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Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt

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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 ama 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.


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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 ama 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.

30 review for Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dem

    3.5 Stars Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.( Benjamin Franklin) The very name Vanderbilt is synonymous with the Gilded Age. The family patriarch, "the Commodore,” built a fortune that made him the world's richest man by 1877. Yet, less than fifty years after his death, no Vanderbilt was counted among the world's richest people. I love books on the gilded age and was delighted to get my hands 3.5 Stars Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.( Benjamin Franklin) The very name Vanderbilt is synonymous with the Gilded Age. The family patriarch, "the Commodore,” built a fortune that made him the world's richest man by 1877. Yet, less than fifty years after his death, no Vanderbilt was counted among the world's richest people. I love books on the gilded age and was delighted to get my hands on a copy of this one as it is a very detailed account of the fall of the House of Vanderbilt. I had visited Newport some years ago and did a tour of some of the Mansions and the Marble House and the Breakers were among them which were built by the Vanderbilt family. I really enjoyed the read and first third of the book deals with " The commodore" and how he managed to build his fortune and the remainder of the book focus on the his decedents and how they managed to squander millions. The book is very well researched and written wih a numerous photographs, notes, bibliography and Index. I loved reading about The Commodore (Cornelius Vanderbilt) and how he built up his fortune to make him the world's richest man by 1877. The book is very detailed and we are introduced to several key members of the Vanderbilt family and learn about their marriages how they squandered the fortune that Commodore built up. By the end of the book I was exhausted reading about the opulence and the dreadful waste and greed of this family. The book does become quite repetitive and I think it could have been slimmed way down by at least 100 pages and it would have had much more an impact on me. Having said that I did enjoy the read and although it was a bit of slog it is certainly interesting and satisfied my curiosity about the Vanderbilt family.

  2. 4 out of 5

    W

    Most people would envy great wealth but it can also bring great extravagance,personal tragedy and ruined lives. The way the House of Vanderbilt squandered its great fortune on useless and totally pointless projects makes for an absorbing story which reads like a novel. It was not money they earned,they just inherited it,thanks to the family patriarch,"the commodore".He had become one of the world's richest men,by 1877,rising from humble beginnings,and using all means fair,and foul to amass a fortu Most people would envy great wealth but it can also bring great extravagance,personal tragedy and ruined lives. The way the House of Vanderbilt squandered its great fortune on useless and totally pointless projects makes for an absorbing story which reads like a novel. It was not money they earned,they just inherited it,thanks to the family patriarch,"the commodore".He had become one of the world's richest men,by 1877,rising from humble beginnings,and using all means fair,and foul to amass a fortune. His descendants were more concerned with lavish spending and ostentatious displays of that wealth.The great fortune was squandered,rather quickly. They had to outdo everyone,in the quest to have something more and something bigger.One example is the huge mansions built by them,which were used just for a year ! If ever proof was needed that more money does not buy greater happiness,this book provides it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    This book proved to me that writing a review in which you can't stand the characters is not easy. This is the history of the rise and fall of the Vanderbilt dynasty and the absolutely idiotic squandering of money just because they had it. Each branch of the family tried to outdo the others and it became a race to see who could have the biggest, the best, and the most. The writing is not bad (the author is the son of the man who built the still extant Biltmore House in Asheville, NC.) but the exc This book proved to me that writing a review in which you can't stand the characters is not easy. This is the history of the rise and fall of the Vanderbilt dynasty and the absolutely idiotic squandering of money just because they had it. Each branch of the family tried to outdo the others and it became a race to see who could have the biggest, the best, and the most. The writing is not bad (the author is the son of the man who built the still extant Biltmore House in Asheville, NC.) but the excesses are almost beyond belief. I hate to admit that it kept me interested to a point but I certainly was no fan of the players. Proceed at your own risk!!

