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!

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