Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father” as Want to Read:
The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  506 ratings  ·  86 reviews
"[A] poignant addition to the literature of moneyed glamour and its inevitable tarnish and something out of Fitzgerald or Waugh."--The New Yorker

A parable for the new age of inequality: part family history, part detective story, part history of a vanishing class, and a vividly compelling exploration of the degree to which an inheritance--financial, cultural, genetic--conspirWaugh."--The
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 16th 2019 by Riverhead Books
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Beneficiary, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Beneficiary

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.57  · 
Rating details
 ·  506 ratings  ·  86 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father
Valerity (Val)
I enjoyed the style in which this was written, kind of felt to me like a well written historical novel, but it’s non-fiction instead. It starts out with a family tree, showing the major players, the patriarch the Colonel who started the grand estate named Ardrossan with 800 acres back in the day, down to the present-day narrator who is an offspring. It tells about major people down through the years but is about the author’s father. It shares how he’d gotten rich almost overnight during the Pani ...more
Amy Smith
May 06, 2019 rated it liked it
New York Times reporter Janny Scott grew up not understanding that the 800-acre family pile on the Philadelphia Main Line was extraordinary. Her grandmother –– the inspiration for Katherine Hepburn's character in the Philadelphia Story –– and grandfather both were the scion of robber baron fortunes.

The memoir is thoughtful and well-written, enjoyable, in its way, as the view out the window out of the Main Line itself. Such excess! Such wealth! So many personalities! I might have liked a tighter
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook, 2019, memoir, wasps
I will read any book about the Kennedys and, similarly, any book about a well-known, Gilded Age-type family. Scott's memoir is beautifully written and because she's a journalist first and foremost, it has a certain feel to it not found in similar works (but it's subtle, not constantly announcing itself as "this is a piece of journalism!"). It can be a little confusing at times with the various generations and names, but the author tells you herself not to focus too much on memorizing them, and t ...more
Actual rating 2.5 stars

Enjoyed this for the Main Line history, but felt the story could have been condensed considerably
Book Club Mom
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Here’s an interesting biography of Robert Montgomery Scott, written by his daughter Janny Scott. It’s actually a family history, spanning four generations of a wealthy family that settled on what’s called the Main Line outside of Philadelphia. In the early 1900s, Janny Scott’s great grandfather acquired over 800 acres of rolling land in Radnor, Pennsylvania, named it Ardrossan, and built a stone mansion, plus many other luxurious homes, farm buildings and cottages to house his family and the peo ...more
Jul 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
Oy. What a numbing catalog of wealth and power. Reading this was like being caught in a relentless avalanche of famous names. I suppose Janny Scott, in writing this monument to her family's history,
hoped to extend its glamor for one more generation, but really, who but she cares about these long-dead debs and their boozy beaux? She compares her grandmother to Eloise of the Plaza - sorry, Janny, your granny hadn't an ounce of Kay Thompson's style, creativity and wit - she just had a lot of
Jun 08, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book but really, really didn’t. Too many people from too many generations and the author hops from one to another before skipping back two generations or forward three. I needed a family tree. But everything is listed... the wardrobe, the food at a meal, the books in the library. I just didn’t care and still don’t. Wouldn’t recommend.
Mike Coleman
May 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Were your parents happy when you were growing up? If you find when you're an adult that there is evidence, lots of it, to support a decidedly non-affirmative answer to the question, how do you accept it and move on? That's Janny Scott's quest in this gutsy, remarkable memoir.