  4. 5 out of 5

    BAM Endlessly Booked

    Reading this book reminded me of a game of Monopoly. The dynasty of the Vanderbilts began in 1784 with the Commodore, and 100 years after his death, his wealth had been divided among 787 descendants, making it practically worthless. This was against his wishes. He wanted to keep his wealth concentrated in one generation, similar to primogeniture. By the time his grandsons inherited, this wish had been broken. But what was fascinating about this book was the importance the females had during the G Reading this book reminded me of a game of Monopoly. The dynasty of the Vanderbilts began in 1784 with the Commodore, and 100 years after his death, his wealth had been divided among 787 descendants, making it practically worthless. This was against his wishes. He wanted to keep his wealth concentrated in one generation, similar to primogeniture. By the time his grandsons inherited, this wish had been broken. But what was fascinating about this book was the importance the females had during the Gilded Age. The males weren't the leading personalities. The distaff line produced the headlines. Alva, Alice, Gertrude, Gloria-all of these women are easily identified. Young Gloria's terrifying custody battle closes the book. It makes an easy segue way into The Rainbow book she wrote last year with her son, Anderson Cooper. I really enjoyed this book. I learned much about this family consisted American royalty.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    This is very readable, interesting, ironic, funny and page turning. Extreme wealth is wasted on the descendants who don't quite seem to match the family founder, even if they make more money. The founder of the family, Cornelius Vanderbilt the first, was uneducated and from a wealthy enough family that his mom was able to give him $100.00. In the 1850's that's roughly equivalent to $3100.00. Yet at that period in the USA there was as much a trade as a cash economy. Many working class whites, free This is very readable, interesting, ironic, funny and page turning. Extreme wealth is wasted on the descendants who don't quite seem to match the family founder, even if they make more money. The founder of the family, Cornelius Vanderbilt the first, was uneducated and from a wealthy enough family that his mom was able to give him $100.00. In the 1850's that's roughly equivalent to $3100.00. Yet at that period in the USA there was as much a trade as a cash economy. Many working class whites, free blacks, and various POC weren't paid in cash, but in trade or board, etc. So Cornelius came from a well off, stable family with extra cash on hand. It's not surprising that given his work ethic, toxic frugality, stinginess combined with immoral business practices he became the wealthiest man in the US. He was so cheap he didn't even financially support his children, his wife worked at one of his businesses and paid for the growing brood herself. He stole from his daughter as well as other women who asked him to invest money for them. He's horrid and became wealthy through shady business practices, most of which are now illegal. This was during a period, similar to the one we are currently living in. Where the extremely wealthy impoverish their employees, creating massive inequities. This was at one time limited by federal policy. This type of extreme, unchecked greediness causes economic depression and instability. Yet, our undemocratic system has allowed the wealthy few control of the government. This is as much about the wives married to Vanderbilt sons. Much less about Vanderbilt daughters who marry outside of the family. The houses were ridiculous, Marble House is obscene though gorgeous. Each generation becomes better at spending than earning. Soon it's gone, lol.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    The book profiles the Vanderbilt heirs. The first chapter, obligatorily about 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 The book profiles the Vanderbilt heirs. The first chapter, obligatorily about 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. 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. ... 2013- I see that this book came out in a new edition in 2012. Now, there is a bit more info on the internet identifying the author as a distant (to those in the book) Vanderbilt cousin.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

