the internet and still have no clue. I did find that in 2008, this book had been optioned for a movie. ... 2013- I see that this book came out in a new edition in 2012. Now, there is a bit more info on the internet identifying the author as a distant (to those in the book) Vanderbilt cousin.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    I picked up this book at the library after a recent trip to Newport, where we toured the Breakers and Marble House, two magnificent 'cottages' built by Vanderbilts for millions of dollars and used by their owners for about 1 year. Who are these crazy Vanderbilts? The saga of the Vanderbilts can at times be mistaken for fiction. The cankerous patriarch Commodore... the social schemer Alva... the unwilling bride Consuelo... the staid Cornelius and Alice... the custody fight over young Gloria... sup I picked up this book at the library after a recent trip to Newport, where we toured the Breakers and Marble House, two magnificent 'cottages' built by Vanderbilts for millions of dollars and used by their owners for about 1 year. Who are these crazy Vanderbilts? The saga of the Vanderbilts can at times be mistaken for fiction. The cankerous patriarch Commodore... the social schemer Alva... the unwilling bride Consuelo... the staid Cornelius and Alice... the custody fight over young Gloria... supporting characters like Mrs. Astor and Ward McAllister... this is entertaining stuff, and the book provides an excellent historical view of the Gilded Age. I was grossly fascinated by the excesses of this privileged class with nothing to do but find new ways to entertain themselves within their rigid social structure (like having a dinner where every guest is seated on horseback or only baby talk is spoken). Us poor people, at least our lives have purpose... dreary, monotonous purpose...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    I read this years ago and found it absolutely fascinating. I'm excited to see that MacMillan is reissuing it sometime in the next year.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Thrasher

    I suspect that in 100 years, they will refer to the time in which we live as the Second Gilded Age (if Donald Trump is elected, he can be a stand in for those Gilded Age presidents of yore, Grant and his bearded kith; perhaps these new Gilded Age presidents will be known for their cosmetic surgery or interesting hair styles instead of Victorian manly beards). Fortune's Fall is a tale of the First Gilded Age, from the point of view of the most famous, the richest and the grandiosely gilded (and g I suspect that in 100 years, they will refer to the time in which we live as the Second Gilded Age (if Donald Trump is elected, he can be a stand in for those Gilded Age presidents of yore, Grant and his bearded kith; perhaps these new Gilded Age presidents will be known for their cosmetic surgery or interesting hair styles instead of Victorian manly beards). Fortune's Fall is a tale of the First Gilded Age, from the point of view of the most famous, the richest and the grandiosely gilded (and gross) family of them all, the Vanderbilts. I say "tale" because part of this nonfiction book read like a the very best potboiler or soap opera. If all this weren't true, then you'd think it was a melodrama, with all the family feuds, divorces, affairs, abandoned children, hints of lesbian sex - it's like Falcon Crest or Dallas with railroads instead of vinyards or oil, and all true (well, Arthur T. Vanderbilt's version of the truth, and who are we to question him, with a last name like that?). Vanderbilt traces the rise and fall of this golden family, from the beginnings to the bitter, income and inheritance tax ridden end. The only thing missing from this rendition of the Gilded Age are politicians; the Vanderbilts didn't really go for politics (not like their far less rich neighbors, the Roosevelts). We already know when the write Fortune's Children: the Fall of the House of Trump, politics will have a chapter all to itself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This book tells the story of the Vanderbilt's and other "Robber Barons" of the Gilded Age. It is very interesting and also disturbing to learn of the excessive wealth and excessive spending of the time. While the average wage earner could not afford housing, food, etc, the wealthy threw money after mansions, yachts, clothes, jewelry, parties, etc. The Robber Barons made money on the backs of the little man, and only thought about making more money. Could it happen again? That is a question we sh This book tells the story of the Vanderbilt's and other "Robber Barons" of the Gilded Age. It is very interesting and also disturbing to learn of the excessive wealth and excessive spending of the time. While the average wage earner could not afford housing, food, etc, the wealthy threw money after mansions, yachts, clothes, jewelry, parties, etc. The Robber Barons made money on the backs of the little man, and only thought about making more money. Could it happen again? That is a question we should ask ourselves.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Julie Suzanne

