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Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir

3.26  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,835 Ratings  ·  396 Reviews
The great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt takes a look at the decline of her wealthy blue-blooded family in this irreverent and wickedly funny memoir
For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius "The Commodore" Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy's birth, the Burdens ha
ebook, 288 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by Gotham Books (first published 2010)
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Jul 21, 2010 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like books about dynasties
I didn't have the highest of hopes for this book about the dysfunctional, decaying Vanderbilt family. I grabbed it from the office pile this weekend for what I thought would be some guilty pleasure reading, mostly because I enjoy books with dynastic tension, from The Forsythe Saga to your average non-fiction tome about the Kennedys.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the most redeeming quality of Dead End Gene Pool was the writing. Burden is ridiculously talented. I found myself la
Apr 14, 2010 Denise rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Over the years I've discovered that it is not the life an author has lived that makes a good memoir, it's the writing. A middle-aged woman living a middle-income life in any given city can - if she has talent - write an engaging memoir that will be a pleasure to read and recommend to others.

Sadly, this book is neither engaging nor a pleasure to read. Ms Burden has no doubt led an interesting life, but her writing style is forced and over-written. In what I assume are attempts to shock the reade
Mar 15, 2010 Lesley rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I got an early copy from a friend. Paris Hilton is a better writer. A waste of time.
Apr 16, 2010 Stefani rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book utterly fascinating, perhaps because I'm a real sucker for dysfunctional family memoirs of the super-rich. Without giving away too much of the plot, Wendy is a fourth descendent of Cornelius Vanderbilt on her father's side and grows up in the shadow of this wealth, as the money and the family name has become somewhat diluted over the years. After her father's suicide, Wendy and her brother Will are basically raised by her grandparents, who are so wealthy that they don't have to ...more
Apr 07, 2014 Riccol rated it liked it
Despite the fact that this book had no real point and no satisfying ending, I found it rather entertaining.

I see many people have given it poor reviews/ratings because it deals with a bunch of wasteful, old-money rich people who are rather unlikable, but it's non-fiction, the author didn't invent these characters, so if you don't like the subject matter why did you choose to read it in the first place?

My biggest beef with the book is that she told quite a story about her and her older brother "
Aug 29, 2011 Pooch rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This memoir is an extremely disappointing, depressing story about a dysfunctional girl who apparently has become a morbid, unforgiving woman. This disturbing story does not center on Wendy Burden's mother, but on Burden herself. As unfeeling as the grandparents and parents she vilifies, Wendy seldom visited her brother at a psychiatric hospital because "...the inmates creeped me out." The very idea that one can visit a dying grandfather and stand as far away as possible from him "...while still ...more
Lydia Presley
Bravo to Wendy Burden for writing what was seriously the most messed up, psychotic memoir I've read to date.

For those who don't know, Wendy Burden is the Great-great-great-great Granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Yes, that Vanderbilt. Between reading about the morbid fascinations Wendy had growing up, suicidal dogs, alcoholic mothers, sexual deviancy... the list literally goes on and on.

As I read through the book I had two main threads of thought going on. Number One was: how much of a spoil
Apr 19, 2010 Robyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I received this as a giveaway here on goodreads. I excited to read the book, but it wasn't really what I expected. I thought it read like a YA book through about 200 pages, probably because it covers ages sixish through twentyish. Hearing about her Gaga fart 100 times was a bit much. I'm sure it was meant as humor, but it wasn't for me. Just as the book seemed to mature enough for me to start wanting to know more, it ended.
Sherry Conrad
The rich are different- to say the least- they can pay others to deal when their kids are hideous monsters.

Money can't buy class- although I hardly think that was the author's intention, that was VERY prominent throughout.

While interesting enough that I finished the book- life is too short to read the ones that really stink- I was a little put off by the author's use of $20 words when a dimestore one would have worked as well or better in many cases.

There simply wasn't anyone worth rooting for
Sep 04, 2010 Kerri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book as a quick read of a dysfunctional family. However, the book is described on the back jacket as being written by the four times great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt and as centering on the mother of the author. While the genealogical connection of the author is as claimed, in my opinion, the book is neither about the Vanderbilt family, nor does it center around the mother of the author in the way I expected. I expected from the description of the book for there to be m ...more
Apr 10, 2010 Caitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
This belongs firmly to that family of memoirs where the story is driven by the weird people in the writer's immediate family. Everyone wanders around sort of goggle-eyed and mad, as if they were permanently trapped in a Wes Anderson movie. Auguten Burroughs famously does this in Running with Scissors, but David Sedaris is also really good at it as is my personal favorite Gerald Durrell. Done well these are funny books, but also knowing books. It is essential that the author treat the people popu ...more
In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy Burden shares her unique insight and quirky stories of her privileged upbringing as the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The details of their everyday life and Wendy's anecdotes about her family are fascinating on their own, but with the added advantage of her biting wit, Dead End Gene Pool reads so well.