    I applied for (and got) a job working at the Biltmore in Guest Relations at The House. Oh yeah. Dream job. I am so excited. It's so beautiful. I've been thru Marble House, The Breakers, Hyde Park, years ago so I was quite aware of the Commodore and some of the family history. But what a story! Although the book said very little about George Washington Vanderbilt, the Biltmore Vanderbilt, it was educational to learn much detail about his family. They were the Trumps, Kardashians, And Hiltons of the I applied for (and got) a job working at the Biltmore in Guest Relations at The House. Oh yeah. Dream job. I am so excited. It's so beautiful. I've been thru Marble House, The Breakers, Hyde Park, years ago so I was quite aware of the Commodore and some of the family history. But what a story! Although the book said very little about George Washington Vanderbilt, the Biltmore Vanderbilt, it was educational to learn much detail about his family. They were the Trumps, Kardashians, And Hiltons of their time all rolled into one. Family drama. Divorce. Disinheritence. Alcohol. Money. More money. Society. Fashion. Parties. Houses and more houses. And boredom that comes from having too much with no struggle. A baby elephant parading thru a dinner party for no reason other than no one else had done it?! I can see why George W. Vanderbilt sought refuge from it all in these wonderful North Carolina mountains! Very well written. Very informative. I read for hours at a time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    If readers want to learn how many of the wealthy choose to live, and learn about what they consider important in life, and what values and ideals that many rich adult children of the wealthy growing up in wealth all of their lives have (hint: none that are readily observable), especially after they reach the age where they become entitled to control their trust funds or inherited wealth, read 'Fortune's Children - The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt' about the Vanderbilts, written by Arthur T. V If readers want to learn how many of the wealthy choose to live, and learn about what they consider important in life, and what values and ideals that many rich adult children of the wealthy growing up in wealth all of their lives have (hint: none that are readily observable), especially after they reach the age where they become entitled to control their trust funds or inherited wealth, read 'Fortune's Children - The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt' about the Vanderbilts, written by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II. It goes into glorious detail about the wondrous lifestyle of the rich and famous of 1890 until about 1929. I may have spoiled a little, gentle reader, in my review below. I can't help myself. It is very likely you may not ever read this book ("so many books, not enough time") but I want you to learn what I learned! Apologies in advance. This book is a biography of the life of one of the 'Gilded Age' family founders - Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) - an illiterate hardened and crude man after years from a childhood on fishing schooners and produce/goods steamboat carriers, later a railroad investor. Then the book further details the lives of the later generations of Vanderbilts. The millions of dollars 'The Commodore' (Cornelius) accumulated was almost entirely spent by his Gilded-Era society children and grandchildren. Their story is remarkable because it shows how in four generations a family can wipe out what was the family's almost unimaginable wealth in unwise ostentation. What is even more mind-blowing is WHAT they spent the money on; however, as I mentioned, I have read stories and seen TV shows which demonstrate things the rich buy are still mostly unwise and outrageously ostentatious. Despite that this book is mostly about late nineteenth-century/early twentieth- century New York City society in America, how wealthy people lived then does not seem much different than what TV shows and magazine articles I have read about the current twenty-first century 'beautiful people' of the world appear to live today. Perhaps current rich people should read this book very closely. Many first generation 'Gilded Age' wealthy founders I have read about, usually from horrible low-life families, appear to be generally cruel, almost psychopathic, and definitely obsessive-compulsive. Some in their later years, around fifty, soften and mellow. But they initially, after marrying what often is the first of many wives and/or mistresses, treat their children like distrusted hired servants who might steal the silver or they seem to conduct experiments in breaking down their innocent prepubescent children as if they were wild full-grown horses to be whipped into obedience and into the supposed rigid behaviors and manners of European aristocrats. (That is, if they actually cared at all about their kids. Some acted as if their children were a rumor created by their delighted newly-wealthy social-climbing wives - although sometimes the first wife was/becomes a religious fanatic - in which either case the founder may never leave his office except maybe to see his mistress.) Moderation, in any case, was/is an unknown state to these people. The second generation often were scared shadows of their demanding fathers and often parvenue mothers, afraid to displease or shame their upward striving parents, having rarely felt much approval or affection and afraid of being disinherited. Their job was to become the educated icebreakers into older-Victorian blue-blood society, to marry well, preferably European royals or third-generation American industrialists or Mayflower descendents. Some of this generation will not be selected by their exacting, if irrational, parents as worthy of taking over the family business, or they demonstrated spunk and rebelliousness, so they were kicked out of the nest to fend for themselves or were given a pittance of the father's wealth and attention. The third generation, if having inherited wealth, seem to become entirely lost, sunk deep into a sucking quicksand of constant mindless pleasure (boating, gambling, traveling, sex, hard partying) and more outrageously wasteful and showy consumerism, rarely showing up at the office or consulting financial advisors, and failing to graduate from college or apply themselves to an education at all, naming themselves 'gentlemen' while their women buy more and more jewels, furniture, clothes, art, mansions, servants... The second generation of male Vanderbilts seemed to enlarge the faults of being the second generation by marrying golddigger aggressive women who had the faults of what normally defines the third generation. The author goes into amazing descriptions of the most baroque expenditures, backed by academic research. There are pictures of the estates and the interiors of these palaces built by many of the Vanderbilts. They had to employ hundreds of staff and servants to maintain a single establishment, and they each had dozens of establishments. And it was all gone in sixty years, many of the houses torn down or auctioned off, often with pieces of interior art or a fireplace sold for only a few thousand dollars, if even that, despite that the original purchase price having been originally perhaps half a million dollars for this painting or that molding or for a particular eight-foot wide crystal chandelier or marble staircase. Most of what the Vandervilts bought ended up in garbage dumps by 1950, although some art pieces ended up in museums or their massive houses were picked up or converted into a public park or government office, or a hotel. They had bought yachts which required hundreds of employees on board to run and to maintain - and eventually some family members ended up living on a rundown yacht, having let go all of the staff so that they were stuck floating in a rented space, tied up at some dock. The amplification of social climbing and feeling as if the robber-baron money would never stop was ultimately a disaster for keeping the Vanderbilt fortune intact. Many of the Vanderbilts spent not only the interest of trusts and investments, but spent down the principal and sold the stocks and bonds they inherited. It is incredible how each of the Vanderbilts squandered their money. They spent and spent and spent. Here is a bit more information about the era in which the Vanderbilts enjoyed themselves: First, the somewhat good news - there were more available jobs and comparatively higher pay for the masses during the 'Gilded Age'. In the mix though was bad news about horrendous work conditions and what was basically an unlivable wage despite that it was higher pay. Quoted from Wikipedia about the Gilded Age: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilde... "The Gilded Age was an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the North and West. As American wages grew much higher than those in Europe, especially for skilled workers, the period saw an influx of millions of European immigrants. The rapid expansion of industrialization led to a real wage growth of 60%, between 1860 and 1890, and spread across the ever-increasing labor force. The average annual wage per industrial worker (including men, women, and children) rose from $380 in 1880, to $564 in 1890, a gain of 48%. However, the Gilded Age was also an era of abject poverty and inequality, as millions of immigrants—many from impoverished regions—poured into the United States, and the high concentration of wealth became more visible and contentious. Railroads were the major growth industry, with the factory system, mining, and finance increasing in importance. Immigration from Europe, and the eastern states, led to the rapid growth of the West, based on farming, ranching, and mining. Labor unions became increasingly important in the rapidly growing industrial cities. Two major nationwide depressions—the Panic of 1873 and the Panic of 1893—interrupted growth and caused social and political upheavals. The South, after the Civil War, remained economically devastated; its economy became increasingly tied to commodities, cotton, and tobacco production, which suffered from low prices. With the end of the Reconstruction era in 1877, African-American people in the South were stripped of political power and voting rights, and were left economically disadvantaged. For more in-depth information about these era developments, I recommend reading: Morgan: American Financier in which a description of how the robber barons involved with financing the amazing growth of American business created banks and financial institutions, And Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. in which it is described how some penniless but ambitious rural teenagers, of whom many are briefly described in this book although it is primarily focused around Rockefeller's journey from abject poverty to richest robber baron in America, ruthlessly invented and expanded American industry. Excerpts from 'Fortune's Children' also about HOW the wealthy of the Gilded Age generally used their money, not only the Vanderbilts: "At the same time, rapid economic expansion was creating new manufacturing, banking, railroad, oil, and mining millionaires, each trying to make his make his mark and break into society by increasingly lavish expenditures. A newspaper reporter who had written that the millionaires of Newport "devoted themselves to pleasure regardless of expense" was corrected by one of the Four Hundred [a members list of top New York City elite rich people] who explained that what they really did was "to devote themselves to expense regardless of pleasure." "It is doubtful," another member of the Four Hundred complained, "whether there are more useless and empty ways of spending money in the world than can be found at Newport." Bessie Lehr remembered Mrs. Pembroke Jones telling her "that she always set aside $300,000 at the beginning of every Newport season for entertaining. Some hostesses must have spent even more. A single ball could cost $100,000 even $200,000. No one considered money except for what it could buy." Mamie Fish was right; society had gone mad. At a millionaire's dinner party in the ballroom at Sherry's all the guests ate on horseback, the horses' hooves covered with rubber pads to protect the floors. One hostess hid a perfect Black Pearl in each of the oysters served to her guests, and a host handed out cigarettes rolled in $100 bills. Another party featured a pile of sand in the middle of the table, and toy shovels at the guests' seats; upon command, the guests dug into the sand, searching for buried gems. A millionaire thought nothing of buying a $15,000 diamond dog collar, a pair of opera glasses encrusted with diamonds and sapphires for $75,000, a bed inlaid with ivory and ebony and gold for $200,000, a necklace for his true love for $500,000. In 1895, a visitor from France, viewing the two-mile stretch of Fifth Avenue that faced Central Park—Millionaires' Row as it was called (thirty years before, this part of the city had been nothing but flimsy wooden shacks and scrub growth)—was dumbfounded. "It is too evident that money cannot have much value here. There is too much of it. The interminable succession of luxurious mansions which line Fifth Avenue proclaim its mad abundance. No shops, unless of articles of luxury—a few dressmakers, a few picture dealers . . . only independent dwellings each one of which, including the ground on which it stands, implies a revenue which one dares not calculate. The absence of unity in this architecture is a sufficient reminder that this is the country of the individual will, as the absence of gardens and trees around these sumptuous residences proves the newness of all this wealth and of the city. This avenue has visibly been willed and created by sheer force of millions, in a fever of land speculation, which has not left an inch of ground unoccupied." To the Frenchman the mediocre taste of the rich was suffocating. "On the floors of halls which are too high there are too many precious Persian and Oriental rugs There are too many tapestries, too many paintings on the walls of the drawing rooms. The guest-chambers have too many bibelots, too much rare furniture, and on the lunch or dinner table there are too many flowers, too many plants, too much crystal, too much silver." It was the height of the Gilded Age. Before the Civil War, there were fewer than a dozen millionaires in the United States. In 1892, the New York Tribune published a list of 4,047 millionaires, over 100 of them having fortunes that exceeded $10 million. It was estimated that 9 percent of the nation's families controlled 71 percent of the national wealth. As the self-indulgent old rich and new rich flaunted their wealth paying on average $300,000 a year to maintain their city mansions and Newport cottages, $50.000 to keep their yachts afloat, and $12,000 each time they wanted to give a little party, hundreds of thousands of immigrants were jammed into tenements not far from the fabulous Millionaires' Row. Thousands of child laborers worked in sweatshops for $161 a year.Common laborers made $2 to $3 a day, with the average worker earning $495 a year. Two-thirds of the nation's families had incomes of less than $900; only one family in twenty had an income of more than $3,000." Sounds kinda like 2019, only in 1900 dollars. The book has an extensive Notes section, and an Index and a Bibliography. While an academically-based and deeply researched book, it is written in a very accessible style, almost like a People Magazine article.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kelley