    Absolutely fascinating biography. I started this before heading to Newport, RI so that I'd have a contextual understanding of Gilded Age that made Newport so famous. Touring the mansions, it felt like I had like an inside scoop on the history of the families and some of the events that transpired there. For example, I couldn't wait to see Consuelo's bedroom where I knew she had been imprisoned by her mother before her forced marriage to the duke. This information was not shared in the tour, but Absolutely fascinating biography. I started this before heading to Newport, RI so that I'd have a contextual understanding of Gilded Age that made Newport so famous. Touring the mansions, it felt like I had like an inside scoop on the history of the families and some of the events that transpired there. For example, I couldn't wait to see Consuelo's bedroom where I knew she had been imprisoned by her mother before her forced marriage to the duke. This information was not shared in the tour, but I knew it, so I had a deeper experience standing on the very floor where that poor girl suffered for an entire summer than my husband had who only knew what was presented by the guided tour. The book is like watching a soap opera but knowing that the people and stories are real. I recommend this to anyone who plans to visit Newport, especially! Even though the book is hefty, I wouldn't have minded another 500 pages.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    "Within thirty years after the death of Commodore Vanderbilt in 1877, no member of his family was among the richest in the United States, have been supplanted by such new titans as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick and Ford...When 120 of the Commodore's decedents gathered at Vanderbilt University in 1973 for the first family reunion, there was not a millionaire among them." This book is good, but not great. Quickly jumps back in forth between family updates in between the chapters largely devoted to o "Within thirty years after the death of Commodore Vanderbilt in 1877, no member of his family was among the richest in the United States, have been supplanted by such new titans as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick and Ford...When 120 of the Commodore's decedents gathered at Vanderbilt University in 1973 for the first family reunion, there was not a millionaire among them." This book is good, but not great. Quickly jumps back in forth between family updates in between the chapters largely devoted to one family member at a time. Neil, my favorite Vanderbilt, was the first at getting a job outside the family-- a newspaper reporter. For this brazen action his grandmother, who left money to all other grandchildren and servants, left him with her photo. Treasure. This book does a great job describing the folly of Gloria Vanderbilt's (Anderson Cooper's mother) court case. Plenty of blame to go around.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Onceinabluemoon

    I love non fiction, it is almost always a page burner, and this family is no exception. I love seeing the rags to untold riches, a family dynasty and legacy spread out open for us to glimpse or glare. I must say there was one thought I came away with, his vast fortunes came before income taxes, what you made was 100% yours, if only we could have that luxury offered to all citizens say over sixty, the chance to pay ZERO taxes for three years, we could all retire wealthy!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jool

    An amazing non fiction look at the quick fall of the Vanderbilt fortune. I never realized that the Vanderbilt fortune was completely used up within three generations due to massive greed and overspending. I know of the Biltmore home which I believe still has guided tours, but of 5+ penthouses on Washington Avenue in New York (Washington Avenue was the Fifth Avenue of its time period) which were all demolished as early as the 1930's; to the many penthouses on Fifth Avenue owned by the Vanderbilts An amazing non fiction look at the quick fall of the Vanderbilt fortune. I never realized that the Vanderbilt fortune was completely used up within three generations due to massive greed and overspending. I know of the Biltmore home which I believe still has guided tours, but of 5+ penthouses on Washington Avenue in New York (Washington Avenue was the Fifth Avenue of its time period) which were all demolished as early as the 1930's; to the many penthouses on Fifth Avenue owned by the Vanderbilts which quickly fell out of their ownership. 'Commodore' Vanderbilt, who amassed his great fortune with $100 and a pole-boat to ferry cargo down the coast, grew that into becoming the wealthiest man in the United States at one time. Owning many railroads, properties and a shrewd but cruel business sense, his was one of the fastest growing fortunes in the late 1800s - early 1900s. He disliked all of his children except one, Billy, to whom he left most of his fortune. Years of contesting the will followed. Obviously none of his children nor their children knew anything about business, and by the 1930s The remaining Vanderbilts were penniless. An amazing look at history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Wsm

    Another interesting discovery through Reader's Digest condensed books.Most people would envy great wealth but it can also bring great extravagance,personal tragedy and ruined lives.The way the House of Vanderbilt squandered its great fortune on useless and pointless projects makes for an absorbing story which reads like a novel.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Fred

