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Fortune's Children Paperback – February 20, 1991


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (February 20, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688103863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688103866
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 5.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Among the author's earlier books is Changing Laws, an award-winning biography of his grandfather, Arthur T. Vanderbilt. His latest history, witty, entertaining and sad, also merits a prize for the writer, a lawyer and one among many members of the fabled family who inherited the Vanderbilt name but not the wealth. "The Commodore" (1794-1877) made $105 million by hook and by crook; Alva, wife of the founding father's son William, went on spending sprees that later heirs followed. Stories about the author's ancestors have been told before, but not so vividly as in his evocations of the snobbery, ostentation and profligacy that caused "the fall of the House of Vanderbilt." Today's Vanderbilts are not rich-rich; the money is gone with the clan's grand homes, felled by wrecking balls in New York and elsewhere, leaving only memories of a singular time in the American past. Photos not seen by PW. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This could give Donald Trump nightmares: It is the story of how the seemingly solid fortune of railroad mogul Commodore Vanderbilt was dissipated down to practically nothing in the space of a century. In this family history, Vanderbilt dramatizes both the successes and excesses of America's Gilded Age--the enormous new wealth, the lavish lifestyles, and, later, the desperate schemes to maintain social status and fortune (contesting wills, matchmaking with nobility, and, most notably, battling for custody of "Little Gloria"). But the story is not so much about people as the palaces they built--the Breakers, the Biltmore, and mansions which used to occupy blocks of now-prime Manhattan real estate--all of which became white elephants sold to preservation societies or Towers of Babels that fell under a wave of taxes and upkeep cost. An absorbing social history. BOMC alternate.
- Judy Quinn, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Research for this book was well done.
Linda L. Meyerle
I couldn't wait to get this book in the mail and now am having a difficult time putting in down.
Judith Young
Meet Cornelius Vanderbilt, a.k.a. the Commodore.
Kevin Hasser

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 122 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Hasser on August 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
Meet Cornelius Vanderbilt, a.k.a. the Commodore. In a time when there were only 12 millionaires in America, he was worth $50 million. By the time he died, it was double. He was a ruthless miser who owned a monopoly over New York City. When he died, he passed it all down to a son who increased the fortune dramatically. When the son died, well, the grandkids spent it.
Donate pennies to charities; build mansions with the rest. This is how the remaining Vanderbilts lived for nearly a century. Would you have believed that 5th Avenue was a residential area? You should, they OWNED it. Richer than any other family in the world, the Vanderbilts had no one to compete against except themselves, constantly building larger mansions, country houses, and yachts. Their picture galleries could fill the Louvre. Their libraries could make any bookworm (and his grandkids) happy until their death. The dollar amounts that appear in every page in this book will make you rethink the real value of $1 million.
But aside from that, they have a story that's extraordinarily well written. Including details only a family member could, Arthur T. Vanderbilt II fashions a history that would make any bank jealous. Included (and to much relief) are pages of pictures and a family tree, both of which I referred back to often. His research is greater than any other I've seen, with a bibliography and notes spanning 80 pages. Quotes smother the pages and give a more than adequate description to every person, house, and ball relative to the family. An incredible story it is, containing 150 years. I commend Mr. Vanderbilt (the author) for taking the challenge, and more importantly, doing it with style.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By "cobblehill" on March 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Fortune's Children" is an enormously fun read. Arthur Vanderbilt relates how his ancestors accumulated and then depleted an almost unimaginable fortune. In the process they created a lot of majestic homes and even more miserable people.
It all starts with the Commodore, a poorly-educated miser with a mean-streak and a wild side. It ends with the battle over baby Gloria, whose genes prepared her for the jeans that brought the family a fresh infusion of cash. In between, a variety of Vanderbilt spendthrifts and misanthropes. There's George, who built the largest private home ever constructed in the US -- Biltmore Estate. By the time he was done, he was out of money, and his heirs couldn't afford to live there. There's Consuelo, bullied into marrying a Duke by a mother with royal-mania. And there's Reggie, a gin-soaked playboy whose greatest accomplishment was looking good in a tux. Oh, the humanity.
The author spends a little too much time on the supporting cast, including Ward McAllister and Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish. They're interesting but take the focus away from the main characters. He also fails to flesh-out a number of family members, including Alfred, who inherited the bulk of the fortune but had the misfortune of booking passage on the Lusitania.
Photos and a family-tree help you keep straight who's who, and all in all, this portrait of the people who personified the best and worst of "The Gilded Age" is most worthwhile. And, more proof that money can buy comfort, but not happiness.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By TAMIKA FAGAN on April 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
Fortune's Children was a good read for anyone interested in how the rich lived in the late 1800's. The author detailed the main characters very well as well as the over the top, outlandish homes that these characters resided in. It is truly a nice look into that era and what it all meant to be a Vanderbilt. Reading this book has piqued my interest in other books about the first rich family of America. Once I began reading this book I had trouble putting it down.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By E. Burke on March 13, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
see this review on the page for the next edition of this book, " Fortune's Children the Decline of the house of Vanderbilt "

The many impressions this book left me with, are almost overshadowed by the wonder that no one turned it into a mini series. Everything the Tv/Movie audience of today craves is here: Rags to Riches, Business back stabbing that makes JR Ewing look like mother Theresa, Mistress' divorce, gold digging women, History of steam ships and Railroads, The back drop of NY City, Political Weasel's, Amusing stories, Sex , Extravagance beyond belief, The family tragedies( Alfred V> went down with Lusitania, Heroically), decline and financial ruin, Battles over the estates by rich heirs played out in public, and even the often unhappy state of people who have more money than anyone. The story of Consuelo being sold to an English 'lord' to acquire a title, while mommy locks her up to keep her from the man she loved. AND ITS ALL TRUE ! Truth is stranger, and better than fiction. Most people will enjoy this book, for many reasons. There is much to be learned in the lessons of the Vanderbilt family, all begun with the birth of 'The Commodore' 18 years after the birth of America. I only wish the author had added a chapter on how he felt about his ancestors, and their accomplishments/failures. Not only is the book worth the price, I've bought three copies because over the years I keep forgetting who borrowed it. And everyone I've recommended it to, has thanked me.
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