    Lively history yet technically flawed book “Fortune’s Children” is a lively look into the Vanderbilt family history. The founder, Cornelius Vanderbilt (known as the Commodore), amassed more wealth than any other American through ferry lines and railroads. His son, William Henry, doubled that fortune with his work with family railroad. Both men earned the distinction of being the richest men in the world in their respective heydays. Yet today, 150+ years later, while “Vanderbilt” is a historically Lively history yet technically flawed book “Fortune’s Children” is a lively look into the Vanderbilt family history. The founder, Cornelius Vanderbilt (known as the Commodore), amassed more wealth than any other American through ferry lines and railroads. His son, William Henry, doubled that fortune with his work with family railroad. Both men earned the distinction of being the richest men in the world in their respective heydays. Yet today, 150+ years later, while “Vanderbilt” is a historically significant name, none rank among the wealthiest Americans. While Cornelius and William displayed enormous genius at mastering the art of making money, their descendants were masters at spending the largest fortune ever known (at that time). While Cornelius tried to keep the fortune concentrated among a head of the family (primogeniture), his heirs chose to divide the wealth among their kids and wives/husbands, which by this book’s writing included almost 800 living members. Many of the Commodore’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren spent lavishly to support a life of leisure that rivaled royal households. They built numerous mega-mansions (from 50 to 250 rooms — most of which were torn down within 50 years or were sold later at a huge losses to other buyers), held multiple such mansions per family around the world, had the largest yachts ever built (at the time), and/or gambled away money with reckless abandon thinking it would never run out. But it did. Other Vanderbilt family sub-groups were incredibly imperious in their attitudes, and cut off family members who were deemed to marry “beneath them”. In a few situations, they took each other to court in a no-holds barred battle over the Commodore’s will, or to argue over who had conservatorship over an underage but wealthy heir (Gloria Vanderbilt). While the family may have had extreme wealth, riches clearly didn’t bring happiness as many had unhappy marriages, and lived the lives of the idle (and often very bored) rich. As one reads this book, one cannot help but see that time tends to reclaim even the greatest of fortunes through excess spending and taxation, and while it may not happen instantly, it does happen. Unless successive generations add to the wealth, it cannot be sustained if they overspend, and this showed with later Vanderbilt generations, many of whom never knew anything but extreme, and excessive wealth, and overspent, overspent, overspent. They didn’t appreciate the value of money, and didn’t realize the value and satisfaction from earning it. There are a few exceptions, such as Gloria Vanderbilt (whose childhood is examined thoroughly in this book), and her son Anderson Cooper (whose success as a journalist came after this book was written), but those are exceptions in this family story. It is also most disappointing that for most of the Vanderbilt family in the earliest generations (as well as for their other ultra-wealthy contemporaries), philanthropy wasn’t high on their list of priorities. While they did give away some to support good causes (such as the founding of Vanderbilt University), largely their charitable contributions were minor in comparison to their wealth, and their endless pursuit of social dominance among the wealthy elite. This book was fascinating, but wasn’t without flaws. The editing was poor. I found numerous misspellings, especially in the photo captions. There were several formatting problems on the Kindle edition I read. Additionally occasionally, the author used the exact same passage at different points of the book. Some chapters, were too gossipy and salacious, repeating extensive personal conversations (in quotes) that I’m not sure how the author would have known about, and whose origins weren’t entirely explained. The author, Arthur Vanderbilt II, also didn’t explain his own family origin and what (if any) connection he had to the family. I looked it up on the internet but didn’t learn of any connection. With a name like “Vanderbilt”, more disclosure was needed to give him more credibility as an author. Still despite these shortcomings, this book was very engaging — not only from a historical point of view (if one is interested in this genre of US history), but also from a sociological and economic point of view when considering accumulation of wealth and how it is spent and misspent by subsequent generations.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    I picked up this book at the library after a recent trip to Newport, where we toured the Breakers and Marble House, two magnificent 'cottages' built by Vanderbilts for millions of dollars and used by their owners for about 1 year. Who are these crazy Vanderbilts? The saga of the Vanderbilts can at times be mistaken for fiction. The cankerous patriarch Commodore... the social schemer Alva... the unwilling bride Consuelo... the staid Cornelius and Alice... the custody fight over young Gloria... sup I picked up this book at the library after a recent trip to Newport, where we toured the Breakers and Marble House, two magnificent 'cottages' built by Vanderbilts for millions of dollars and used by their owners for about 1 year. Who are these crazy Vanderbilts? The saga of the Vanderbilts can at times be mistaken for fiction. The cankerous patriarch Commodore... the social schemer Alva... the unwilling bride Consuelo... the staid Cornelius and Alice... the custody fight over young Gloria... supporting characters like Mrs. Astor and Ward McAllister... this is entertaining stuff, and the book provides an excellent historical view of the Gilded Age. I was grossly fascinated by the excesses of this privileged class with nothing to do but find new ways to entertain themselves within their rigid social structure (like having a dinner where every guest is seated on horseback or only baby talk is spoken). Us poor people, at least our lives have purpose... dreary, monotonous purpose...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Thrasher

