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Editorial Reviews

"Empty Mansions is at once an engrossing portrait of a forgotten American heiress and a fascinating meditation on the crosswinds of extreme wealth. Hugely entertaining and well researched, Empty Mansions is a fabulous read." (Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire)

Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

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  • Branden
  • columbus, OH, United States
  • 09-23-13

Almost Great...

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, because it was really good but, I would warn them that they will be dissappointed with the way the author ended it.

Who was your favorite character and why?

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.

Have you listened to any of Kimberly Farr’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not listened to her before but I hope to again. She was great.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No

Any additional comments?

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.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating and strange

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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A Wowzer Book!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

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.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Empty Mansions?

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.

Which character – as performed by Kimberly Farr – was your favorite?

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.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating, But Know This...

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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I Read Both . . .

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."

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Great!

Would you listen to Empty Mansions again? Why?

Getting to hear the actual conversations was great! However, it could've been a bit shorter.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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I still don't know much about Huguette Clark

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'

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Interesting but should have been condensed

Interesting discussion of this book at book club; we realized this book covered about 170 years (from Hugette Clark's father's birth in the 1830's to her death about 4 years ago). Interesting read though I think it could have been shortened by half and adequately told the story. Her father started with nothing, amassed vast wealth, was a U.S. Senator amid scandal. She seemed to live life as she wished, although most would consider her eccentric, spending the last 20 years of her life in a NYC hospital -- healthy but living where she seemed to want to be. She was generous with those she liked and unconnected to her family, all of which led to contested wills and legal actions after her death.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Absolutely Mesmerizing!

Phenomenal in every way. What a tremendous amount of research done by the authors. And the actual recordings of phone conversations add so much depth and interest to the story. I was enthralled from start to finish!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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could have been better

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.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful