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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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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
“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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Top Customer Reviews
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. For those interested in symbiotic relationships between mothers and daughters, EMPTY MANSIONS will definitely provide interesting, thought provoking reading. For readers who liked THE SECRET LIFE OF THE LONELY DOLL by Jean Nathan, the story of author Dare Wright and her mother, Huguette's life might prove similarly intriguing; the difference, of course, being that Dare Wright was creative while Huguette was . . . .well, Huguette.
The third story in EMPTY MANSIONS is the story of the hard-to-understand Huguette and an outline of the last twenty years of her life. Suffering from skin cancer, she hid inside her grand New York apartment and put off going to the doctor's. When she finally called for one, she was admitted to the hospital and then, most curiously, never left. At the time she entered the hospital, Huguette had two very large New York apartments, a huge mansion on the coast of California, and a spacious country estate in Connecticut. There was plenty of money for Huguette to live as she pleased or to donate to charities she deemed worthy. After having her cancer treated and being proclaimed healthy, Huguette chose to remain in the hospital and live there for two decades until she died at age 104. The last section of EMPTY MANSIONS changes in tone a bit as the reader is thrust into the present day and reads about court cases still going on in 2013. All of the sensational newspaper headlines of the past few years telling the story of Huguette Clark flash by, page after page, as the reader puzzles over the ethics of doctors and nurses accepting large monetary presents from their patient and of accountants and lawyers whose roles in Huguette's affairs may have been questionable.
But above all, whatever else EMPTY MANSIONS is about, it leaves the reader pondering whether Huguette was merely sheltered and shy or whether she was emotionally immature or suffered from a mental illness. It does appear that her life would have been quite different if her mother had lived longer, if her sister hadn't died, or if she had a mother figure in her life to guide and direct her. As it turns out, her nurse, Hadassah Peri, may have emerged as just that figure. All that makes the story of Huguette and her money a most captivating read.
EMPTY MANSIONS is the perfect book for a long weekend at the seashore in the rain, for a few days snowbound in the mountains in a snug, warm cabin in winter, or for taking along on a cruise. No one will regret reading EMPTY MANSIONS as there is something to be learned about American history, wealth, and yes - about loneliness.
The first portion of Empty Mansions fills us in on the adventurous life of Copper King, W.A. Clark, Huguette's father. Born in a time when America was young and the West unexplored, the brief descriptions of his personal successes and brushes with other history makers of that time has me begging to know more about this obscure historic figure; a sequel perhaps?
As the story moved on to Huguette, I abandoned my preconceived notions regarding her eccentricities and introversion. She was, indeed, those things, but decidedly so. By all accounts she was of clear mind and decisive. This doesn't mean she was immune to manipulation. I remain uncomfortable with the role of her lawyer, her accountant, and her personal nurse, as it appears professional boundaries have been crossed.
Huguette may have seemed odd by common standards, but she was not born into a common life; perhaps a life where privacy was worth far more than gold. I am reminded not to be too quick to judge. Huguette, it seems, lived her life the way she wished. She surrounded herself with whomever she wished or no one at all. My impression of Huguette, after reading Empty Mansions, is that she was lovely, charming, intelligent, talented and highly sensitive. The greatest loss is that she didn't let more people know it. I'm looking forward to the audio version of the book so I can hear her recorded conversations.
The final chapter on Huguette is yet to come. With the upcoming trial over her will, the greatest puzzlement for me is why family members, she never invited into her life, feel they deserve a piece of the pie, or should I say, an extra helping?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A simply flawless book about a strange woman and her times that spanned over a century.Read more