    I suspect that in 100 years, they will refer to the time in which we live as the Second Gilded Age (if Donald Trump is elected, he can be a stand in for those Gilded Age presidents of yore, Grant and his bearded kith; perhaps these new Gilded Age presidents will be known for their cosmetic surgery or interesting hair styles instead of Victorian manly beards). Fortune's Fall is a tale of the First Gilded Age, from the point of view of the most famous, the richest and the grandiosely gilded (and g I suspect that in 100 years, they will refer to the time in which we live as the Second Gilded Age (if Donald Trump is elected, he can be a stand in for those Gilded Age presidents of yore, Grant and his bearded kith; perhaps these new Gilded Age presidents will be known for their cosmetic surgery or interesting hair styles instead of Victorian manly beards). Fortune's Fall is a tale of the First Gilded Age, from the point of view of the most famous, the richest and the grandiosely gilded (and gross) family of them all, the Vanderbilts. I say "tale" because part of this nonfiction book read like a the very best potboiler or soap opera. If all this weren't true, then you'd think it was a melodrama, with all the family feuds, divorces, affairs, abandoned children, hints of lesbian sex - it's like Falcon Crest or Dallas with railroads instead of vinyards or oil, and all true (well, Arthur T. Vanderbilt's version of the truth, and who are we to question him, with a last name like that?). Vanderbilt traces the rise and fall of this golden family, from the beginnings to the bitter, income and inheritance tax ridden end. The only thing missing from this rendition of the Gilded Age are politicians; the Vanderbilts didn't really go for politics (not like their far less rich neighbors, the Roosevelts). We already know when the write Fortune's Children: the Fall of the House of Trump, politics will have a chapter all to itself.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    I read this years ago and found it absolutely fascinating. I'm excited to see that MacMillan is reissuing it sometime in the next year. I read this years ago and found it absolutely fascinating. I'm excited to see that MacMillan is reissuing it sometime in the next year.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    This book tells the story of the Vanderbilt's and other "Robber Barons" of the Gilded Age. It is very interesting and also disturbing to learn of the excessive wealth and excessive spending of the time. While the average wage earner could not afford housing, food, etc, the wealthy threw money after mansions, yachts, clothes, jewelry, parties, etc. The Robber Barons made money on the backs of the little man, and only thought about making more money. Could it happen again? That is a question we sh This book tells the story of the Vanderbilt's and other "Robber Barons" of the Gilded Age. It is very interesting and also disturbing to learn of the excessive wealth and excessive spending of the time. While the average wage earner could not afford housing, food, etc, the wealthy threw money after mansions, yachts, clothes, jewelry, parties, etc. The Robber Barons made money on the backs of the little man, and only thought about making more money. Could it happen again? That is a question we should ask ourselves.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Janice

