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Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt Paperback – December 26, 2012
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From the Back Cover
Vanderbilt: the very name signifies wealth. The family patriarch, "the Commodore," built up a fortune that made him the world's richest man by 1877. Yet, less than fifty years after the Commodore's death, one of his direct descendants died penniless, and no Vanderbilt was counted among the world's richest people. Fortune's Children tells the dramatic story of all the amazingly colorful spenders who dissipated such a vast inheritance.
About the Author
Arthur T. Vanderbilt II is the author of many books, among them Changing Law, a biography of his grandfather Arthur T. Vanderbilt, which won the American Bar Association's Scribes Award. He practices law in New Jersey.
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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.
In Fortune's Children, Arthur T. Vanderbilt II paints a vivid portrait of his ancestors. The Commodore is one of the most important capitalists this country has ever produced, and with the marriage of his great-granddaughter to the Duke of Marlborough, this book will make excellent reading for any fan of Downton Abbey.
The author states that the fortune dissipated quickly because the Commodore was the first and only Vanderbilt who was obsessed with making money. The Vanderbilt men who followed were obsessed with keeping it. You need both to maintain those bank balances. Some-- like Alva Belmont Vanderbilt-- were obsessed with spending it to ram their way into New York's high society. Alva built some of the largest and most ostentatious homes ever to grace these shores, and the houses' interiors were even more lavish than their exteriors. Each of the author's ancestors is portrayed with wit and sorrow, which can often happen with the "advantage" of hindsight.
This is an absorbing tale of greed, snobbery, and profligacy that kept me fascinated from first page to last. If this is your cup of tea, I urge you to pour yourself some.
NOTE - This Kindle version has a bit of digital typos. Many times I saw "your" as "tour", the word I'll was I'11 and some odd characters. Also there are some things I read on the web that weren't in alignment with what was published in the book - some discrepancies. A few dates of marriage or ages at death, how a few folks met - nothing huge, just a few things that didn't line up, but who's to say which was incorrect; minor details that didn't distract from this fascinating history. The trial information on Gloria Vanderbilt Sr and Gloria Jr had contrasting views from the book to the information on various web pages. The book paints Gloria Sr as being more or less framed by her unstable mother and the Vanderbilts. It also portrays Gloria Jr as a spoiled horrible brat who acted and pretended to be sick so they could blame the mother and pull her away from her. A lot of the information on the web paints Gloria Sr as being a horrible mother and unstable herself . Regardless, its still amazing what money can buy - and it bought Gloria Jr the ponies, houses and friends she wanted.
Lastly - one reader makes note that Anderson Cooper wasn't mentioned in the book - No he wasn't.. the book was published in 1989, before Anderson's rise to fame and his OWN personal fortune. (He would have been 22 years old then!) It does omit that fact that Gloria Vanderbilt was one of the last of the name that is a millionaire though. It did say there was a reunion and not one was a millionaire - well maybe Gloria didn't show up! LOL!