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

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,450 Ratings  ·  156 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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Community Reviews

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Louise
Mar 09, 2013 Louise 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
Meredith
Aug 21, 2009 Meredith 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
Robin
Sep 01, 2012 Robin 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.
Peggy Graves
Sep 19, 2013 Peggy Graves 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
Fred
Jan 14, 2016 Fred 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
Pamela
Sep 12, 2015 Pamela 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
Jessica
Apr 22, 2016 Jessica 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
Kelley
Sep 04, 2015 Kelley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating.... I felt like a rubber-necker on the freeway

It was a lesson on the misery of gain for its own sake, excess, and idleness. I'm glad I read it.
Peg Lotvin
Feb 12, 2013 Peg Lotvin 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
Ubah Khasimuddin
Sep 25, 2015 Ubah Khasimuddin rated it really liked it
I just finished this book - it was actually quite good. I wanted to read about the gilded age and this gives it in detail but is such a pager turner; like reading a soap opera, sometimes I would end up late in the night trying to finish a chapter. I knew so very little about Vanderbilt and next to nothing about his offspring and the family, but to read about them; its like watching one of those Real Housewives series. Everyone wants to spend excessively, yet I have no idea where the money comes ...more
The Visual
Jan 11, 2015 The Visual rated it really liked it
Anderson Cooper is not the first member of his family to be involved with Journalism. It was his mother's first cousin, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV who first became a member of the fourth estate in the early 1900s. Gloria Vanderbilt is the mother of Anderson Cooper. Gloria is the daughter of Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt who in turn was a great-grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in the United States during the 19th Century. The Vanderbilt wealth was in its pinnacle du ...more
Abby Goldsmith
Apr 17, 2016 Abby Goldsmith rated it really liked it
If you expect this book to be about the loss of a family's wealth, then you should readjust your expectations before reading. This is mostly about several generations of (very intense and fascinating) family drama. There are a lot of descriptions about Gilded Age balls and Newport mansions. Only the last 30% really details their loss of wealth, and although that was partly due to family dysfunction, it sounds like changes in law and social standards also played a major part. I suspect that a lot ...more
Lina
Feb 27, 2014 Lina rated it it was amazing
A visit to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. had me wanting to learn more about the wealthy Vanderbilt family. Fortune’s Children was just the book to appease my curiosity. It's amazingly detailed, which makes for some dry parts, but I found that I couldn't put it down! It’s very interesting to read about the members of this family and the different attitudes they held about their wealth and social prominence. One thing they all seemed to share, however, was a seemingly unfulfilled and disconten ...more
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.
Mark Slee
Dec 02, 2010 Mark Slee 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.
ellen
Aug 19, 2015 ellen rated it really liked it
An engaging, compelling, and surprisingly heartbreaking chronicle of the rise and fall of one of the classic American families.