    Detailed information of the Vanderbilt family with an adequate bibliography. I almost always appreciate additional information, such as photographs, maps, family trees and datelines. While many helpful photographs were provided, I found the family tree confusing and the years that accompanied each chapter even more confusing. For instance, Chapter 1, The Commodore 1794 - 1877, easy to interpret, his years from birth through death. However, Chapter 2, The Blatherskite 1877 - 1883,( Blatherskite w Detailed information of the Vanderbilt family with an adequate bibliography. I almost always appreciate additional information, such as photographs, maps, family trees and datelines. While many helpful photographs were provided, I found the family tree confusing and the years that accompanied each chapter even more confusing. For instance, Chapter 1, The Commodore 1794 - 1877, easy to interpret, his years from birth through death. However, Chapter 2, The Blatherskite 1877 - 1883,( Blatherskite was but one derogatory name Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt had for his son, William H Vanderbilt), but 1877 - 1883 were neither his birth nor death years, and not the only time period discussed in this chapter. The remaining chapters dates and titles are similarly confusing. The closing chapter, Chapter 10, Mrs. Vanderbilt 1934 - 1955. Which Mrs. Vanderbilt? Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt? How many Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilts were there? And although I can pretty well guess the chapter includes numerous Mrs. Vanderbilts as well as Vanderbilt daughters, the photo above the chapter title appears to be a photo of Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly, never a Mrs. Vanderbilt. Why picture only Mrs. Twombly? Further confusion.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jool

    An amazing non fiction look at the quick fall of the Vanderbilt fortune. I never realized that the Vanderbilt fortune was completely used up within three generations due to massive greed and overspending. I know of the Biltmore home which I believe still has guided tours, but of 5+ penthouses on Washington Avenue in New York (Washington Avenue was the Fifth Avenue of its time period) which were all demolished as early as the 1930's; to the many penthouses on Fifth Avenue owned by the Vanderbilts An amazing non fiction look at the quick fall of the Vanderbilt fortune. I never realized that the Vanderbilt fortune was completely used up within three generations due to massive greed and overspending. I know of the Biltmore home which I believe still has guided tours, but of 5+ penthouses on Washington Avenue in New York (Washington Avenue was the Fifth Avenue of its time period) which were all demolished as early as the 1930's; to the many penthouses on Fifth Avenue owned by the Vanderbilts which quickly fell out of their ownership. 'Commodore' Vanderbilt, who amassed his great fortune with $100 and a pole-boat to ferry cargo down the coast, grew that into becoming the wealthiest man in the United States at one time. Owning many railroads, properties and a shrewd but cruel business sense, his was one of the fastest growing fortunes in the late 1800s - early 1900s. He disliked all of his children except one, Billy, to whom he left most of his fortune. Years of contesting the will followed. Obviously none of his children nor their children knew anything about business, and by the 1930s The remaining Vanderbilts were penniless. An amazing look at history.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    "Within thirty years after the death of Commodore Vanderbilt in 1877, no member of his family was among the richest in the United States, have been supplanted by such new titans as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick and Ford...When 120 of the Commodore's decedents gathered at Vanderbilt University in 1973 for the first family reunion, there was not a millionaire among them." This book is good, but not great. Quickly jumps back in forth between family updates in between the chapters largely devoted to o "Within thirty years after the death of Commodore Vanderbilt in 1877, no member of his family was among the richest in the United States, have been supplanted by such new titans as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick and Ford...When 120 of the Commodore's decedents gathered at Vanderbilt University in 1973 for the first family reunion, there was not a millionaire among them." This book is good, but not great. Quickly jumps back in forth between family updates in between the chapters largely devoted to one family member at a time. Neil, my favorite Vanderbilt, was the first at getting a job outside the family-- a newspaper reporter. For this brazen action his grandmother, who left money to all other grandchildren and servants, left him with her photo. Treasure. This book does a great job describing the folly of Gloria Vanderbilt's (Anderson Cooper's mother) court case. Plenty of blame to go around.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julie Suzanne

