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)
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'
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.
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."
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book I am left with many questions but intrigued by the life of mrs. Clark I wish there was more to learn the authors did a masterful job telling the history and staying objective.
I just kept waiting and hoping for something...anything interesting to happen...not my cup of tea! "Empty Life"! "Empty Chapters"! Boring!
Whether a little bit off or truly sane Hugette Clark lived as she chose to live and had the means do so. Her charity, while maybe not what some would deem appropriate, has left us with great works of art and literature that might not have survived had it not been for her care taking. The book doesn't really give us a clear picture of her mental status and I believe only her nurse could do so. Over all I enjoyed the story and narrative.
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