- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Dutton (August 8, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1101984473
- ISBN-13: 978-1101984475
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 88 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Bettencourt Affair: The World's Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris Hardcover – August 8, 2017
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“A Buffet for Scandal Aficionados...[Sancton] is an excellent straight-up reporter, and he has dug deeply into the many, many elements that complicate this story.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Juicy...the very picture of un grand scandale about the world’s richest woman.”—Vanity Fair
“Liliane Bettencourt, the L’Oréal heiress worth billions, became infatuated with a man 25 years her junior (a former Dalí protégé and an apparent social climber), giving him lavish gifts and even moving to adopt him. The story has all the trappings of a juicy affair, including graft and hidden Nazi sympathies.”
—Joumana Khatib, The New York Times Book Review Paperback Row
“[A] riveting page-turner chronicling this sweeping Tolstoyan saga...In gripping but unsensational prose, [Sancton] brings the debacle alive in its many dimensions, recreating not merely the lurid courtroom drama, but capturing ‘the ineffable sadness at its heart.’”—NPR
“An intensely reported account of power, politics, persuasion and the dark family secrets of the ultra-wealthy.”—New York Daily News
“the book that has emerged from [Sancton’s] reporting on the case is surely the definitive account...riveting.”—Wall Street Journal
“Money, glamour, and scandal are often the key ingredients of a great story—especially when they’re true.”—Real Simple
“A juicy chronicle of France's richest scandal...A well-researched, crisply written, and entertaining story of family, greed, wealth, and the complex relations among them.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Although this tale seems destined for HBO or Hollywood, to bill this a mere 'family drama' belies the staggering depth with which Sancton portrays his subjects, whose motivations, desires, and downfalls are 'so difficult to judge according to a moral code based on right and wrong, black and white, good and evil.' A natural for book clubs, which will drain a French cellar’s worth of wine while appreciating Sancton’s meticulous research and discussing this unbelievable cast of characters.”—Booklist (starred review)
“This true story of the elderly billionaire, the artist to whom she gave a fortune, and the family that claims it’s all been a big con, is proof that truth is stranger—or at least makes better poolside reading.”—Town & Country
“There is no comparable work on the Bettencourt scandal, only interviews and articles, making this highly recommended and pleasurable read a mix of luring tabloid fare and professionally researched courtroom and political drama.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“The story of this convoluted war of wills (pun intended), told with skill by former Time Paris bureau chief Tom Sancton in The Bettencourt Affair, features a cast of characters pulled straight from a Tolstoy novel.”—BookPage
“A longtime reporter on a foreign desk, Tom Sancton knows Paris and has done his homework...The Bettencourt Affair is a devilishly engaging immersion into a world few of us can imagine.”—Shelf Awareness
“This book has it all! Money, class, art, greed, intrigue, seduction, betrayal, and politics. It reads like a novel—a racy and intense thriller—but it's all true. With amazing reporting and wonderful writing, Tom Sancton brings alive the drama of the richest woman in the world, the powerful minister she married, their intellectual daughter, and the audacious artist who may have siphoned off a fortune. Their battles shook France and will fascinate readers.”—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
“The Bettencourt Affair reveals the far-reaching tentacles of a sensational family squabble over the $40-billion L'Oréal fortune. The aging cosmetics heiress gave hundreds of millions of dollars to her protégé, who was then charged with criminal manipulation by the woman's embittered daughter and convicted at a trial that also entangled French President Nicholas Sarkozy, a labor minister and others. It's an eye-popping, page-turning read.”—John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The City of Falling Angels
“A riveting, dishy account of one of France’s wealthiest families, whose Olympian grasp reaches scandalously deep into the French political world and the government itself. No one who reads this intimate tale of materialism and dangerous liaisons—peppered with political stars and so steeped in paranoia that even a butler makes surreptitious recordings to defend himself—will ever again associate the French upper classes with discretion and understatement.”—Anne-Marie O’Connor, author of The Lady in Gold
About the Author
Tom Sancton was a longtime Paris bureau chief for Time magazine, where he wrote more than fifty cover stories. He first broke the Bettencourt affair for many American readers with his feature piece in Vanity Fair in 2010. Sancton coauthored the New York Times (and international) bestseller Death of a Princess, a probing investigation of the murky circumstances behind Princess Diana’s death. He has also written for Fortune, Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, and other leading magazines. A Rhodes scholar who studied at Harvard and Oxford, he is currently a research professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he spends part of the year. In 2014, the French government named Tom Sancton a Chevalier (knight) in the Order of Arts and Letters.
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Sancton is a terrific writer and his research lends to an insightful book not only about what prompted Liliane’s daughter to sue her mother’s friend photographer François-Marie Banier, but about the French political and legal systems and this shameful scandal that aired the family’s dirty laundry. Banier was the recipient of massive gifts given to him by way of real estate, major works of art, and more by Liliane and those bequeathed to him in the millions including life insurance policies, upon her death. (She is still living.) In total, nearly a billion dollars. Mais, quand même!
What I took away from the book, apart from the sad relationship between the mother and daughter, is learning of the corruption that a family of such great wealth was able to pass along to the French government and the rampant anti-Semitism that went from one generation to the next. In light of this past weekend’s violent display of hatred and bigotry, I was even more saddened.
He also brings a good measure of moral nuance to the story. He recognizes this is not a case of devils and angels; it is a classic display of ever-present human frailties and questions we may never know the answer to. In some ways, it is a classic faimly fight over inheritance, but with many twists (including the fact that only, at most, 8% of Liliane's huge fortune was "in play"). Liliane comes through very clearly, the other key players -- Banier and the daughter, Francoise -- remain (to me) enigmas.
Alors, what do we have here? Money spent on an almost unbelievable scale; a lonely older woman with an attachment to a self-dramatizing artsy gay man 30 years younger than herself; a complaisant husband; an arctic froideur between a mother and only daughter; a driven founder of a business empire who seems to have been a collabo; a set of higher and lower domestic servants who put one in mind both of Downton Abbey and Genet's The Maids; a French President who may or may not have received $200 million in cash from Liliane's fortune; a bevy of French lawyers who remind one uncannily of the ones Daumier caricatured in the 19th century, all of them seeking legal or not-so-legal ways to profit from the split within the Bettencourt family; and some rather unpleasant judges.
In short, excellent. Would make a very good play/film (with, presumably, the names changed).
The book is also poorly edited (assuming it was edited at all) and is pretentious to the max. Early in the book, the author refers to Andre Bettencourt's brother Philippe, but later in the very same paragraph he spells out that Andre had a brother, Phillippe Bettencourt. Even a cursory read of this paragraph reveals this error. Later on, after identifying Marisa Berenson as one of the friends/acquaintances of the "villain", he refers to her as "Maria Berenson". I can't tell if it's poor editing, but I suspect it's more pretentiousness when he uses French words rather than their English equivalent -- for example, he states that Lilliane Bettencourt was examined by an expert in "audition", when he clearly means "audiology". And on and on. Shame on you, author, editor (if any) and publisher alike, for these errors!
Having castigated the book for being gossipy, I must also admit that it's great gossip and is actually fun to read in spite of the author's and editor's gaffes or attitude, or both. But if you're interested in this book, caveat lector!