    Absolutely fascinating biography. I started this before heading to Newport, RI so that I'd have a contextual understanding of Gilded Age that made Newport so famous. Touring the mansions, it felt like I had like an inside scoop on the history of the families and some of the events that transpired there. For example, I couldn't wait to see Consuelo's bedroom where I knew she had been imprisoned by her mother before her forced marriage to the duke. This information was not shared in the tour, but Absolutely fascinating biography. I started this before heading to Newport, RI so that I'd have a contextual understanding of Gilded Age that made Newport so famous. Touring the mansions, it felt like I had like an inside scoop on the history of the families and some of the events that transpired there. For example, I couldn't wait to see Consuelo's bedroom where I knew she had been imprisoned by her mother before her forced marriage to the duke. This information was not shared in the tour, but I knew it, so I had a deeper experience standing on the very floor where that poor girl suffered for an entire summer than my husband had who only knew what was presented by the guided tour. The book is like watching a soap opera but knowing that the people and stories are real. I recommend this to anyone who plans to visit Newport, especially! Even though the book is hefty, I wouldn't have minded another 500 pages.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Onceinabluemoon

    I love non fiction, it is almost always a page burner, and this family is no exception. I love seeing the rags to untold riches, a family dynasty and legacy spread out open for us to glimpse or glare. I must say there was one thought I came away with, his vast fortunes came before income taxes, what you made was 100% yours, if only we could have that luxury offered to all citizens say over sixty, the chance to pay ZERO taxes for three years, we could all retire wealthy!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    Fifty years after the death of the Commodore the founder of the family's wealth died the Vanderbilt's were bust. Here a descendant Arthur T Vanderbilt explains how this happened .A fascinating look at one of the world's most famous families. Fifty years after the death of the Commodore the founder of the family's wealth died the Vanderbilt's were bust. Here a descendant Arthur T Vanderbilt explains how this happened .A fascinating look at one of the world's most famous families.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Raja Ramesh

    Arthur Vanderbilt II (yes, he's a descendant) takes us through the rise and fall of the Vanderbilts. The first two chapters take us through the bulk of the accumulation of the Vanderbilt fortune, focusing first on Cornelius Vanderbilt's American Dream story (it starts with a small loan from his mom and a lot of oar rowing) and use of monopoly power, and then on how his son became the richest man in the world. The vast majority of the book focuses on the opulence of the numerous Vanderbilt mansion Arthur Vanderbilt II (yes, he's a descendant) takes us through the rise and fall of the Vanderbilts. The first two chapters take us through the bulk of the accumulation of the Vanderbilt fortune, focusing first on Cornelius Vanderbilt's American Dream story (it starts with a small loan from his mom and a lot of oar rowing) and use of monopoly power, and then on how his son became the richest man in the world. The vast majority of the book focuses on the opulence of the numerous Vanderbilt mansions (so many design details!) and the Vanderbilts' entrance into and domination of high society during much of the Gilded Age. There's also quite a bit of detail on the divorces and wills of the Vanderbilts. The description of the parties and spats were much too detailed for me (several pages of Gloria Vanderbilt's deposition are printed verbatim). Note: Gloria Vanderbilt's son is Anderson Cooper. Since there's so much to cover, some of the most interesting parts of are only briefly touched on. In particular, I'd love to read more about: -queerness (and its suppression) in the Gilded Age -the family dynamics between the cousins -the role of the family advisors (Chauncey Depew and Hamilton Twombly) -the effect of property and estate taxes on the decline of the Vanderbilt fortune -the obsession with European royalty (which seems to have mostly left the rich of today) This is a different kind of history than what I'm used to reading - the author tries to recreate the family personalities and tensions through extensive quotation from diaries, interviews, and memoirs. While this conveys the voice of the historical characters well, it leaves little room for synthesis (let alone analysis). Ultimately, this is the strength and weakness of the book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bobbi

    Quite a story In many ways, this was a very sad story. I do not think there was one happy person in this entire book. It was fascinating to read about how much money was made and then lost. The manipulation of stock and the stock market was almost impossible to believe, but then the accumulation of money was the goal, regardless of the morality of how it was done. Many have commented that the time was not that different from our own time; different day, same behavior. I wish I could be alive to r Quite a story In many ways, this was a very sad story. I do not think there was one happy person in this entire book. It was fascinating to read about how much money was made and then lost. The manipulation of stock and the stock market was almost impossible to believe, but then the accumulation of money was the goal, regardless of the morality of how it was done. Many have commented that the time was not that different from our own time; different day, same behavior. I wish I could be alive to read the history of our time 100 years from now. The book was well worth the read; a lot to think about.

  22. 5 out of 5

    SM Surber

    Amazing wealth, split up and gone in three generations. The gilded age frivolity never ceases to amaze.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    This is a Hard work and equally hard play. It takes four generations to make a gentleman and only three to lose it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tori

    As a graduate of Vanderbilt University, I was interested to read about the family, about whom I really knew very little. I was surprised to learn that the while Commodore Vanderbilt was once the richest person in the United States, his subsequent heirs had basically lost the entire fortune by the mid to late 20th century. It was a long book and lagged in a few sections, but otherwise found it quite fascinating.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marissa

    Such a fascinating read, so well written, and really described the Gilded Age in such detail. Excellent historical book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Raymond