Scott sets out to understand why her father drank himself to death. It sounds grim, but her father, Robert Montgomery Scott, was a son of the woman who was the model for Tracy Lord, the Main Line socialite heroin
Grace Hoffmann
Jun 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Second half about her dad better than the first half about the ancestors, although I get that she feels it's all connected. She tries to seem very matter of fact about the vast wealth amassed by her ancestors, but that part feels a little forced to me. She writes vividly about her dad and his struggle though -- no self pity on his end which is a admirable trait of that class and generation.
Pam Cipkowski
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a storied family buoyed by generations of wealth. It is also an account about alcoholism and how it can affect even those who seem to have it all. The history of the family estate, Ardrossan, is an equally riveting piece of the story in this family saga of one of the last aristocratic dynasties in the United States. By virtue of it being a story told over several generations, it drags a bit in parts, but it is a spectacular picture of the human side ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This author pulls the curtain back on her Main Line family’s history with candor and grace. Having spent my life in the area, the book held my interest and reminded me that all families are simultaneously infinitely unique and similar. I kept thinking of the maxim, “If we all aired our dirty laundry, we would each choose our own.”
Jun 26, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Don’t bother!
Elaine Davenport
Oct 11, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Boring- could not finish
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
It makes sense that the author is an NYT writer; this felt a little like investigative reporting. I was sold on the Tracy Lord angle, but what sucked me in was the exploration of family history, legacy, fortune, and misfortune. It's fascinating how incredible wealth can tie people into toxic relationship patterns and family dynamics and keep them captive against their real needs. Also, how hard it is for children to really know their parents, especially when muffled by so much wealth and baggage ...more
Jun 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This one is tricky for me to review. It is a biography of a man written by his daughter.
It is an interesting insight into one of the wealthy families of Philadelphia, which was once the center of high society. However I feel the author may have been too emotionally involved with her subjects to write a beautiful interpretation.
The chapters were a little...mmm...disjointed (?) for me. There were a few passages which seemed to have been fully copied from one chapter to another...which
Jessica DiCerbo
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Thirst for beautiful writing muddied the arc of the story. I was tossed between characters jarringly and wish the transitions had been clearer. One moment is plot/character build; the next is commentary. Unfortunate, because Scott is no doubt masterful at the language, but storytelling not so much.
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Kind of an obvious (non fiction) story of the perils of having things too easy in life.
May 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
Mary Robinson
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 3m-ebook
I was attracted to this title after hearing the author interviewed, and also hearing a review by my freshman English prof Maureen Corrigan. As it is set on an estate on the Main Line, near Haverford (my alma mater) and Villanova, the area is quite familiar to me. The reviews hailing it as a story of Pennsylvania's last remaining Downton Abbey-esque estate truly made me seek it. The history of the family and their old world style estate and family life, as well as a daughters take on how that lif ...more
May 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
The author has a tendancy to repeat herself, but the overall story is interesting. What happens to succeeding generations when they inherit everything necessary: money, property, shelter, education, career? It's a sobering read, even as the surface story may incite a sort of envy towards those who seem to have it all; not everything is as it appears.
Daniel Schulof
Jul 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Great sentence-craft and genuinely impressive research. But the “who cares?” factor is off the charts. Maybe someone out there is more interested than I am in the minor trials and tribulations of America’s blue bloods, but I couldn’t find nearly enough motivation to keep the dozens of characters straight. I found it profoundly disinteresting.
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: genealogy, memoir, women
I bought this book for my husband for Father's Day. He used to live not far from Ardrossan and his plumbed the Scott and Montgomery families and histories for ideas for his own books. I didn't know anything about it and simply thought it might amuse him. It did. I read it and found it fully of surprisingly familiar material.

As a museum person, I knew pretty well who Robert Montgomery Scott was, as he had been the president/CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I remembered his death too, at le
Richard Jespers
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Journalist Janny Scott limns a harrowing portrait of her father, Robert Montgomery Scott, yet his story does not begin that way. Between the dedication and epigraph pages of the book appears a family tree extending back three generations. From a vast variety of sources, Scott brings to light the larger-than-life characters who are her ancestors, one set of grandparents and two sets of great-grandparents. Most persons would not necessarily know that much about their people, but for generations th ...more
Jul 07, 2019 rated it liked it
I was lucky enough to hear the author speak at Ardrossan, the estate around which the story is centered, and now that I've read the book, I wish I could go back and see it with my completely different eyes. I guess that means Janny Scott was effective at conveying her ambivalence towards the place and how it dominated her family's life. Will people beyond the Main Line or Philadelphia read this book? It definitely helps if you have a sense of the social and physical landscape (Nantucket, too). B ...more
Oct 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Janny Scott writes beautiful descriptive prose and fans of Downton Abbey will likely revel in her evocative descriptions of her forebears lavish lifestyle on Philadelphia's Main Line. However, the presumed subject of the book, her frustrated and self-destructive father, doesn't appear until well past the halfway mark.

When he does take center stage, Robert Scott's evaluation of himself as a superfluous man seems sadly rather apt. We learn that he was a jovial host and many people found him charming a
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I heard an interview on NPR about this book and it peaked my interest. I’m from this part of Pennsylvania and I have an interest in the Gilded Age.
This book was a unique look at several generations of the authors family- from a robber baron ancestor all the way until current times. It focused on the authors father and his story. What an incredible story it was. It’s difficult to imagine the lifestyle he grew up in and it was a unique look into it.
You feel for her father, as the saying goe
Susan Yoo
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I couldn't wait to read this book (got it on hold from the library) and devoured it when it became available. I saw The Philadelphia Story as a teenager. How curious I was about the world then! I was amazed to see how the main characters lived and conducted themselves. It was fascinating to learn about the evolution of the family. I am grateful to Janny Scott for sharing the story of her family. In some ways, the true story is more fascinating than the fiction, and in others, the fiction is more ...more
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! I grew up just a few miles away from Ardrosson (although I didn't know anything about the place or its owners then -- my own family was middle-middle class), and originally I'd been planning to just skim through the book looking for references to places and people I had known growing up. But I very shortly got hooked and savored the whole book in detail -- and often referring back to the family tree to keep the characters straight. I found the book both (1) incredibly poignant ...more
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The rich are not like you and me to be sure. This book is certainly evidence of that. No matter how seedy and moody their homes are and no matter how toxic their family histories are, most of us can’t fathom what it is like to have rugs and wallpaper custom made, to be entered into schools upon our birth, and to have counties associated with our family name. Scott is insightful enough, hers is a thoughtful look back. I kept feeling for her—her decision to not drink in an attempt to chase off Bac ...more
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
Janny Scott is the author of "The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father" (April 16, 2019) and "A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother." She was a reporter for The New York Times from 1994 to 2008 and was a member of the Times reporting team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for the series "How Race is Lived in America." She was prev ...more