Wendy describes the moment that she realized that Santa Claus doesn't exist:
"A kid who can talk herself into believing the Addams Family was
Jul 27, 2010 Krista rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't usually read tell-all autobiographies, particularly ones that seem to be penned in that style that is currently populated so effectively by Chelsea Handler. Yet that is exactly what this book purported to be. It was only at NPR's urging that I picked it up this morning.

And it was what I expected, with that telltale sign "please let this be a best seller" with episodes of bad behavior topped upon bad behavior topped upon bad behavior plied with alcohol, drugs and more bad behavior, with s
Apr 02, 2010 Elaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: ebooks
I don't think I've ever stayed up until the wee hours so that I could finish a memoir. A novel, yes, but a memoir? Never.

However, not only is this written so that you feel that Wendy Burden is talking to you over some cups of tea, but the life she led as seen through her eyes, is out of the realms that most of us have ever known. She maintains a delicious irony throughout. She doesn't present herself as a saint or a victim, just as a mischievous little girl who happened to have this kind of moth
Apr 28, 2010 Katie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I was looking forward to reading this after I read an article on Wendy Burden in the New York Times, but if you like well-written memoirs, don't read this! Her sardonic tone is tiresome after only a few pages, and it doesn't let up. She focuses on the vulgar to the point where her relatives seem like mere caricatures - which is sad, as it's obvious that there was a good story here.

I stopped reading after a few chapters - although I may skip to the end, based on some other reviews I've seen here
This book was funny! Wendy Burden tells about her childhood growing up the great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Her stories run everywhere from an obsession with Wednesday Addams, her discovery that a member of her grandparents' staff was actually Santa Claus, and her younger brother's insistence that he was the reincarnation of their father. Burden has a sense of humor about growing up in a family with too much money, which made this book a lot of fun to read.
Cheryl S.
May 08, 2011 Cheryl S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, 2011, m-book-club
A little "glasscastle-esque" but with lots more alcohol and money.
Apr 29, 2010 Jennifer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
From My Blog...[return]Dysfunctional families are not uncommon and while the stories usually will bear some similarities very few are told of the wealthiest of families, at least not before Wendy Burden's memoir Dead End Gene Pool. Burden's great-great-great-great grandfather was none other than Cornelius Vanderbilt and his eccentricities and proclivities apparently lived on throughout the generations. Wendy's father, William Armistead Moale Burden III died when she was 6 years old, changing her ...more
Jul 12, 2010 Alicia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Again, this is a 3 1/2 book. Maybe even a 3 3/4 book. Just not quite a 4. It's a memoir about the great(x4) granddaughter of the Vanderbilt family. Yes, that family. It was a funny story and made me understand that whole "rich people are just like us!" Mentality that people sometimes have. It's very Sedaris-esque, if Dave and his family were to have billions and billions of dollars.

