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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 10, 2013

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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune + The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark + Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Later Printing edition (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345534522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345534521
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,654 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

What goes on behind closed doors, especially when those doors are of the gilded variety, has fascinated novelists and journalists for centuries. The private lives of the rich and famous are so tantalizing that Robin Leach made a career out of showcasing them. One of the biggest eccentric, rich fishes out there was Huguette Clark. Deceased for more than two years, Clark, brought to life by investigator Dedman and Clark’s descendant, Newell, owned nouveau riche palaces in New York, Connecticut, and California. An heiress, Clark disappeared from public view in the 1920s. What happened to her and her vast wealth? Answering this question is the book’s mission. Based on records and the hearsay of relations and former employees, the book pieces together Clarks life, that of a woman rumored to be institutionalized while her mansions stood empty, though immaculately maintained throughout her life. Clark left few clues about herself, but she willed vast sums to her caretakers and numerous charitable endeavors. Still, her absence acts as a shade to seeing her fully, hinting at possible financial malfeasance, all the while conspiring to produce a spellbinding mystery. --James Orbesen


“An amazing story of profligate wealth . . . an outsized tale of rags-to-riches prosperity.”The New York Times
“An exhaustively researched, well-written account . . . a blood-boiling expose [that] will make you angry and will make you sad.”The Seattle Times
“An evocative and rollicking read, part social history, part hothouse mystery, part grand guignol.”The Daily Beast
“A childlike, self-exiled eccentric, [Huguette Clark] is the sort of of subject susceptible to a biography of broad strokes, which makes Empty Mansions, the first full-length account of her life, impressive for its delicacy and depth.”Town & Country
“One of those incredible stories that you didn’t even know existed. It filled a void.”—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
“A compelling account of what happened to the Clark family and its fortune . . . a tremendous feat.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A fascinating story.”Today
“Meticulous and absorbing.”Bloomberg Businessweek
“Riveting . . . deliciously scandalous . . . a thrilling study of the responsibilities and privileges that come with great wealth.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A spellbinding mystery.”Booklist
“Enlightening.”Library Journal

Empty Mansions is a dazzlement and a wonder. Bill Dedman and Paul Newell unravel a great character, Huguette Clark, a shy soul akin to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird—if Boo’s father had been as rich as Rockefeller. This is an enchanting journey into the mysteries of the mind, a true-to-life exploration of strangeness and delight.”—Pat Conroy, author of The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son
Empty Mansions is at once an engrossing portrait of a forgotten American heiress and a fascinating meditation on the crosswinds of extreme wealth. Hugely entertaining and well researched, Empty Mansions is a fabulous read.”—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
“In Empty Mansions, a unique American character emerges from the shadows. Through deep research and evocative writing, Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., have expertly captured the arc of history covered by the remarkable Clark family, while solving a deeply personal mystery of wealth and eccentricity.”—Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
“Who knew? Though virtually unknown today, W. A. Clark was one of the fifty richest Americans ever—copper baron, railroad builder, art collector, U.S. senator, and world-class scoundrel. Yet his daughter and heiress Huguette became a bizarre recluse. Empty Mansions reveals this mysterious family in sumptuous detail.”—John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Empty Mansions is a mesmerizing tale that delivers all the ingredients of a top-notch mystery novel. But there is nothing fictional about this true, fully researched story of a fascinating and reclusive woman from an era of fabulous American wealth. Empty Mansions is a delicious read—once you start it, you will find it hard to put down.”—Kate Alcott, bestselling author of The Dressmaker
“More than a biography, more than a mystery, Empty Mansions is a real-life American Bleak House, an arresting tale about misplaced souls sketched on a canvas that stretches from coast to coast, from riotous mining camps to the gilded dwellings of the very, very rich.”—John A. Farrell, author of Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned

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Customer Reviews

The book was very well researched and written.
David W. Nesbitt
The answer is found in the book Empty Mansions - the Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of an American Fortune.
Lyn Smock
Interesting life story of a very wealthy woman.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

192 of 199 people found the following review helpful By IsolaBlue on September 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
EMPTY MANSIONS will surely climb the best-seller list. The book about Huguette Clark, heir to an enormous fortune and mistress of several large, poetically empty properties, is easy to fall into and harder to remove oneself from. Although not an especially interesting person, Huguette is fascinating on the written page mostly for what she didn't do in life, rather than what she did. Usually biographies that hold readers captive are about creative, adventurous, and avant-garde individuals doing unusual activities and living fascinating lives. Huguette doesn't fall into those categories. Instead, she is a shy, retiring individual who withdrew from the world upon the death of her mother with whom she had a close relationship.

