Top critical review
2.0 out of 5 starsConfusing and Unsatisfying
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 11, 2021
Overall, I found this book somewhat confusing and unsatisfying.
Chapters 4, 5, & 6 were the best parts because they were informative and well written; excellent insights into the Gilded Age.
The beginning of the book needs the most editing help:
- The two page “partial” Vanderbilt genealogy at the beginning of the book would have been greatly helped with the inclusion of birth/death/marriage dates. For many, it would have been helpful to note previous (and later) marriages. One person who should have been included and wasn’t is Cornelius Vanderbilt’s second wife who, among other things, controlled who got to see Cornelius in the last year of his life.
Why the quotes from Amy Vanderbilt’s “Complete Book of Etiquette” at the start of each chapter? Making fun of Amy V? Showing how Vanderbilt’s did/didn’t follow them in each chapter?
-The transition between Cornelius Vanderbilt’s early life to his last months (pgs 28-29) is ragged.
-Why is the Sophia/Frank (CV’s second wife) apology written about twice (pgs 31 & 34)?
-I’ve read the bottom of p 48 through p 49 numerous times and I am still confused as to what is going on.
-Description of Connie and his two sisters contesting CV’s will in March 1877 (p 61) should have come before the description of the trial that happened in late 1877 (pgs 53-60).
-It would have been very helpful to the reader if the dates and number of previous CV wills that a former attorney of his brings to the trial were noted. (To say nothing of the fact that this didn’t occur until two years into the trial!)
Anderson Cooper (co-author) is a gay man who came out at the age of 45. Cornelius “Connie” Vanderbilt (1830-1882) got married at 26. His wife died 16 years later. They had no children. Connie had a very close relationship with another single male (George Terry) for most of his adult life and in his (Connie’s) will (after committing suicide) he left his newly built thirty-room home to Terry. In 1879, after accepting $1M from his brother Billy to drop the challenge to their father’s will, Connie “fled” to Europe with Terry. Why is there nothing written about the possibility of Connie being gay?
I do not understand why Chapters 9 and 11 are in this book:
-Nine is filled with such detailed sailing lingo that for anyone not familiar with sailing, it is a very tedious read. And what’s the point of the chapter? That Harold Vanderbilt cheats?
-Eleven is about Truman Capote’s rise and fall. Sure, he was a friend of Gloria Vanderbilt, but what does his story have to do with the flow of this book?
Why is Cooper’s mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, considered the “last” Vanderbilt? Cornelius Vanderbilt II who died in 1899, established a $5M trust fund for the children of his son, Reggie (Gloria’s father). I think it is safe to assume that he (CVII) may have also done this for the children of his other four children who outlived him. Gloria split the $5M trust with her older half-sister. Didn’t the other grandchildren get their trust funds? Is the fact that Gloria spent money without paying attention to it make her the last Vanderbilt? We don’t know the spending habits of the other grandchildren. Cooper also takes an unkind and unnecessary slap at the older half sister, Cathleen, at the top of p 215.
In Chapter 10, Cooper takes numerous nasty swipes at the 1982 TV miniseries (and its cast) made about his mother as a young girl. The series had a pretty stellar cast (Bette Davis, Maureen Stapleton, Martin Balsam, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Plummer), got 6 Emmy nominations, and has a very healthy 8.0/10 IMDb rating.
The most interesting character in this book is Alva, wife of William “Willie” Vanderbilt (grandson of the first Cornelius Vanderbilt). She was a racist her whole life, raised in the antebellum South, ruled her family with an iron fist (forcing her daughter into a loveless marriage and being one of the first Gilded Age women to sue for divorce), changed the rules of the Gilded Age with her infamous 1883 Vanderbilt Costume Ball, and she spent the last decades of her life fighting for the right to vote for women. Someone should write a book about her.