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.