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on January 17, 2014
I almost never buy paper copies of books, but after reading this on my Kindle I went and purchased this in physical form to give out to friends.

I had just got done reading an extremely dry, very boring, biography of Commodore Vanderbilt. I frankly do not know why I tortured myself with finishing it. However, Fortune's Children, was a breath of fresh air after that. It is anything but boring and dry.

This book breathes life into a fascinating sociological part of American history: the Gilded Age. Prior to reading this book, I really did not have an appreciation for this time in history. The extravagance and the opulence (before income tax existed!) that this book details is fascinating. The book delivers its message without being gossipy, but it also does not bore with dry and academic droll. The author has a wonderful grasp on his style, and walks the line between personal family history and historical account with wonderfully professional ability. At no point did I feel like I was reading a gossip tabloid (I am currently reading a bio by another author that feels that way and it feels cheap and sultry).

In summary the book was extremely well written, captured my attention on every single page, and was one of my most favorite historical bio books of all time.
55 comments188 of 191 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
"Commodore" Vanderbilt started poor, but ended life as the wealthiest man in the world. The author is one of his descendants, and notes that fifty years after his death, none of his descendants were rated in the nation's richest men. But starting with the Commodore", the family did live like American royalty. In fact it is just this comparison that was intended by by this eminent family of the Gilded Age. This book is replete with details of the homes and furnishings of a family who felt their obligation was to set the standard as the head of wealthy society.

Not everything in the family was their fortune. Some of the most colorful characters one might encounter are introduced in this book. Two of the most imposing were the Commodore's daughters in law. Alva and Alice vied with each other to surpass in wretched excess. And for the most part, Americans bought into their right to do so. Like a daily written version of Dynasty, their possessions and exploits decorated the front pages of the papers. Few of its denizens were indeed happy with each other or their mates. The undoubtable Ava even bucked a major taboo and divorced her husband. This book is a fascinating look into one of the founding families of the upwardly mobile. It makes for interesting reading that maintains a flowing prose that is clear and enjoyable in form.
44 comments94 of 100 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 23, 2013
This book far exceeded my expectations. It reads like a novel, but is so well anecdoted, the notes for each chapter are also must reads. It is very well researched, and gives a wonderful picture of the Vanderbilts and life of the priviledged during the Gilded Age in NYC.

My only negative is that I felt the book should have included a lineage chart, to follow who was descended from who, but I solved this by downloading it from Wikipedia.

A major focus of the book was on the Commodore's 2 grandchildren - Cornelius II and William K and their children. The story bounced back and forth among them, which is why I felt the need for the lineage chart. I would have preferred if it was laid out one family line at a time.

But that did not take away in any way from my overall enjoyment of the book. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!
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on October 14, 2013
An excellent book, keeps you wanting to read more and it gives it to you. This book tells of the gaining of the great wealth by Commodore Vanderbilt and what each one of his children and subsequent generations did with his money after his death, until, finally all was spent and there were no more Vanderbilt millionaires. I also enjoyed hearing about the "Gilded Age,"the mansions in Newport, R.I., where the "summer" cottages of the rich were. This book will not disappoint.
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on January 25, 2014
Here we are given an overview of the rise and fall of the Vanderbilt family from the Commodore, who built the family fortune to the decline of the family throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The book concentrates on the eccentric characters in the family--and there were a lot of them. It's mostly a sad story, because not many of the family were ever happy or content for long. In addition to the well known excessive spending on garish homes and yachts that had to be ever grander to outdo other family members, there were unfortunate marriages that were more like mergers than love stories. There were divorces, infidelities, parents pitted against children to either push the child into a marriage or to prevent a marriage to a fortune hunter. The brothers in each generation were often rivals, trying to become the favored one who would inherit the largest chunk of the money. The women had a strange game of trying to be top dog so that they could be THE Mrs. Vanderbilt, rather than merely A Mrs. Vanderbilt. There also were an unusual number of young family members who died in accidents or from sudden illnesses. It was a fascinating story, and I recommend the book.

A few reviewers mentioned problems with the Kindle version needing editing. This is true. For some reason, the text did not translate over to the ebook totally correctly. There are weird problems with certain words being misspelled. For instance, the word "your" is often written as "tour." However, this does not happen all that often, and I didn't have a problem understanding what the author meant to write. Still, in an ebook from a major publisher with a relatively high price for a Kindle book, this kind of sloppiness is not acceptable. Still, I didn't want to take away from the author's rating on this book, so I didn't deduct any stars for the ebook glitch.

A few things would have made the book a little better. I wished for a family tree chart to keep everybody and their relationships to others in the family straight. The Vanderbilts kept using the same names over and over. The author did make quite an effort to differenuate this Corneilus from that Corneulus, but it was still confusing at times. Also, I wish he had not ended the book without talking about later generations of the family. What is the current generation up to? I guess it is the sign of a good book, when the reader wants to know more.

I was impressed with the way the author just presented the facts, and did not take sides in conflicts. For instance, in the custody trial for Little Gloria, it's up to the reader to decide for him or herself whether she belonged with her mother or her aunt. He also does not play amateur psychologist, trying to assign motives and feelings to people's actions. One thing that I did question however, was including excerpts from Gertrude's teenage diary to try to paint her as a rebellious daughter who actually hated her mother. What teenager has not at one time or another said that s/he hated his/her mother in a fit of teen angst.

Of course, many of the Vanderbilts chose to live in a dramatic, larger than life fashion, so the author does have quite a lot of very interesting material, and he does take full advantage of it in this very interesting book.
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on May 2, 2013
Following Biltmore visit, this really was fascinating! Power, money, deception, egos....the Vanderbilt family was the American royalty of their era!
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on January 29, 2014
I enjoyed the first chapters of Fortune's Children where the life of the Commodore, his wife and children were vividly told. Early chapters were well written so that I felt I came to know that generation of Vanderbilts and what their world was like. The historical info on how people lived in the US north when economic depression and even the US Civil War was happening in other parts of the world was very interesting to me. But the book was too long and after the Commodore's story, with the descendants' stories being told, and retold in various forms and chapters, it all became pretty confusing to me.
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on April 27, 2014
I was astounded by the opulence in which these people lived. It was almost surreal to read of the excesses of some members of this House. No so unlike the Billionaires of today's America.
But there was a lot of history in this book, the development of the railroad system, the creation of chateaux, the collecting of pieces of art so well documented, the influence of the Gilded Age on society as a whole, that for me was the beauty of this narrative.
Very interesting indeed.
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on January 13, 2014
It's a big book but absolutely fascinating. To see the drive,ambition,and eventually ruthlessness, of the Commodore is such an incredible tale. However,the Gilded Age was filled with soo much self- centeredness,one upmanship,squandering of incredible amounts of money, a life style that is hard to imagine. The customs of society,the shunning of one son,the miserable marriages-and womens suffrage !-it's all there and more. Wonderfully written,hard to put down,and a reminder that money can't buy happiness. I Loved it
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on August 5, 2014
I found this book interesting but my heart broke as the beautiful homes that cost so much were torn down after such a short time. Such a sad commentary on the human nature with money and no discipline. I had to put it down a number of times to get over being mad at their inability to steward the great gift that the commodore left them. He worked hard and then it became uncouth for his grandchildren to work.
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