    --One might expect a book about the Vanderbilts written by a Vanderbilt to be a dull recitation of select stories mined from the Family History and carefully retold so as to present a 'preferred' portrait of the family. Perhaps that was indeed the policy here, but I do not get that sense at all. This book is presented in a well organized and interesting manner. Quite readable and forthright. --Yes, there are mentions of excess which will titillate some readers and yes, there are financial accounti --One might expect a book about the Vanderbilts written by a Vanderbilt to be a dull recitation of select stories mined from the Family History and carefully retold so as to present a 'preferred' portrait of the family. Perhaps that was indeed the policy here, but I do not get that sense at all. This book is presented in a well organized and interesting manner. Quite readable and forthright. --Yes, there are mentions of excess which will titillate some readers and yes, there are financial accountings of the vast fortune and how it was bequeathed (and squandered in some cases) throughout the years. For readers, like me, who are also interested in History and to some degree even Cultural Anthropology, this book provides wonderful insights in the American 'mileau' during several generations. I found it fascinating. --On a broader scope, this book provides some counterpoint to the discussion about the benefits of inherited wealth. Bill Gates once mentioned when asked about his children's inheritance that he and his wife were very keen to make certain their children had enough money to do anything they wanted but not enough money to do nothing at all. Brilliant. Perhaps Mr. Gates has taken heed of the unstated lessons learned in the stories of the Vanderbilt children and grand children. (Though not the only one to recklessly squander the sizeable portions of the fortune, Reggie Vanderbilt immediately comes to mind.) I might also mention here, that a few of the Commodore's progeny accepted the mantle of Hard Work and Dilligence along with the fortune. Some, his son William for example, even doubled the fortune. To that extent, perhaps this family's history is a bit of character-study about the importance of Strength of Character. --Whether you are curious about such nuanced subjects or simply feel compelled to 'rubber neck', so to speak, I encourage you to read this book. As ever, do that then decide for yourself.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    Detailed information of the Vanderbilt family with an adequate bibliography. I almost always appreciate additional information, such as photographs, maps, family trees and datelines. While many helpful photographs were provided, I found the family tree confusing and the years that accompanied each chapter even more confusing. For instance, Chapter 1, The Commodore 1794 - 1877, easy to interpret, his years from birth through death. However, Chapter 2, The Blatherskite 1877 - 1883,( Blatherskite w Detailed information of the Vanderbilt family with an adequate bibliography. I almost always appreciate additional information, such as photographs, maps, family trees and datelines. While many helpful photographs were provided, I found the family tree confusing and the years that accompanied each chapter even more confusing. For instance, Chapter 1, The Commodore 1794 - 1877, easy to interpret, his years from birth through death. However, Chapter 2, The Blatherskite 1877 - 1883,( Blatherskite was but one derogatory name Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt had for his son, William H Vanderbilt), but 1877 - 1883 were neither his birth nor death years, and not the only time period discussed in this chapter. The remaining chapters dates and titles are similarly confusing. The closing chapter, Chapter 10, Mrs. Vanderbilt 1934 - 1955. Which Mrs. Vanderbilt? Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt? How many Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilts were there? And although I can pretty well guess the chapter includes numerous Mrs. Vanderbilts as well as Vanderbilt daughters, the photo above the chapter title appears to be a photo of Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly, never a Mrs. Vanderbilt. Why picture only Mrs. Twombly? Further confusion.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    A kind of rags-to-riches-to-rags story, this book covers not just the people in the Vanderbilt family, but their homes as well. If that sounds boring, you've never been to Biltmore. Their extravagance in building and furnishing their homes was extraordinary and a large reason for their tumbling off the world's list of wealthiest people. It is a fascinating account of some of the most interesting family members from the Commodore himself to fashion designer Gloria. Gets a tad confusing since ther A kind of rags-to-riches-to-rags story, this book covers not just the people in the Vanderbilt family, but their homes as well. If that sounds boring, you've never been to Biltmore. Their extravagance in building and furnishing their homes was extraordinary and a large reason for their tumbling off the world's list of wealthiest people. It is a fascinating account of some of the most interesting family members from the Commodore himself to fashion designer Gloria. Gets a tad confusing since there are several Corneliuses, a couple of Alices, and two Glorias, who also happened to mother and daughter. At least the second two Cornelius Vanderbilts had nicknames. But a well-researched book offering scads of trivia and interesting details of lives from the Gilded Age and beyond.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peg Lotvin

