What I’m Reading: Vanderbilt

I had myself on the waitlist for the book Vanderbilt:  The Rise and Fall if an American Dynasty by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe.  I have long been interested in the Vanderbilts.  After all, I was a girl who longed to have a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.  They were all the rage when I was in high school.  Sadly, the jeans never quite fit me right.  I did end up getting a pair but I didn’t wear them a lot.

Nieve me didn’t realize that the Vanderbilts that helped build the railroads and shipping to their heights was the same family that produced Gloria Vanderbilt…or for that matter, Anderson Cooper.


I’m not a gal that thrives on knowing the rich, keeping up with their relationships and the who’s who of it all so for me the book was really interesting…and amazingly sad.  So sad.

It always amazes me that a family can build and be so successful in business but fail so miserably in relationships.

I also appreciated the time span this book portrays from well before the Civil War to the present day.  I think we all know our parents or great grandparents lived through the depression but what did that mean in the lives they lived.  I appreciated seeing how history played a part in the Vanderbilt family.

Here is what Amazon had to say:

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.”

Amazon readers gave the book 4.4 stars.  I think I’ll have to agree.  I really did like it…although, as I said, so sad to see the failed relationships, again, again and again.  My mom grew up in a family that often threatened to disinherit and was not a healthy family at all.  Reading this book made me ever more thankful that my mom didn’t continue that into our family.

If you ever wore the jeans, dreamed about the gilded age, watched Anderson Cooper, or appreciated the rise of industrial America, this might be a book that you’d also enjoy.

You can find the book HERE on Amazon.

8 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: Vanderbilt

  1. Toni

    I could never wear the jeans, either. I’m too hippy…anatomically, that is! I’ve also thought about reading this. I recently read an historical fiction called A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts and liked it. From Goodreads: “The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family as they rule Gilded-Age New York, written by Therese Anne Fowler, the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.”

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  2. pam

    I just finished that book. I enjoyed it . I had read the book that Anderson mentioned Little Gloria, Happy at Last. The Vanderbilts were quite a family. I read it ages ago and have read it several times. It is a long book but I think you would enjoy it . I have it out to read again soon. It amazed me how many times these people went by boat across the ocean. I have visited the Biltmore in North Carolina. It is a beautiful “house”. pam

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  3. Helen

    Hi Jo…check out America’s largest home-Biltmore (built by George W. Vanderbilt) most interesting to tour and know more about their lifestyle in that era. I did hear Anderson on an interview concerning the book. Thanks for the reminder. Also I like (luv) the Martha Washington cabinet. I have only seen the cabinet in pictures. Actually I could like it in the soft green as is. You have a lovely home. Enjoy your blog and all you accomplish.

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  4. Gretchen Weaver

    Your need to watch the men who built America on the History Channel. Vanderbilt was just one of the major players. All of these developers had a certain ruthlessness in them in pursuit of their riches.

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  5. June

    I still have a pair. I loved the trademark but plan to make them into a bag. My dad worked for the Rockefeller family in Sleepyhollow. That’s where he passed away on Oct 31, 1997 of a heart attack. The homes are always magnificent. But seems like they always have a sad tale to tell.

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  6. LisaS

    I’m so glad you reviewed this book! I visited The Breakers in Newport RI last weekend and picked up a different book in the gift shop. This one was the other I was choosing between. I’ll have to try to borrow this from the library.

    The house was amazing, BTW!!

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