Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty - book cover
  • Publisher : Harper
  • Published : 21 Sep 2021
  • Pages : 336
  • ISBN-10 : 0062964615
  • ISBN-13 : 9780062964618
  • Language : English

Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty

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.

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.

Editorial Reviews

"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

Readers Top Reviews

I never write reviews, but this... this is worth EVERY SINGLE WORD! Obsessed with the fact that we only see faces and barely the whole picture. Thank you Anderson for sharing your family's legacy.
Shane Dane
He writes with such a density, he should have been a technical writer, the opposite of the giggler in chief on TV. So he admits he's a Vanderbilt? Reminds me of celebrities who are bent admitting that long after it might have helped others. How thrilled Gloria might have been to read this while she was alive. He covers Consuelo Vanderbilt, the Duchess of Marlborough who saved Blenheim, her sister Gloria Morgan, his mother's mother and her rival aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Then there's the Mississippi side of the family, father Wyatt who died too young and brother Carter who is barely mentioned. Is that because in jumping out of the window, he cursed Gloria? He finally calls her mother as opposed to Gloria at the end as the last Vanderbilt. Not sure what that makes him but thanks for what reads like a memoir for the greatest American family. RIP Gloria.
Carole Lake
I wasn’t expecting such an entertaining book, though Anderson Cooper’s smile would lead you to believe he is never boring. The chronicle of the Vanderbilts is a chronicle of America in many ways. Briskly written, carefully documented, and never tedious. Well worth reading.
This book is a biography of the Vanderbilt family, written by Anderson Cooper, the great-great-great grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The book is divided into two parts, with a total of twelve main chapters, and about 290 pages not including the Acknowledgments and Index. There is a Photos section at the end after the Index, with 32 pictures and photos of Vanderbilt family members. The book starts with a “Partial Genealogy” family tree, which shows the links between the family members discussed in the book. In the Introduction, Cooper explains his reasons for writing the book. For most of his life he had downplayed the importance of his connection to the Vanderbilt family, but after his mother's passing in 2019 and his son's birth in 2020, he had a change of heart. In looking through all of the items that his mother had saved, he began to see a different side of his family, with more complicated personal lives and depth to their personalities. In the Prologue, Cooper describes The Breakers, the Vanderbilt family's palatial estate; and how Gladys Szapary, the last Vanderbilt family member to live there, was forced to leave in 2018. The first few chapters of the book describe Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, and the empire that he created. Cooper describes The Commodore's complicated life, from his birth on a farm on Staten Island, to becoming the wealthiest man in the country. Although he had 13 children, The Commodore seemed only interested in his son's, of which only three made it to adulthood. Cooper relies on journal entries and letter's written by The Commodore's second wife Frank to fill in details about the his last days. Cooper even goes all the way back to 1660 to describe the early roots of the Vanderbilt family coming to America from Holland. He covers The Commodore's disdain for his son Cornie, the legal proceedings as Cornie tried to acquire some of the family fortune after The Commodore's death, and Cornie eventually taking his own life. The next few chapters cover the history of the family during The Gilded Age. Cooper covers interactions between the Vanderbilts and Astors, Alva Vanderbilt's attempts to dominate the social scene in New York, and Consuelo Vanderbilt's wedding. In Part Two, Cooper describes the slow downfall of the Vanderbilt family. He starts this section with a chapter describing a women's suffrage march in 1912, and marveling at how much Alva Vanderbilt Belmont had changed over the years. Alva was something of a pioneer, as it was unheard of at the time for a society woman to ask for a divorce. Cooper describes Alva's life, and then focuses on Alfred Vanderbilt, who inherited the family fortune in the early 1900s. Cooper describes Alfred's last days, as he was aboard the Lusitania when it was hit by a German torpedo and sunk. Cooper then covers Harold Vanderbilt raci...
Journalist Anderson Cooper has written an excellent biography of his mother, Gloria’s, family, the Vanderbilts. It’s not written in a conventional style by time, but rather by individual. The book is really a series of vignettes about various family members. There are more conventional bios out there of this illustrious family and it’s many homes but Cooper puts a personal touch on it. Almost melancholy but so, so interesting.. The book is coauthored by novelist Katherine Howe. I don’t know how the actual writing was divided, but you can tell there’s a novelist touch to the book. Very good.