    Fascinating study of the Fall of the Vanderbilts. Too many children were their biggest problem. The fortune was diluted with each passing generation. The other problem was too many Vanderbilt men marrying women who loved to spend the fortune. Didn't they know where it came from? The Depression and income taxes did their part to finally finish off the fortune. Many interesting tales of prominent persons and their interaction with the Vanderbilts. Winston Churchill, somewhat in his cups, was hit b Fascinating study of the Fall of the Vanderbilts. Too many children were their biggest problem. The fortune was diluted with each passing generation. The other problem was too many Vanderbilt men marrying women who loved to spend the fortune. Didn't they know where it came from? The Depression and income taxes did their part to finally finish off the fortune. Many interesting tales of prominent persons and their interaction with the Vanderbilts. Winston Churchill, somewhat in his cups, was hit by a car leaving one of the Vanderbilt parties. His hostess sent him a wreath of grapes as he recovered in the hospital.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    Written in a very entertaining way that makes the driest of facts interesting. I was captivated from beginning to end. A very fascinating look into how the richest family in the world squandered away a fortune in just four generations. This book also gives a detailed account of the social ways of the Gilded Age, which were excessive to say the least. By the end you will have a deep understanding of many members of the Vanderbilt family, but you also learn of how they were viewed by society, and Written in a very entertaining way that makes the driest of facts interesting. I was captivated from beginning to end. A very fascinating look into how the richest family in the world squandered away a fortune in just four generations. This book also gives a detailed account of the social ways of the Gilded Age, which were excessive to say the least. By the end you will have a deep understanding of many members of the Vanderbilt family, but you also learn of how they were viewed by society, and their peers. So many differing personalities and priorities. There is also a lot of information about how they lived in the famous Vanderbilt mansions, country estates and summer "cottages".

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mark Slee

    I have read this book of and on for 3 weeks, and each time I picked it up it was absolutely absorbing and so interesting to read of the Vaderbilt family. The story of what had been the richest family in the world, through the business acumen of the founder Cornelius (The Commodore) Vamderbilt, to the ultimate squandering of this fortune by subsequent generations in the late 19th, and early 20th, century New York leaders of an elite society of 'nouveau riches'. A fascinating read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    christina

    As my dear friend Taylor would say, "This is some crazy shit." Regardless, it's also one of the Vanderbilt "history books" that the National Park Service uses to educate their guides in Hyde Park, NY. Edmund Morris has nothing on this author, Arthur T. Vanderbilt II (and a lawyer by training), who recounts pages + pages of dialogue "verbatim," recounting conversations 100 years old. It makes for for some very lively reading...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    I am so glad I read this book. I never really knew how the Vanderbilts had come into their money or how fast and how ostentatiously that squandered their family fortune. This book is a work of nonfiction yet reads like a soap opera. I have seen the Newport Mansions and the Biltmore and the former Florham mansion (now FDU) I would love to go back to see it all now after reading the pages of history!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Stroh

    Enjoyed this informed, well-written account of wealth decline during the Gilded Age in America's richest family. Focusing on the first four generations of Vanderbilts, it has all the detail and critical acumen of Wendy Burden's more recent account, and none of the venom. There are many very funny moments to balance the unhappiness which appears to be a heritable trait. Dozens of books have been written about this family, many by family members themselves. This is one of the best I've read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    MK

    If ever a book was epitomized by the phrase "Mo' money, mo' problems," it's this one. It's a fascinating look at not just the 5 generations of Vanderbilts and how they made (and then spent) all their money, but also a portrait of The Gilded Age, of New York, Newport, and Paris, during a time when the wealthy thought nothing of dropping $75K on a diamond-studded dog collar while others were suffering.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mary Bloodworth

    What a bunch of loathsome people. Generations of them. I gave the book three stars because it's not the author's fault that the family and spouses were a bunch of creeps. I did not give it more stars because he could have focused on the few somewhat decent characters there were. Did I ever buy anything by Gloria Vanderbilt in the 70s? God I hope not.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Duncan

    A very interesting and quick read on the early Vanderbilt generations. Fell short of what I hoped the book would be as a bang up to date treatise on the modern generations would have been more what I was after.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bobbi

    I read this because I live near Asheville and wanted to know a bit more about the Vanderbilts. Unfortunately the book was disappointing. It was very dry and, although I did learn why their fortune was squandered, it was simply because they spent it all! Not much surprising there! So give it a try if you really must know all about how they fell from grace, but otherwise skip this one.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Erica Lawless

    Fascinating book! Could not put it down! What a perfect example of money not bringing happiness. So sad how this family spent so much money on themselves and at the same time being so out of touch with reality.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shelbi

    Wow!! What a book about the squandering of an unimaginable fortune. This book will make you want to travel to Newport Rhode Island and see how America’s “royalty” lived in the days pre-taxes! Loved reading how the fortune was amassed and then squandered. Its a thick book, but a fast read!

