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Vanderbilt
Cover of Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt
The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty
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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.

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.

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About the Author-
  • Anderson Cooper joined CNN in 2001 and has anchored his own program, Anderson Cooper 360°, since March 2003. Cooper has won 18 Emmys and numerous other major journalism awards. He lives in New York with his son, Wyatt.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2021
    The TV anchor and scion of the dynasty examines his family's checkered past. There's an old saying to the effect that the first generation makes the money, the second expands the fortune, and the third squanders it. So it was with the Vanderbilts, with Cooper's mother, Gloria, one of the descendants for whom the fabulous fortune of 19th-century patriarch Cornelius was mostly a distant memory. In a country devoted to anti-royalist principles, he became the nearest thing there was to nobility only a few years after the Revolution. However, notes Cooper, writing with historical novelist Howe, "their empire would last for less than a hundred years before collapsing under its own weight, destroying itself with its own pathology." Some of that pathology was the usual sort: overspending on lavish material possessions; showering money on bad investments and mistresses; and building mighty monuments to self, such as a splendid mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, "nearly three times as big as the White House," that turned out to be a money sink. Cornelius Vanderbilt II had spent the modern equivalent of $200 million to build it in 1895, and less than a century later his descendants would be forced to sell it for a little more than 1% of that figure. Cooper turns up some family secrets, especially their connections to the Confederacy (which explains why there's a Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee), and he explodes the long-held notion that Cornelius Vanderbilt was a wholly self-made man (he borrowed money from his mother to buy his first boat). Suicides, affairs, bad business deals, fierce rivalries, and occasionally an outburst of good sense (as when Billy Vanderbilt doubled his inheritance in just eight years, amassing $230 million) mark these pages along with moments of tragedy, such as the loss of one ancestor in the sinking of the Lusitania. A sturdy family history that also serves as a pointed lesson in how to lose a fortune.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2021
    "This is the story of the greatest American fortune ever squandered," a dramatic tale expertly told of rapacious ambition, decadent excess, and covert and overt tyranny and trauma. Distinguished CNN anchor Cooper identified with the down-to-earth Mississippian heritage of his father, Wyatt Cooper, only exploring his Vanderbilt side as he and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, collaborated on The Rainbow Comes and Goes (2016). Here he and historian and novelist Howe (The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, 2019) vividly portray key figures, beginning with the first Dutch descendant on Staten Island and the gritty ascent of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who amassed the dynasty's gargantuan wealth, institutionalized his wife when he was weary of her, and drove his namesake son to suicide. With resplendent detail, the authors capture the gasp-eliciting extravagance of the Vanderbilt Gilded Age mansions and lifestyles, which rarely made them happy. As most people struggled to survive, New York's elite Four Hundred goaded "brilliant, witty, cunning, and utterly ruthless" socialite and future suffragist Alva Vanderbilt, who married, then daringly divorced Cornelius' grandson and heir, to maniacal heights of social competitiveness. The authors track the pitfalls of twentieth-century celebrity as the Vanderbilts coped with a dwindling fortune, until resilient Gloria became the last to truly experience "a Vanderbilt life." With its intrinsic empathy and in-depth profiles of women, this is a distinctly intimate, insightful, and engrossing chronicle of an archetypal, self-consuming American dynasty.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Cooper's magnetism, Howe's fan base, and an irresistible subject add up to a nonfiction blockbuster.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 13, 2021
    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.

  • Washington Post

    "Splendid. . . . haunting and beautifully written. . . . This is a terrific book." — Washington Post

    "An incredible story." — People

    "A dramatic tale expertly told of rapacious ambition, decadent excess, and covert and overt tyranny and trauma. . . . With resplendent detail, the authors capture the gasp-eliciting extravagance of the Vanderbilt Gilded Age mansions. . . . With its intrinsic empathy and in-depth profiles of women, this is a distinctly intimate, insightful, and engrossing chronicle of an archetypal, self-consuming American dynasty. . . . Irresistible." — Booklist (starred review)

    "Marked by meticulous research and deep emotional insight, this is a memorable chronicle of American royalty." — Publishers Weekly

    "A remarkably frank and tender undertaking."
    The New York Times on The Rainbow Comes and Goes

    "Meaningful, revealing." — The Wall Street Journal on The Rainbow Comes and Goes

    "Fascinating, forthright, philosophical, and inspiring, these mother-and-son musings on family, life, death, forgiveness, fame, and perseverance are at once uniquely personal and deeply human." — Booklist (starred review) on The Rainbow Comes and Goes

    "Cooper is a storyteller with plenty of heart. . . . A smart, soulful page-turner. . . . Strong stuff, and in Cooper's hands, well told." — People on Dispatches from the Edge

    "His vignettes from the world's horrorscapes rise above the swagger of many journalistic memoirs because Cooper writes with competence as well as feeling. . . . Intriguing." — Washington Post Book World on Dispatches from the Edge

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