• The Beneficiary

  • Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father
  • By: Janny Scott
  • Narrated by: Janny Scott
  • Length: 8 hrs and 53 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (214 ratings)

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The Beneficiary

By: Janny Scott
Narrated by: Janny Scott
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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

"[A] poignant addition to the literature of moneyed glamour and its inevitable tarnish and decay...like something out of Fitzgerald or Waugh." (The New Yorker)

A parable for the new age of inequality: part family history, part detective story, part history of a vanishing class, and a vividly compelling exploration of the degree to which an inheritance - financial, cultural, genetic - conspired in one person's self-destruction.

Land, houses, and money tumbled from one generation to the next on the 800-acre estate built by Scott's investment banker great-grandfather on Philadelphia's Main Line. There was an obligation to protect it, a license to enjoy it, a duty to pass it on - but it was impossible to know in advance how all that extraordinary good fortune might influence the choices made over a lifetime. 

In this warmly felt tale of an American family's fortunes, journalist Janny Scott excavates the rarefied world that shaped her charming, unknowable father, Robert Montgomery Scott, and provides an incisive look at the weight of inheritance, the tenacity of addiction, and the power of buried secrets.

Some beneficiaries flourished, like Scott's grandmother, Helen Hope Scott, a socialite and celebrated horsewoman said to have inspired Katherine Hepburn's character in the play and Academy Award-winning film The Philadelphia Story. For others, including the author's father, she concludes, the impact was more complex.

Bringing her journalistic talents, light touch, and crystalline prose to this powerful story of a child's search to understand a parent's puzzling end, Scott also raises questions about our new Gilded Age. New fortunes are being amassed, new estates are being born. Does anyone wonder how it will all play out, 100 years hence?

©2019 Janny Scott (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Flair is in the DNA. As attentive to outré details as to psychological turmoil, Scott makes the most of the suspense built into her story. Her father, having promised Scott in her 20s that she would inherit his many diaries, made her hunt long and hard for them after his death in 2005. The bequest was brilliant: A man in unhappy thrall to a place lured his daughter further and further in - and she escaped with priceless insight into its, and his, hidden depths." (The Atlantic)

"Fascinating for the painful personal legacies it uncovers. At the same time, it is also compelling for the parallels it draws between an earlier age of inequality and our own and the questions it raises about how contemporary stories of new-rich families 'will play out, one hundred years hence.'" (Kirkus Reviews

"Compulsively readable...a rare combination of wit, empathy, candor, and shrewd sleuthing, [The Beneficiary] is a multigenerational story that encompasses the Gilded Age, great wealth and two World Wars, suicide and secret affairs, hidden diaries and the life-long impact of alcohol. The world of wealth and privilege Scott recreates so vividly may be hard for the rest of us to imagine, but everyone will recognize the flawed but fascinating human beings at its heart. Not to be missed.(Geoffrey C. Ward, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-finalist A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt, 1905-1928

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What listeners say about The Beneficiary

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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Buy A Hard Copy

I have been fascinated by Androsson from the minute I realized “The Philadelphia Story” was based on Hope Scott. I heard about this book listening to a WHYY podcast interview with Janny Scott.
This is a large family. Janny Scott’s voice is clear and easy to listen to. However, on regular speed, she reads so quickly it is difficult to absorb details. Slowing the speed down makes it a very unpleasant listening experience.
I intend to buy a hard copy of this book. I am hoping it is loaded with photos.
I expect i would give the paper version of this story five stars. It just does not translate well as an audiobook.

6 people found this helpful

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Historical and timely

This book is an interesting intersection of American history, family memoir, and a case study of wealth and its influence across generations. The author strikes a commendable tone of objectivity in sharing her family's gilded age roots and patrician story. She is also an engaging narrator and made the material more intimate and accessible. I enjoyed the book.

5 people found this helpful

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Remarkable Story!

I purchased the audio version of this book on a hunch. That hunch turned out correct!

First, the story is very well written. Second Ms. Scott's narration performance was spot on perfect. Lastly, I have lived on Mount Desert Island, Maine for 35 years; where the Scott family had owned a "summer cottage" for several years. Each summer, my wife interacts with one of the Scott family members.

All of the above unfolded as a delightful surprise, based on a hunch!

I am going to listen to the story again!

4 people found this helpful

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Great Read

Ozymandias
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

3 people found this helpful

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Thank you!

Thank you for the brutally honest story of your family, told in an intimate yet objective tone.

1 person found this helpful

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A glorious adventure through the lives of privileged

Janny tells a story that ignites the imagination with personalities revealed through a family history that mirrors the rise and fall of American successes. She honestly reveals foibles that others might bury, and leaves us with an affection for her father that touches the heart. You will come to love Robert, Hope, Edgar, and the multitude of people who inhabited Ardrossan Farms as that gilded age slipped away. That the Montgomerys staved off reality and lived a grand life well beyond their peers is a testament to an ambition and adherence to principle in short supply. Partake in this journey, Janny is meticulous and enticing in her telling - you will come to love every moment as if they were your own family.

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He was admired by so many

What a wonderful book. You gave us a wonderful sense of the personalities in your family. I appreciate how you have woven the landscape changes and social changes over time together. Not all sweetness and light. No made for Hollywood sunsets either.

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Well written but

the topic of this Philadelphia main line family was boring. I thought something might happen; it didn't. I returned it.

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Read too fast/hard to follow

Enjoying the story line, but have to listen to it @.8 time, as the narrator reads very quickly. Also, find it very difficult to follow all the relations -great great grandfather, grand father, father, in laws, grandmothers, etc. Gave up on that and tried to just listen and enjoy the story. Loved hearing about the houses, the main line, etc.

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Poignant Portrait

Outstanding biographical accomplishment as well as a gratifying listening experience. Janny Scott writes and narrates the story of her father’s life beautifully. Thoroughly enjoyed and was moved by this book.