When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly 60 years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the 19th century with a 21st-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for 20 years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?
Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.
Empty Mansions reveals a complex portrait of the mysterious Huguette and her intimate circle. We meet her extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her French boyfriend, her nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives fighting to inherit Huguette’s copper fortune. Empty Mansions is an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.
©2013 Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. (P)2013 Random House Audio
"Empty Mansions is a dazzlement and a wonder. Bill Dedman and Paul Newell unravel a great character, Huguette Clark, a shy soul akin to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird - if Boo’s father had been as rich as Rockefeller. This is an enchanting journey into the mysteries of the mind, a true-to-life exploration of strangeness and delight." (Pat Conroy, author of The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son)
I'm a writer of everything from children's picture books to fiction to memoir. I usually listen to nonfiction, mostly history, on Audible simply because I prefer to read novels on the page. The only exception to that rule is short stories and I'm partial to the Selected Shorts Anthologies.
The story of Huguette Clark and her solitary and very long life was fascinating. Rather than feel sorry for her, I felt she made the most of her gilded cage even though she chose, in her 80s, to reduce that cage to one hospital room while maintaining the grand houses and apartments that she no longer inhabited.She was a remarkably generous person not only to institutions but to the people who remained near her bedside. The narrator did an excellent job, had a passable French accent which was important to the book and brought the characters to life without insinuating herself too much. An added bonus of the audio book was the occasional "live" tapes of Huguette's voice. I wonder whether she knew that her relative, Paul Clark Newell, was taping their phone calls.
Yes, because it was really good but, I would warn them that they will be dissappointed with the way the author ended it.
W. A. Clark was my favorite character. I like his rags to riches story. My least favorite was Hugette, she wasted 104 years and there are plenty of people that would have used the money to feed millions of people or something like that instead of buying dollhouses and keeping up empty mansions.
I have not listened to her before but I hope to again. She was great.
This book was great for the most part. Incredibly interesting, I liked the actual voice recordings and the way the narrator narrated. The end of the book was terrible. I think that the author should have waited until the estate was settled before telling the story. I could not believe how he ended the book. So I was very very happy with the book until the last "page." Shame on him.
Say something about yourself!
I have already recommended this book to two friends, and I purchased it as a gift for a third one (who is 99-1/2 years old and thrilled with it). The time period is like a history book with living characters.
It's hard to narrow and rate the good parts of the book and I don't think it was the kind of spellbinding book that has a big zinger. The entire plot was a money brain teaser. That is, I cannot imagine such opulence. (I do realize things were much different before the establishment of the IRS, but still, Mr. Clark's riches were breathtaking. For the audio book (which I guess, the hard copy will not have), the telephone recordings between Huguette and one of the co-authors was truly enticing. It allowed me to hear her reasoning and judge her mental alertness first hand. A rare privilege for book reading. It added a whole different dimension to the story.
Well, of course, Huguette was the centerpiece of the book as she had been for her Mom and Dad. When I finished the book, I felt that I had the opportunity to know her as well as anyone. For sure, she had her quirks (putting it lightly) but nevertheless was well defined. Maybe the next interesting character was Huguette's personal nurse who enjoyed Huguette's wealth to the tune of millions of dollars, multiple homes, and a Bentley. The nurse was an immigrant who had married a taxi driver.
You couldn't possibly listen to the book in one sitting because it is detailed and chock full of so much good information that a bit of reflection to absorb it is really a must.
The book is well worth the investment. I love the gilded era and that's where this one begins. It ends nearly 104 years later. As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of history, society changes, and a world of which most folks have never glimpsed. The reader did a very good job, as did the authors.
Vassar graduate, living in Mexico and retired.
This book was written before the lawsuits about Clark's money were resolved. Some of the information in the writing seems to be padding to make the story longer. Such as long lists of gifts.
Questions about whether the heiress was slow intellectually are never fully addressed.
The book concludes with a sing song eulogy which seems artificial.
The narrator has a shrill voice at times and over does the accent when pronouncing French words.