And I would have to say that I agree in the idea that families all over the world, rich or poor, are all very simil
Apr 20, 2010 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wild, wild read. A woman with wild experiences as a child, and a hilarious
storytelling ability as an adult. I didn't know the filthy rich had such experiences. First you hear of the extravagant life in Burdenland when Wendy and Will, her brother, live with their grandparents. That's when it starts to feel like life is geared for the adults, but for children it's mostly boring. When Wendy's mostly absent mother returns from many trips to the Caribbean and marries her suicide dead father's best
Scott Fuchs
May 14, 2011 Scott Fuchs rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in the uber-rich
Shelves: biography
Within the framework of the uber-rich (Vanderbilts [transportation] and Burdens [iron]) there lurks a tale of yet another inordinately f-----ouled up family.
I gotta say that this is the first book in a very long time that has made me laff out loud, at least a dozen times. Much of the rest of the time I had a grin on my face. Some of the instances of the flagrant disposal of dollars makes me doubt their veracity, but hell, they were rich, rich, rich. As verified by many histories, at the peak of
Jun 01, 2013 Anne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am three quarters of the way through this book and it has been a tough one. Right here on Goodreads it says " rate this book" . That is not an easy task. The BOOK is well written, but the story has been difficult. It is not just a story of a rich kid, it is the story of a morbid, angry, jealous, cruel rich kid. I did not find it at all funny, just profoundly sad. She was the type of child you'd want to keep your kids away from, and every teacher's nightmare. There were so many alarmingly awful ...more
Jan 25, 2016 Candice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Found this book fascinating. Talk about a poor little rich girl raised by wolves. Essentially, she and her brothers raised themselves. I read other reviews that said she was too caustic, too sardonic, blah blah blah, but I am quite sure it was that it was her imagination and her vigilant observation of human behavior that got her through her life without turning into a drug addict or mental case. Her character profiles were chillingly hilarious, her sardonic humor sharply both removed and poigna ...more
Joann Garrido
Jun 25, 2014 Joann Garrido rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm so glad I gave this book a second chance. It's amazing how reading when you haven't spent the night on a red-eye flight, over caffeinated, and are anxiously awaiting friends in a hotel lobby, can clear your mind! Anyway, I was engaged by this tale of growing up amidst some of the wealthiest yet dysfunctional families around. The writer's humor is subtle and touching.
Apr 23, 2010 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Freakin' hilarious. Burden, a great-great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt ("the Commodore"), and a Burden, to boot, gives up all the family secrets to great comical effect. That she manages to do so without truly vilifying anyone (except, perhaps, her Austrian weapons-dealing step-father), saves this memoir from its hateful potential. I laughed out loud throughout and immediately passed it on to my husband, who did the same. I would recommend Dead End Gene Pool to anyone who typicall ...more
Apr 07, 2010 Anubis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Wendy Burton's family is interesting to say the least, but outside a few quirks limited to the eccentric and extremely wealthy the picture painted of her relationship with her mother, grandparents and brothers seems pretty mainstream. Pretty much every person in that family acted abhorrently, so it was hard to have sympathy for any of them, but there was also a lot of sadness, hopelessness and bitterness carried around for generations. It wasn't the most well-written memoir, nor did it seem to h ...more
Jul 15, 2016 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am really surprised by some of these reviews. I picked this book up per the recommendation of Kristyn at McLean and Eakin in Petoskey, Michigan, and I couldn't put it down. The author is hilarious, the story is compelling and the writing is stellar. How could anyone think otherwise? Here are some of my favorite lines from a description of Christmas morning:

The grown-ups finally emerged and gathered by the fireplace in the living room, my grandparents still in their dressing gowns. Uncle Bob, t
Meagan Houle
Feb 20, 2015 Meagan Houle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By about page ten, I was already enamored with Wendy Burden (and by extension, this book). This memoir is written in chronological order, but covers such a dizzying array of events in such a desultory manner that it's a little hard to follow at times. It's all worth it though. Wendy is delightfully quirky, and her wonderful sense of humour is evident in every word. She describes her eccentric (and often very flawed) family with honesty, free of gloss; there is affection there, too, and a lot of ...more
Dec 20, 2014 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic, 2014-reads
Wendy Burden, the great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, grew up with every luxury money could afford… except for a pony, which was given to her brother, because her rich grandfather was a sexist bastard. Wendy’s quirky and humorous memoir recounts what life was like for a little girl growing up with Scottish nannies instead of a mother, spending weekends with her bitter and hateful grandfather and drunk grandmother, and nurturing an interest in death and decay. Against a backdrop of ...more
Spencer Cox
Aug 11, 2012 Spencer Cox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-written and occasionally very funny memoir of growing up among the dysfunctional super-wealthy, this book offers a list of designer and expensive brand names to rival Bret Ellis's American Psycho, but it's oddly cold and detached. Almost no one, including the author, comes across as sympathetically human in even the most vague fashion, and so reading it is rather like peering between the bars at a zoo. This is what I'd think of as light beach reading.
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This book sucked 5 108 May 06, 2010 07:57PM  
Giveaway for Dead End Gene Pool 1 23 May 03, 2010 05:21PM  
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Wendy Burden is a confirmed New Yorker who, to her constant surprise, lives in Portland, Oregon. She is the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, which qualifies her to comment freely on the downward spiral of blue blood families. She has worked as an illustrator, a zookeeper, and a taxidermist; and as an art director for a pornographic magazine from which she was fired fo ...more
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