  30. 5 out of 5

    J Layne

    As this book shows, The Commodore, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the creator of all the wealth for the Vanderbilt family, was a profane, blasphemous, and vain man. He gave the seed money for Vanderbilt University in Nashville after being urged to do so by a minister. He detested preachers who asked for charity. William's brother, Cornelius, who died at 25, was the only son the Commodore cared about. Cornelius was immortalized by brother William, when he named his own son after his brother and favored son As this book shows, The Commodore, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the creator of all the wealth for the Vanderbilt family, was a profane, blasphemous, and vain man. He gave the seed money for Vanderbilt University in Nashville after being urged to do so by a minister. He detested preachers who asked for charity. William's brother, Cornelius, who died at 25, was the only son the Commodore cared about. Cornelius was immortalized by brother William, when he named his own son after his brother and favored son of Commodore Cornelius, George Washington Vanderbilt, the future builder of Biltmore. No doubt shrewd but mousy William did this to ingratiate himself with his stern father, the Commodore. The Blatherskite refers to the oldest son of the Commodore (and the derogatory name he used for his son), the son to whom he left the greatest part of his fortune ($95 million in 1877), William Vanderbilt, aka Billy, whose youngest son, George Washington Vanderbilt, would one day build the Biltmore mansion. William Vanderbilt (George Washington Vanderbilt's father) (GWV II built Biltmore) put the brakes on perpetuating the Vanderbilt railroad business and fortune because he tired of the public criticism and constant problems and lawsuits. Who can blame him? He sold shares of the NY Central RR so that he was no longer the sole owner. He wanted to live his life and not be consumed by the business. Sad that he (Wm Vanderbilt) could not enjoy his wealth because of the extreme burdens it placed him under. Oh, the wisdom of Scripture! -- Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food that is convenient for me. Fascinating book. Such pettiness, immaturity and childishness with these ultra rich folks. Mrs. Astor and Alva Vanderbilt of NYC had a long standing feud over who was the richest and who deserved to be in NY high society more. They strove to outdo one another. They eventually became friends. Particularly interesting is that a Vanderbilt descendant wrote this book. I also like that the last pages give addresses for the 10-12 Vanderbilt mansions AND the Astor mansion of NYC and tell what now stands in their place. Most notably is the Empire State Building, the lot of the former mansion of Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor and William Backhouse Astor, Jr. Well researched with numerous footnotes. A full Biblio at end, as well as a picture section and an Index. There are so many footnotes and extras at the end that the actual text of the book ended at around 72%. Very little of the personal lives of George Washington Vanderbilt and his wife Edith and daughter Cornelius is given in this book. (He built Biltmore.) There are two or three brief sections and one chapter with the Biltmore title (around 50%; Location 5603), but you will have to look elsewhere for more details on this branch of the Vanderbilt family. A lengthy segment on Little Gloria Vanderbilt and the high profile court custody case that surrounded the 10 year old in the 1930s. Reginald was the father of Gloria Vanderbilt of the famous child custody case, and grandfather (although dead before grandson was born) of Anderson Cooper of CNN (Gloria's son). Gloria still lives as of this writing (2/23/17) and I recently read the book she coauthored with her son Anderson (The Rainbow Comes and Goes). If I'm looking at the family tree correctly, Reginald was the nephew of GWV II of Biltmore. Reginald was the youngest son of GWV's oldest brother Cornelius and wife Alice. He was a drunkard and playboy and died of his excesses before little Gloria knew him. The last few pages are especially poignant as the dissipation of Vanderbilt wealth is discussed and how the descendants let the NY Central RR go, which was their bread and butter. Despite the wishes of the Commodore, the creator of the Vanderbilt wealth, that the bulk of the inheritance remain in the hands of the oldest sons of the oldest sons, this did not happen, and the inheritance became so divided and extravagantly wasted that it dwindled to almost nothing. William Vanderbilt (oldest son of The Commodore Vanderbilt, felt that being an inheritor of this wealth was a curse. He said to a friend about a neighbor: “He isn’t worth a hundredth part as much as I am, but he has more of the real pleasures of life than I have. His house is as comfortable as mine, even if it didn’t cost so much; his team is about as good as mine; his opera box is next to mine; his health is better than mine, and he will probably outlive me. And he can trust his friends.” Being the richest person in the world brought him, he said, nothing but anxiety. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the 2nd daughter of Cornelius and Alice Claypoole Gwynne and a great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, wrote in her diary, "I longed to be someone else, to be liked only for myself, to live quietly and happily without the burden that goes with riches." She founded the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC in 1931. She was “Auntie Ger” to little Gloria Vanderbilt and was at the center of the custody battle for her niece. What a sad saga! Give me neither poverty nor wealth...

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