    This is a ponderous work that details the awesome excesses of the Vanderbilts and exceeds the excesses of such as the emperors of Classic Roman, Egyptian and other ancient life styles. It appears to me that the Commodore was actually the Grinch and Scrooge as I understand his heart was too small and incredibly hardly any working organs at his death! I was astounded at the accomplishments of many of the ladies of Commodore Vanderbilt such as Alva of which I had no information prior to reading this This is a ponderous work that details the awesome excesses of the Vanderbilts and exceeds the excesses of such as the emperors of Classic Roman, Egyptian and other ancient life styles. It appears to me that the Commodore was actually the Grinch and Scrooge as I understand his heart was too small and incredibly hardly any working organs at his death! I was astounded at the accomplishments of many of the ladies of Commodore Vanderbilt such as Alva of which I had no information prior to reading this work! Also, the dysfunctional family of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and her daughter Gloria Vanderbilt (the mother of Anderson Cooper) was especially astounding as I was unaware of any of it! (Come to think of it the entire family was incredibly and unbelievably dysfunctional! I am convinced that I am blessed!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Fred

    --One might expect a book about the Vanderbilts written by a Vanderbilt to be a dull recitation of select stories mined from the Family History and carefully retold so as to present a 'preferred' portrait of the family. Perhaps that was indeed the policy here, but I do not get that sense at all. This book is presented in a well organized and interesting manner. Quite readable and forthright. --Yes, there are mentions of excess which will titillate some readers and yes, there are financial accounti --One might expect a book about the Vanderbilts written by a Vanderbilt to be a dull recitation of select stories mined from the Family History and carefully retold so as to present a 'preferred' portrait of the family. Perhaps that was indeed the policy here, but I do not get that sense at all. This book is presented in a well organized and interesting manner. Quite readable and forthright. --Yes, there are mentions of excess which will titillate some readers and yes, there are financial accountings of the vast fortune and how it was bequeathed (and squandered in some cases) throughout the years. For readers, like me, who are also interested in History and to some degree even Cultural Anthropology, this book provides wonderful insights in the American 'mileau' during several generations. I found it fascinating. --On a broader scope, this book provides some counterpoint to the discussion about the benefits of inherited wealth. Bill Gates once mentioned when asked about his children's inheritance that he and his wife were very keen to make certain their children had enough money to do anything they wanted but not enough money to do nothing at all. Brilliant. Perhaps Mr. Gates has taken heed of the unstated lessons learned in the stories of the Vanderbilt children and grand children. (Though not the only one to recklessly squander the sizeable portions of the fortune, Reggie Vanderbilt immediately comes to mind.) I might also mention here, that a few of the Commodore's progeny accepted the mantle of Hard Work and Dilligence along with the fortune. Some, his son William for example, even doubled the fortune. To that extent, perhaps this family's history is a bit of character-study about the importance of Strength of Character. --Whether you are curious about such nuanced subjects or simply feel compelled to 'rubber neck', so to speak, I encourage you to read this book. As ever, do that then decide for yourself.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    The subtitle of the book, "The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt" says it all. The author is one of the (relatively) impecunious Vanderbilts, who inherited the name but not much of a fortune. He chronicles how an almost unimaginable fortune was made by the driven, resourceful "Commodore" Vanderbilt in 19th century but then squandered by the Commodore's heirs over the next few generations. It's a juicy story, but rather depressing, as the money apparently did little other than fluff up the heirs' e The subtitle of the book, "The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt" says it all. The author is one of the (relatively) impecunious Vanderbilts, who inherited the name but not much of a fortune. He chronicles how an almost unimaginable fortune was made by the driven, resourceful "Commodore" Vanderbilt in 19th century but then squandered by the Commodore's heirs over the next few generations. It's a juicy story, but rather depressing, as the money apparently did little other than fluff up the heirs' egos and in some cases led to personal tragedy. Comparing the paths of the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers (which this book doesn't set out to do) provides an interesting contrast. The Rockefellers scrupulously inculcated public service -- and financial savvy -- into each generation, while the Vanderbilts, from the get-go, were all about ostentatious spending. Fortune's Children goes into considerable detail about how the fortune was spent. In large part, that's a story of building larger and more sumptuous estates, with Biltmore as the final flourish. Those legendary mansions now have either been demolished or turned over to preservation societies. Thus the moral of the story becomes quite obvious to the reader, but it's a timeless one, entertainingly spun.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Very interesting book about the Guilded Age

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    A kind of rags-to-riches-to-rags story, this book covers not just the people in the Vanderbilt family, but their homes as well. If that sounds boring, you've never been to Biltmore. Their extravagance in building and furnishing their homes was extraordinary and a large reason for their tumbling off the world's list of wealthiest people. It is a fascinating account of some of the most interesting family members from the Commodore himself to fashion designer Gloria. Gets a tad confusing since ther A kind of rags-to-riches-to-rags story, this book covers not just the people in the Vanderbilt family, but their homes as well. If that sounds boring, you've never been to Biltmore. Their extravagance in building and furnishing their homes was extraordinary and a large reason for their tumbling off the world's list of wealthiest people. It is a fascinating account of some of the most interesting family members from the Commodore himself to fashion designer Gloria. Gets a tad confusing since there are several Corneliuses, a couple of Alices, and two Glorias, who also happened to mother and daughter. At least the second two Cornelius Vanderbilts had nicknames. But a well-researched book offering scads of trivia and interesting details of lives from the Gilded Age and beyond.

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