Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

When I was growing up, I had a serious obsession with a TV show on the A&E Network called, America's Castles. I've always had an interest in mansions and extreme wealth. It's not so much a deep need or urge of my own to have these things, but more of an interest in the people who acquire this wealth, how they did it, and how they spend it. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune has all of these interests in spades!

Huguette Clark was the daughter of W.A. and Anna Clark. W.A. was a copper baron, and he was an extremely smart and tough entrepreneur. It seems like everything he undertook made money! He amassed great wealth and lived to an old age. His daughter, Huguette, would eventually inherit the bulk of his $300+ million fortune. 

This book is full of odd ducks, political scandal, wheeling and dealing, a recluse, great generosity, and a panoramic view of America for over 100 years. Let's face it...between W.A. Clark, and Huguette (who lived to be 104) they saw A LOT of history go down. 

The book is pretty evenly split between W.A. Clark and the ways he amassed his great fortune and the ways in which Huguette used it after his death. The title alludes to their incredible real estate holdings, including the gargantuan New York City 5th Avenue mansion which no longer stands, as well as villas and getaways in Connecticut, Santa Barbara, and beyond. It's actually hard to fathom just how impressive and extensive these houses were (and are)! The kicker, some of them were never even used. 

Beyond the houses themselves, Huguette had a love of music she indulged by buying up some of the oldest, finest instruments in the world--Stradivarius ring a bell? She also loved art and was a painter herself. She, and her father, collected Degas' work, Rembrandt, Monet, just to name a few. Need $30,000 Japanese-made doll houses? She had plenty of those, too. 


Huguette's last known photo.
Amidst all this wealth, all the possibilities for travel, to see the world, to experience any and everything, Huguette Clark was a recluse. She was last photographed in 1930! She lived for many years in her New York apartment and several health problems, including skin cancer, went untreated until she was discovered and moved to a hospital. WHERE SHE LIVED FOR 20 YEARS! No kidding, y'all. She chose to willingly live in a hospital room for 20 years. 

Do you SEEEE why you have to read this book??? 

This will definitely be one of my favorite non-fiction books of the year. Besides the draw of reading about gargantuan wealth, the human story here is really very intriguing and totally frustrating. The battle over her will is STILL GOING ON! At the time I'm writing this post, there was an article about her estate in the news just three short days ago. Amazing, right? 

I could not be more tickled to have read this book. It's a quick, easy, well-written read that will absolutely blow your mind. I hope YOU decide to pick it up!

Pub. Date: September 2013
Publisher: Random House
Format: E-book
ISBN: 9780345534521
Source: Bought it!

26 comments:

  1. I loved how many "No way!" moments I had reading this book, with amounts of money, the way it was spent and just general craziness. It's definitely one I'll be recommending for a long time.

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  2. I thought this was next in my reading queue, but I was wrong. Clearly I'm going to have to move it up on the list. Thanks.

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  3. My mom was just talking about Huguette Clark the other day. I bet she would love this book!

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  4. I HAVE to read this one!!!

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  5. I am so curious about this book really need to get my hands on a copy

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  6. This book has been on my list for awhile now. Thanks for bringing it closer to the top :)

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  7. Well, I'm convinced! The title alone intrigues me -- the idea of empty mansions is super compelling. The idea that Huguette lived in a hospital room for 20 years, particularly when she was rich beyond comprehension, is just . . . wow. Adding to my wishlist!

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    1. All right -- I now have you to thank for paying for my first-ever Kindle book. I'm usually cheap and go for the free ones (or review copies), but I simply had to have this! Like, NOW.

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  8. I went to my library's website to request it and all 6 copies are checked out. Very surprised. Anyway, it sounds amazing. I, also, am always interested in great wealth. So different from "normal" life so it is fascinating. Great review!

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    1. Wow! That is surprising, but also a testament to its awesomeness. lol And I think we have a tendency to think of being wealthy as being somewhat carefree, but what I realized in reading this is that there's a whole slew of different problems and self-doubts that come along with it.

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  9. I'm reading it right now, along with Game of Thrones, and surprisingly, I've pushed GoT aside to concentrate on this! I keep meaning to go to GoT, but somehow EM comes up instead! It's just so fascinating!

    Also, I too loved American Castles. There is one less than a mile from my house that was featured!

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    1. Yay! I'm so glad you're liking it! We still haven't started the Devil Buffalo Book. LOL, oops! Which American Castle is near you? That's awesome!

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    2. Chinqua Penn. It's not very big, but it's beautiful. Or well, it was. Mrs. Penn left her estatet to North Carolina State University and they sold it a few years ago to some hack tobacco CEO or something, who, well, basically got caught doing something illegal. The Federal Government seized it, he's going to jail, and the Gov. sold off all the beautiful antiques from all over the world inside it to pay off the dude's bankruptcy stuff. Now, it just sits there slowly decaying. Can you tell it pisses me off? I got walk the trail there all the time and it just breaks my heart.

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  10. This sounds so awesome! Her story has fascinated me since news of her death broke. Andi, you are KILLING my TBR. And I love you for it!

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    1. LOL, I do my best to tempt you into adding to your stacks. I'm just evil that way. Whahahahaha!

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  11. I was offered this book for review and I am kicking myself that I didn't jump on it. Luckily my library has it, though.

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    1. Whew! It is definitely worth a read. Grab it from the 'brary for sure! :)

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  12. Now I would LOVE this book. I love this type of topic/content.

    THANKS for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved December/January Edition. I am in the list as #33. My book entry is below.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry

    BTW…Stop by for a FUN giveaway titled: Guess The Baby: Giveaway

    Giveaway ends on December 8.

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    1. Thanks for dropping in, Elizabeth!

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  13. This book sounds so fascinating! And I know I've seen stories about the estate lately; I work as a content publisher (pulling stories from the AP news feed and publishing them to cable/Internet provider home pages), and I've totally posted stories with Huguette's picture recently; I had no idea those stories were connected with this book! Too cool.

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  14. Oh mysterious true stories! Love it! Not to mention a peak from the other side of society's life. Sounds good!

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  15. I know I should comment about your review (loved it and loved the book) but what got me most was remembering that TV show! I was addicted and still watch those kinds of shows. Thanks for reminding me.

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  16. I already added this to my TBR when I saw you were reading this one on Goodreads and now it has caught my interest again. Thanks for sharing!

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  17. This sounds fabulously fascinating. Also, I saw on Edelweiss the other day this book that is NOT Empty Mansions and *claims* to be like it only better because her estate cooperated with this book and NOT Empty Mansions (oh the drama), so maybe that will be interesting too:

    http://edelweiss.abovethetreeline.com/ProductDetailPage.aspx?sequence=32&group=tag&keywords=&searchContext=&searchOrgID=&searchCatalogID=&searchMailingID=&sku=145551263X

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  18. I am so getting this with Christmas gift cards. I have almost bought it a couple times WITHOUT gift cards, but I tell myself to wait...

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  19. Wow, when I read the blurb for this I thought it sounded a bit too sensationalist for me, but if both you and Heather love it so much I'm going to have to read it!

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