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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  3,216 ratings  ·  312 reviews
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 ...more
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Published February 20th 1991 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1989)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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Dem
Dec 15, 2016 rated it liked it
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
...more
W
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
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
...more
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 ...more
BAM The Bibliomaniac
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
...more
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
...more
Louise
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
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 ...more
Peggy Graves
Sep 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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 ...more
Meredith
Aug 21, 2009 rated it liked it
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
...more
Shawn Thrasher
Jun 15, 2016 rated it liked it
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
...more
Robin
Sep 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Linda
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Janice
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jool
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jessica
Feb 17, 2016 rated it liked it
"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
...more
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 ...more
Onceinabluemoon
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Raja Ramesh
Apr 08, 2020 rated it liked it
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
...more
Bobbi
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
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
...more
Fred
Jan 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
--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
...more
Kay
Aug 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Pamela
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Peg Lotvin
Feb 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating study of the Fall of the Vanderbilts. Too many children were their biggest problem. The fortune was diluted with each passing generation. The other problem was too many Vanderbilt men marrying women who loved to spend the fortune. Didn't they know where it came from? The Depression and income taxes did their part to finally finish off the fortune.
Many interesting tales of prominent persons and their interaction with the Vanderbilts. Winston Churchill, somewhat in his cups, was hit b
...more
Courtney
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Written in a very entertaining way that makes the driest of facts interesting. I was captivated from beginning to end. A very fascinating look into how the richest family in the world squandered away a fortune in just four generations. This book also gives a detailed account of the social ways of the Gilded Age, which were excessive to say the least. By the end you will have a deep understanding of many members of the Vanderbilt family, but you also learn of how they were viewed by society, and ...more
christina
May 07, 2009 rated it liked it
As my dear friend Taylor would say, "This is some crazy shit." Regardless, it's also one of the Vanderbilt "history books" that the National Park Service uses to educate their guides in Hyde Park, NY. Edmund Morris has nothing on this author, Arthur T. Vanderbilt II (and a lawyer by training), who recounts pages + pages of dialogue "verbatim," recounting conversations 100 years old. It makes for for some very lively reading...
Mark Slee
Nov 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I have read this book of and on for 3 weeks, and each time I picked it up it was absolutely absorbing and so interesting to read of the Vaderbilt family. The story of what had been the richest family in the world, through the business acumen of the founder Cornelius (The Commodore) Vamderbilt, to the ultimate squandering of this fortune by subsequent generations in the late 19th, and early 20th, century New York leaders of an elite society of 'nouveau riches'. A fascinating read.
Suzanne Stroh
Enjoyed this informed, well-written account of wealth decline during the Gilded Age in America's richest family. Focusing on the first four generations of Vanderbilts, it has all the detail and critical acumen of Wendy Burden's more recent account, and none of the venom. There are many very funny moments to balance the unhappiness which appears to be a heritable trait.

Dozens of books have been written about this family, many by family members themselves. This is one of the best I've read.
Lauren
Jul 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am so glad I read this book. I never really knew how the Vanderbilts had come into their money or how fast and how ostentatiously that squandered their family fortune. This book is a work of nonfiction yet reads like a soap opera. I have seen the Newport Mansions and the Biltmore and the former Florham mansion (now FDU) I would love to go back to see it all now after reading the pages of history!
MK
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
If ever a book was epitomized by the phrase "Mo' money, mo' problems," it's this one. It's a fascinating look at not just the 5 generations of Vanderbilts and how they made (and then spent) all their money, but also a portrait of The Gilded Age, of New York, Newport, and Paris, during a time when the wealthy thought nothing of dropping $75K on a diamond-studded dog collar while others were suffering.
Bobbi
Jul 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I read this because I live near Asheville and wanted to know a bit more about the Vanderbilts. Unfortunately the book was disappointing. It was very dry and, although I did learn why their fortune was squandered, it was simply because they spent it all! Not much surprising there! So give it a try if you really must know all about how they fell from grace, but otherwise skip this one.
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Attorney, author, avid gardener, Arthur T. Vanderbilt II served as deputy attorney general of New Jersey and is now a partner in a New Jersey law firm.

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“GENTLEMEN You have undertaken to cheat me. I won’t sue you, for the law is too slow. I’ll ruin you. C. Vanderbilt” 0 likes
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