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Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt Paperback – Dec 26 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (Dec 26 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062224069
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062224064
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.2 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #11,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Among the author's earlier books is Changing Laws, an award-winning biography of his grandfather, Arthur T. Vanderbilt. His latest history, witty, entertaining and sad, also merits a prize for the writer, a lawyer and one among many members of the fabled family who inherited the Vanderbilt name but not the wealth. "The Commodore" (1794-1877) made $105 million by hook and by crook; Alva, wife of the founding father's son William, went on spending sprees that later heirs followed. Stories about the author's ancestors have been told before, but not so vividly as in his evocations of the snobbery, ostentation and profligacy that caused "the fall of the House of Vanderbilt." Today's Vanderbilts are not rich-rich; the money is gone with the clan's grand homes, felled by wrecking balls in New York and elsewhere, leaving only memories of a singular time in the American past. Photos not seen by PW. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This could give Donald Trump nightmares: It is the story of how the seemingly solid fortune of railroad mogul Commodore Vanderbilt was dissipated down to practically nothing in the space of a century. In this family history, Vanderbilt dramatizes both the successes and excesses of America's Gilded Age--the enormous new wealth, the lavish lifestyles, and, later, the desperate schemes to maintain social status and fortune (contesting wills, matchmaking with nobility, and, most notably, battling for custody of "Little Gloria"). But the story is not so much about people as the palaces they built--the Breakers, the Biltmore, and mansions which used to occupy blocks of now-prime Manhattan real estate--all of which became white elephants sold to preservation societies or Towers of Babels that fell under a wave of taxes and upkeep cost. An absorbing social history. BOMC alternate.
- Judy Quinn, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9aa50720) out of 5 stars 136 reviews
101 of 108 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a890498) out of 5 stars "Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." April 27 2013
By Amelia Gremelspacher - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"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.
93 of 99 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a890768) out of 5 stars A Real Page Turner June 23 2013
By Padanelle - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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!!
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a89072c) out of 5 stars Fortune's Children Oct. 14 2013
By Julia - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a890a20) out of 5 stars Nothing Lasts Forever Jan. 2 2010
By Loves the View - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The book profiles the Vanderbilt heirs. The first chapter, obligatorily of the Commodore, is a tale often told, most recently in The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, which led me to this 1989 book. The following chapters describe children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a few great-great-grandchildren. The female scions, who are essentially disinherited, are dropped right away, as are the Commodore's son Cornelius and his progeny. There are a few tales of some high profile disinheritances.

The writing takes the reader into the society of Gilded Age with its lavish houses and parties. The descriptions of other major players such as Mrs. Astor, Mrs. Fish, the Lehr's and Ward McAllister are interesting, but I'd rather have had the space devoted to more on the Vanderbilts.

One chapter is devoted to Alva (a Vanderbilt for only 20 years) who brought this socially shunned family into society by building the most lavish homes and throwing the most lavish parties. Her sad mother-daughter story appears in several places throughout the book. For more on this relationship I recommend:Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age (P.S.)

The sub-title implies that the Vanderbilt wealth is gone, as does the discussion at the end. This is not entirely proved since not all Vanderbilts are covered, and not all who are covered are followed up on. The Biltmore, while not a residence, and is now shrunk to 8,000 acres, is still in the contol of Vanderbilt heirs. There are some females, such as Gertrude, who joined their inheritances (modest in Vanderbilt terms) through marriage creating new assets that probably continue to produce great wealth today. The Commodore's plan to keep the wealth together in the male (named) line clearly did not pan out. The Commodore could have never envisioned Doris Duke The Richest Girl in the World: The Extravagant Life and Fast Times of Doris Duke, another outsider to Society, who kept the Duke tobacco and energy fortune together through equally turbulent times.

The book is a good read. The writer, Arthur T. Vanderbilt, makes it flow. He never discloses his place in the family tree. I checked the internet and still have no clue. I did find that in 2008, this book had been optioned for a movie.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a890f18) out of 5 stars After Biltmore visit May 2 2013
By Aussie mom - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Following Biltmore visit, this really was fascinating! Power, money, deception, egos....the Vanderbilt family was the American royalty of their era!