Vanderbilt: The Rise And Fall Of An American Dynasty
By: Anderson Cooper
History / Biography / Memoir
Opening Line: “Gladys had to be out of The Breakers by four o’clock. That was the deadline they’d given her.”
Overall: This book about the Vanderbilt family is written by Anderson Cooper, a famous journalist, and the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. He starts this book out in 2018 as the last Vanderbilt was being kicked out of the family palace, The Breakers. The Breakers is the most opulent of Newport’s Gilded Age mansions, and is now a tourist attraction in Rhode Island. No more Vanderbilts can apparently afford to live there, in the family mansion that the Vanderbilts had built in 1895. Then the book goes way back to 1794, when Cornelius Vanderbilt, The Commodore, which he would later be called, was born on Staten Island. It talks about how he was an enterprising young man, who preferred work over school, and how he started earning money working right away. It goes on to talk about his obsession with making money through all his business enterprises and how much money exactly he made for the family. Then the books jumps further back to 1660 when the very first “Vanderbilt” named, Jan Aertsen, a farmer from the village of “Bilt” in Holland came over to New York. He was poor and came over as an indentured servant. His name got recorded as, Jan Aertsen van der Bilt, meaning, ”from the Bilt”. The book jumps around in time, with each chapter talking about a different time period and a different topic or person(s) in the family tree. The first half of the book is described at Part One: The Rise, and the second half is called Part Two: The Fall. The book details how the family money was made and by whom. Then it also describes the many frivolous ways all the millions were spent and by whom. It also discusses his mother Gloria Vanderbilt and her tumultuous life. It details the legal custody case fought over her and her fortune when she was a child. Then it talks briefly about her glamorous society life. The book ends after Anderson’s mother dies and he claims that he has always felt very detached from the Vanderbilts, and considers himself a Cooper after his father. Lastly, it mentions Anderson’s new baby son and who he is named after.
Ovations: I love history, and found this book fascinating. I learned a lot from this book that I did not know. It is full of interesting information about the life of the Vanderbilt family. I loved the section of family photos that is included in the center, though I wish there had been more of them. I also liked the family tree included at the front of the book. I referred to it constantly as I was reading the book. It talks about other prominent New York society families as well. I enjoyed the section where Anderson talks about exact locations and streets in New York and what used to be there, and what is there now. That was very unusual to do, and gave an interesting take on the many losses of the family legacy.
Oh Well: This book jumps all around in time and is not written linearly. It is not too hard to follow, but just to let you know, it is not a straight-forward time table. Also, it is sort of like a history book. It is very dry and written like a biographer doing research on the family. I thought there would be more family inside information and interesting things that Anderson knew about his famous families past. But, it was just lots of information that anyone researching the Vanderbilt family could find out. Also, for some reason, he really focuses on some things that should be just short sections and instead builds detailed chapters on them. For example, there are so many pages devoted to Truman Capote and his
life. He is not even a Vanderbilt! Yet, other things that really need their own chapters, like his mother’s 4 marriages, he barely gives a mention. That was frustrating! I thought because this book was written by Anderson Cooper, a journalist and a Vanderbilt himself, it would be a great book. However, there are many books written about The Vanderbilt family that are probably much better than this one is.
Opinion: This was an informative book about the illustrious Vanderbilt family. However, the book’s title, The Rise and Fall of an American Empire, makes you think the books is going to be different than it is. It seems like it will be a complete history of the Vanderbilt family from its beginnings to its current day….telling us all about the inside story of how it made then lost its vast fortunes. That is only sort of true. This book is really just different topics about the Vanderbilt family that Anderson wanted to write about. They are thrown together in a disjointed way. It does talk about how the family made and lost money, but in a very dry, detached way, like you would read in a history book. It was not an exciting book or a great book you could not put down. Despite its issues, I am glad I read it, as I learned a lot of new information about the history of the Vanderbilts and of New York itself that I did not know before. Rating 6 out of 10
I bought myself a hardcover, signed, first edition of this book! It was signed by Anderson Cooper! Here are photos of my book. It is not available anymore as far as I know.