It is a key to understanding this book to focus on the title: "the spending of a ...fortune." Primarily it seems H. Clark is only know through her expenditures. Who the money went to. What the money went to. But Huguette Clark was a mystery to EVERYONE and still is. Besides long descriptions of what money was spent on--she remains a mystery. The history of her father and mother is interesting and more detailed. I am not sure how I felt about what this book discussed...more like a shopping list and a list of those who 'used' her to get rich off her fortune. Interesting--but the book left me 'frustrated'
Likes: Cozy mysteries (cats a plus), personal memoirs,not too dark fantasy, books about the brain. Dislikes: Torture, animal cruelty.
I was torn between wanting to listen to this or to read it in print. I decided the book was simply too long for me to make it through in print so I got this version but I also took the hardcover put of the library because you really need the pictures to appreciate the story. Another way to make this work is to use the book's website emptymansionbook which has pictures readily available. The website also has other additional information. One frustrating thing is that as of the time the book was published there hadn't even been a settlement of the will. Even now, some things are still up in the air. I felt compelled as soon as I finished to see what information I could get online about where thongs stood. So just know that you have to go beyond this audiobook to get the complete story. Having said that though the story itself is absolutely fascinating. At least it was to me, though I imagine some people need more action. If you find strolling through old mansions and imagining life therein interesting then you will probably be interested. Having said that know there are a lot of long passages with lists of expenses, etc, that certainly slow the story down. Keep in mind too that you are dealing with an elderly recluse so action isn't going to be her thing. But if you ever wondered what went on in such a life this is an interesting look at just that. One interesting thing that you get with the audiobook as opposed to a print version is that there are numerous recordings from phone calls one of the coauthors had with Huguette and I thought that was a nice touch to get to actually hear this person you are spending all those hours hearing about. Having said that though she can be a little hard to understand. The book did feel long. One reason was that the authors went through her life a number of times. That is, they talked about her and got her up into her nineties several times before going back and covering another aspect of the same life later. Truthfully I am not sure if there was a better way to do this - they certainly had a challenge making a cohesive whole from the varied sources of information that they had. I was surprised the first time though that she made it into her nineties to discover I was only half way through the book. I am really glad I stuck with the book all the way through. It's rare to finish a book and remain so genuinely interested in what I just read that I wanted to revisit it on the internet. So a great book for the right audience.
World Champion Parallel Parker
I'm embarrassed to admit I bought and listened to both Huguette Clark books. They are different. Meryl Gordon understands things Bill and Paul do not, such as that the dolls and dollhouses, when mixed with photography, became art. But then Bill and Paul had viewpoints that Meryl missed. Also, in this audio-recording, we hear Huguette 's voice, which was wonderful.
One reviewer says "I still don't understand Huguette Clark." I feel I DO understand her (I have relatives like her). Part of it is that's she's an ordinary fallible human being just like everyone else, only her excesses are magnified because she was so rich. Every community has Huguette Clarks, but they live behind piles of newspapers and Chinese food containers instead of Monets and Manets. There are also many, many Hadassah Peris, so this is a cautionary tale. As the bloggers Grossman and Friedman write "Big money and advanced age can be a dangerous, poisonous, explosive combination. Beware."
The biography of reclusive heiress, Huegette Clark, surprised me. I was initially eager to read a book about a rich weirdo, but instead found myself enjoying the story of a content, creative, generous, and warm-hearted person. Empty Mansions is the collaborative effort of an investigative journalist and one of Mrs. Clark's relatives. The audiobook is enlivened by actual recordings of Huegette Clark conversing with her relative on the phone. Despite the fact that she was uber rich and I'm working class, I finished the book with inspiring principles on which to build a happy and meaningful life.
This book captures seemingly the complete life of the youngest daughter of a self made millionaire. The abundance of detail about Mr. Clark was sometimes tedious but the story would have been incomplete without it. Looking back on the decisions made by the daughter, the reader wonders about her choices she made. She was generous to a fault and had no concept of her wealth. This is a book club choice and I look forward to the discussion.
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