The author, himself a Vanderbilt cousin, addresses the family's rise and fall through a generally sympathetic lens, although he does not shy away from pointing out many of the more unsavory characteristics members of the family had. He does seem to place a lot of the blame for the Vanderbilts' overly lavish lifestyles on the men's wives (particularly Alice and Alva), pa
...more
Connie
May 27, 2015 Connie rated it it was ok
Interesting I guess. Typical wealth overdone.
Pieter - A Reader of History
Oct 12, 2015 Pieter - A Reader of History rated it really liked it
I selected Fortune's Children to read prior to a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, on which I would be visiting the Biltmore estate, a National Historic site. The book is about, briefly in the first chapter, Cornelius Vanderbilt (he was not a nice man) and how he acquired his fortune. Upon his death, this wealth began a long spiral of dissipation among an ever widening family of descendants until there was nothing left. It is a story about the Gilded Age society on the East Coast, opulent homes ...more
Megankellie
Apr 09, 2014 Megankellie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: American history nerdlingers
I took a trip to the Biltmore, the largest private home in the US, built by the Vanderbilts. This only happened because it was raining when friends and I were visiting Asheville. I knew nothing about the Vanderbilts, except for what generally happens with an old family that caused a lot of nice stuff in the world, which is a general good feeling like "oh yeah...Vanderbilt. I like...rich people with paintings? It was nice they bought that art? And...uh... nice house? They must have been...pretty. ...more
christina
Oct 16, 2011 christina 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...
Dorothy
Apr 12, 2014 Dorothy rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Not a great piece of literature and strangely historically bereft this was nonetheless an interesting overview of the Vanderbilts. This is a tightly focused view into the Vanderbilts and the exclusive social circle which they finally penetrated and dominated as it became increasingly crushed by the weight of its own ostentation and outmoded, silly snobbery. The role of "History" in the demise of this world--the rise of factory class and the middle class, mass immigration, WWI, the Depression and ...more
Lauren
Jul 11, 2013 Lauren 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!
Bobbi
Feb 29, 2012 Bobbi 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.
Mary Bloodworth
Aug 04, 2014 Mary Bloodworth rated it liked it
What a bunch of loathsome people. Generations of them. I gave the book three stars because it's not the author's fault that the family and spouses were a bunch of creeps. I did not give it more stars because he could have focused on the few somewhat decent characters there were. Did I ever buy anything by Gloria Vanderbilt in the 70s? God I hope not.
David Williams
Sep 18, 2015 David Williams rated it really liked it
I didn't expect to give a shit about the Vanderbilt family, but this was kind of a riveting tale of ambition and hubris. The basic lessons are that the best way to accumulate money is to be single-mindedly obsessed with the collection of wealth for its own sake, and the best way to lose money quickly is to give it to people that have never had to work for a day in their entire lives.
The chapter about the two Gloria Vanderbilts, mother and daughter, towards the end is absolutely heartbreaking. It
...more
Holly
Feb 12, 2014 Holly rated it really liked it
This was a very informative book and it was an enjoyable read as well. I do love history and the Vanderbilt family history is fascinating. I know that I am supposed to loathe and deplore these people for being wealthy one percenters......but I can't. People are just people and I tend to judge them by their actions rather than their economic class. I felt sympathy for some of them, especially Consuelo and Neil, the son of Cornelius and Grace Vanderbilt.

As a house geek, this book was very satisfyi
...more
Milo Geyelin
Feb 10, 2015 Milo Geyelin rated it it was ok
This tale of unimaginable profligacy by what was once America's richest family quickly becomes tiresome. By the end it's depressing. Lots of numbingly detailed attention to the building, furnishing and upkeep of outrageous Guilded Age mansions, lavish balls, decadent parties, failed marriages and the rivalries and intrigue over which families would ascend to the throne at the top of New York society. The first part of the book about how the family fortune was made only skims the details. There's ...more
Barbara Haller
Mar 24, 2015 Barbara Haller rated it really liked it
Really 3 1/2 stars. A fascinating study of the Vanderbilts. Starts with the Commodore who was so driven by the need to make money and to pinch every penny. He was a bitter old man and a dirty one apparently. He even locked both his wife and his child in an insane asylum when they disagreed with his decisions. But maybe he was more correct then the Vanderbilts who followed. The fights for "society" leadership which basically got down to who could waste more money, build a more ostentatious house. ...more
Erica Lawless
Oct 01, 2012 Erica Lawless rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book! Could not put it down! What a perfect example of money not bringing happiness. So sad how this family spent so much money on themselves and at the same time being so out of touch with reality.
Annmbray
Apr 26, 2012 Annmbray rated it it was amazing
A story of unbelievable wealth and privilege in the days before the federal income tax, when families were able to keep and pass on all of their wealth to suceeding generations, whehther they deserved it or not.
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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.
More about Arthur T. Vanderbilt II...

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“For the Vanderbilts lived in a day when flaunting one’s money was not only accepted but celebrated. What may have started as playacting, as dressing up as dukes and princesses for fancy dress balls in fairytale palaces, soon developed into a firm conviction that they were indeed the new American nobility.” 1 likes
“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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