New York Times bestselling author and journalist Anderson Cooper teams with New York Times bestselling historian and novelist Katherine Howe to chronicle the rise and fall of a legendary American dynasty—his mother’s family, the Vanderbilts.
One of the Washington Post's Notable Works of Nonfiction of 2021
When eleven-year-old Cornelius Vanderbilt began to work on his father’s small boat ferrying supplies in New York Harbor at the beginning of the nineteenth century, no one could have imagined that one day he would, through ruthlessness, cunning, and a pathological desire for money, build two empires—one in shipping and another in railroads—that would make him the richest man in America. His staggering fortune was fought over by his heirs after his death in 1877, sowing familial discord that would never fully heal. Though his son Billy doubled the money left by “the Commodore,” subsequent generations competed to find new and ever more extraordinary ways of spending it. By 2018, when the last Vanderbilt was forced out of The Breakers—the seventy-room summer estate in Newport, Rhode Island, that Cornelius’s grandson and namesake had built—the family would have been unrecognizable to the tycoon who started it all.
Now, the Commodore’s great-great-great-grandson Anderson Cooper, joins with historian Katherine Howe to explore the story of his legendary family and their outsized influence. Cooper and Howe breathe life into the ancestors who built the family’s empire, basked in the Commodore’s wealth, hosted lavish galas, and became synonymous with unfettered American capitalism and high society. Moving from the hardscrabble wharves of old Manhattan to the lavish drawing rooms of Gilded Age Fifth Avenue, from the ornate summer palaces of Newport to the courts of Europe, and all the way to modern-day New York, Cooper and Howe wryly recount the triumphs and tragedies of an American dynasty unlike any other.
Written with a unique insider’s viewpoint, this is a rollicking, quintessentially American history as remarkable as the family it so vividly captures.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The Vanderbilt family name is synonymous with both wealth and scandal, but this fascinating book delves behind the flashy exterior to expose the clan’s real story—and how their fortune was frittered away. Journalist and news anchor Anderson Cooper joins forces with historian and novelist Katherine Howe to deep dive into this fascinating American dynasty, of which Cooper’s mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, just happens to be a direct descendant. The book pulls you in with lavish depictions of affluence, not to mention weird rich-people quirks and the ongoing rivalry with fellow millionaires the Astors. We particularly loved the final part of the book: a beautifully written ghost tour of the huge, lost Vanderbilt houses that once sprawled across Manhattan. Way more than just a history book, Vanderbilt has the emotional intimacy of a memoir and an insider’s view of why, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, the very rich are different from you and me.
CNN anchor Cooper (The Rainbow Comes and Goes) and novelist Howe (The Daughters of Temperance Hobbes) tell the story of "the greatest American fortune ever squandered" in this juicy portrait of Cooper's forebears, the Vanderbilts. Tracing the family's American origins to a Dutch indentured servant who arrived in New Amsterdam (present-day New York City) in 1650, the authors showcase the Vanderbilts as a study in "our country's mythos," the belief that anyone can become wealthy if "they have enough gumption, have enough grit, or ruthlessness." In the 19th century, 18-year-old Cornelius Vanderbilt made money ferrying supplies to the British military during the war of 1812, and went on to build railroads, leaving behind a $100 million inheritance to his son William, who was the only Vanderbilt to ever add to the family fortune. William's daughter-in-law, Alva, transformed from a society doyenne to a key leader of the women's suffrage movement, while her son, Harold, became a champion yachtsman. In the book's most moving section, Cooper recounts his mother Gloria's traumatic childhood, which involved a "sort-of-kidnapping" and a drawn-out custody battle, and her out-of-control spending and dysfunctional relationships as an adult. Marked by meticulous research and deep emotional insight, this is a memorable chronicle of American royalty.
Would have liked more on....
the Vanderbilts who made the empire rather than so much on the ones who blew it...but good!
Was hoping to read how the Vanderbilt’s accrued and acquired wealth, instead I was languished in a story about parties, social gathering and gossip. Unless you have a personal interest in the Vanderbilt family, I would skip.
A fascinating read, delivered with perspective, empathy, and humor.