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Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  2,132 ratings  ·  426 reviews
In the tradition of Sean Wilsey's Oh The Glory of It All and Augusten Burrough's Running With Scissors, the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt gives readers a grand tour of the world of wealth and WASPish peculiarity, in her irreverent and darkly humorous memoir.

For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to th
Hardcover, 279 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by Gotham (first published 2010)
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Average rating 3.28  · 
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 ·  2,132 ratings  ·  426 reviews

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Lisa Dunckley
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was charming and really funny! I don't normally read memoirs, but this one came so highly recommended that I gave it a try—and I'm glad I did!

For most of us, the lifestyles of the obscenely rich are a complete mystery. Building multiple homes with 20+ rooms each, flying everywhere on the Concorde, having staff to do everything for you including but not limited to wiping your rear end!

Wendy Burden's family is a branch of the Vanderbilts—she is the great-great-great-great granddaughter o
Apr 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
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 "
Mar 15, 2010 rated it did not like it
I got an early copy from a friend. Paris Hilton is a better writer. A waste of time.
Apr 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 22, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Apr 12, 2010 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Lydia Presley
May 26, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010, memoirs, non-fiction
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
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
Mar 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 31, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Sherry Conrad
Apr 10, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jul 27, 2010 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 23, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Dec 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-january2010
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. ...more
Cheryl S.
May 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011, memoir, m-book-club
A little "glasscastle-esque" but with lots more alcohol and money. ...more
Apr 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 28, 2010 rated it liked it
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 10, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Scott Fuchs
Apr 30, 2011 rated it liked it
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 rated it liked it
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
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 04, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Mar 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I definately love reading about dysfunctional families and their crazy lifestyles. Burden, great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the first tycoon in America, manages to create a memoir that is incredibly humorous and utterly addicting. With the dark, uncomfortable upbringing she recounts, it is lucky she has such a sense of humor, which is evident in her dedication: For my mother, goddamn it.I highly recommend!
Lori Trautwein
Mar 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010, first-reader
The first line of this book - "It's a testament to his libido, if not his character, that Cornelius Vanderbilt died of syphilis instead of apoplexy." - sets the pace for this enormously funny read. Well written, fast paced, gossipy without being mean, Dead End Gene Pool offers insight into the lives of those that have vs those that have not. I'm looking forward to future books - whether they be fiction or non-fiction - from Wendy Burden. ...more
Apr 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: All my Cousins
Recommended to Bronwen by: On line
Not until the last two chapters did I understand. Read the book backwards.

You should have seen me yesterday on Mothers Day as I handed Wendy Burden's book across to my Mum and in the air, tried to describe how `ancient', `older than' etc, Mum's Family was in comparison to Wendy's funny, edible cheesy epic based novelette was, as compared to as a mere blip on her own Eadie and Burden landscape.
May 31, 2010 rated it liked it
This is one of those funny/horrifying family memoirs, unusual in that the family is the astoundingly wealthy (and wacky) Vanderbilt/Burden clan. I liked that the author doesn't show one tiny bit of self-pity, even though every single member of her family is/was either an alcoholic or a drug addict and her mother was kind of a monster. I found myself rooting for Wendy as she just chugged along with her life and came out (fairly) unscathed. Good girl! ...more
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This book sucked 3 109 May 06, 2010 07:57PM  

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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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