EMPTY MANSIONS is several stories in one. The first is that of Huguette's father, the ambitious W.A. Clark, who took himself on a classic American adventure from nothing to extreme wealth. His story is also the story of the American West, of the mining industry, and railroads. Once comfortable financially, Clark displayed his wealth in rather ostentatious manners such as the building of the Clark mansion in New York City, an intriguing but rather short-lived folly.

The second story within the book is really the story of Huguette's mother, Anna. As W.A. Clark's second wife, she bore him two children, but never had the status or respect in society that she may have desired. Anna seemingly lived for her daughters and when the elder one, Andree, died, she and Huguette became inseparable. During this period, however, the two did make use of their wealth through traveling, collecting art, and buying and furnishing houses.
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184 of 196 people found the following review helpful By Melissa McCauley VINE VOICE on August 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I can't quit thinking about this story and telling everyone Huguette's sad tale. After her mother's death, this super-wealthy heiress (who was obviously not "normal") withdrew from the world and descended into an unhealthy existence, locked away in her darkened apartment. (When you are super wealthy, you are not a hoarder, you have an assistant who curates your doll collection)

It makes me so sad that there was no one to be her advocate, a cautionary tale for financial and estate planning. When she finally got some medical help for the cancers that were literally eating away her face, the hospital, doctors, nurse and her sleazy accountant started pillaging her assets. It is staggering how much they made off with. Absolutely disgusting elder abuse.

That being said, I thought the book itself became bogged down in minute descriptions of every ounce of furnishings of the once-great Clark mansions, and the blow-by-blow descriptions of how W. A. Clark amassed his fortune. It really picked up steam after about 200 pages when it got into the meat of the story of how Huguette was abused by her larcenous caregivers. At first I was unsure if I could finish the book, but I read the last half in one sitting (literally - with my eyes bugging out).
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267 of 289 people found the following review helpful By Reader from Washington, DC VINE VOICE on July 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Reclusive millionaire Huguette Clark was a member of the wealthy Clark family copper mining dynasty, born amid mysterious circumstances in 1906 and dying in equally mysterious circumstances in 2011. A few years before her death, she attracted national media attention when it was discovered that she had left huge, luxurious mansions unoccupied for decades, and was secretly living in a spartan hospital room, despite large cash reserves and excellent health.

This book is a psychological detective story that will interest fans of early 20th century American and European art, high society and politics. Other themes include the destructive role of inheritances in wealthy family members' lives, and the difficulty of determining what constitutes mental illness and elder abuse.

Was Huguette Clark simply an eccentric who freely chose to isolate herself from the outside world to devote herself to art and a small circle of friends? Or was she an emotionally disturbed senior citizen hopelessly warped by a lifetime of privilege and subtly abused by her caretakers? Or both? This compelling, well-written story tries to present the evidence in a balanced manner, leaving this reader with unanswered questions.

At her birth, as the child of elderly Senator William Clark's late in life May-December second marriage, there are indications that her youthful mother was still his mistress, and that the couple actually never married. At Huguette's death at the age of 104, her relatives were embroiled in a legal battle with her lawyer, accountant, private nurse and long-term care hospital, all of whom apparently violated professional ethics codes by taking enormous sums of money from the increasingly frail woman during the last two decades of her life.
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100 of 109 people found the following review helpful By B. McEwan TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At 400+ pages, Empty Mansions is a rather long book, so I thought I would skim through the first half, which chronicles the life of W.A. Clark, a Gilded Age millionaire who shrewdly invested in copper mines out west. He is the father of the main focus of the book -- his daughter, Hugette Clark, who lived to be 104 years old but was not seen in public for the last 70 or so years of her life. That's not a typo. Hugette Clark was an eccentric heiress whose concerns about privacy were obsessive. She is the female version of Howard Hughes. Another way to think of her is as a real life derivative of Miss Havisham, although Ms. Clark was not left at the altar, nor did she seem at all distraught over remaining single following a very brief marriage whose end she initiated.

So, as mentioned earlier, I thought I would just skim the first part of the book, since it takes place at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries and is more about Hugette's father than it is about her. However, the first few pages were so interesting that I just kept reading until I had finished every bit, including the notes and bib. The book is exceptionally well researched and thus presents an absorbing picture of America's social, economic and political landscape during the Gilded Age and on through the 20th century and the first several years of the 21st.

I came to like Hugette Clark, who was strangely childlike while also being quite astute about art, style, family loyalty and friendship. In today's dollars, her father's fortune was in the billions and as the only surviving child of his second, May-December marriage, Hugette inherited it all. Born in Paris in 1906, Ms. Clark spoke French fluently and considered herself as much French as American, perhaps more so.
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