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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best-selling author and journalist Anderson Cooper teams with New York Times best-selling historian and novelist Katherine Howe to chronicle the rise and fall of a legendary American dynasty - his mother’s family, the Vanderbilts.

When 11-year-old Cornelius Vanderbilt began to work on his father’s small boat ferrying supplies in New York Harbor at the beginning of the 19th 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 70-room summer estate in Newport, Rhode Island, that Cornelius’ 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.

Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2021 Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Vanderbilt

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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A Wonderful modern history…

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to amazing family historical information that funneled directly through years of parallel U.S. and world history. It was archival family history that so richly describes the human condition. The fun part was listening to Mr. Cooper orate his love letter to his son. Every word was honey as he built beloved hives of words whose honeycombs wove in and out of American and world history. What an incredible legacy. What a lucky child. What a lucky audience of which I include myself. Thank you deeply for an excellent personal experience.

27 people found this helpful

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Interesting Approach to a Well Known History

As an architectural historian with an interest in the Gilded Age, the Vanderbilts have long been one of my fascinations. When I discovered that Anderson Cooper was co-writing a book on his family, I was immediately excited. That initial excitement probably raised my expectations a bit too high though the book definitely has its merits.

Overall, I appreciated the anecdotal approach to the subject matter once I got used to it. Since I’m well acquainted with the major personalities of the Vanderbilt family and those in their orbit, I was a bit bored. Cooper’s dry wit made this a bit more interesting fortunately. The anecdotal approach was much better as the authors discussed the third and fourth generations of the Vanderbilts including Alfred Vanderbilt (who went down with the Lusitania) and Harold Vanderbilt, the winner of the America’s Cup Race in 1934. Most interesting was the relaying of Gloria Vanderbilt’s story, which was done in two parts. I appreciated Cooper’s intimate perspective on his mother, her tragic childhood, and glamorous adult life. In some ways, he may have been better served by writing all of the book about his mother. There would be no one better to do that task.

I also appreciated the contextual information that was included though it sometimes went on far too long. For example, the whole chapter devoted to Truman Capote simply because Gloria Vanderbilt was one of his Swans.

The weakest part of the whole book is the last section which is an audible walking tour of places in the Manhattan associated with the Vanderbilts. I caught more than one mistake. For instance, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont’s second mansion was built in 1909 and designed by her preferred architect Richard Morris Hunt. He died in 1895; the mansion was designed by his sons under the name of Hunt & Hunt. There was another architectural error in this section as well.

Cooper’s narration was a bit bland sometimes. Yes, he is a TV news anchor but comes off a bit dull at times when stripped of the visual component. I eventually got used to it and did enjoy his dry wit which comes through at times.

We never are treated to the reason the Vanderbilts have fallen beyond the fact that they had little work ethic and a love of spending money. Those are perfectly good reasons but they are not discussed in an in depth manner.

Overall, this is a good book. But I wouldn’t rely on it if you’re a historian (either professionally or in an amateur capacity) of the period. For that I would rely on Arthur Vanderbilt’s book “Fortune’s Children” though some may disagree with me!

14 people found this helpful

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The Vanderbilts could sure blow through money!!!

Beautifully written and narrated (by Anderson Cooper). So...Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt was the Jeff Bezos of his day (richest man on earth, or at least the United States), but his descendants managed to spend ALL OF IT...and--in most cases--on extravagant homes that could not be maintained and were sold for pennies on the dollar. INSANE! My only daughter has a trust fund that provides her with generous annual distributions. After finishing this book, I called my financial advisor and added additional restrictions! Honestly, Anderson's frivolous family gave rise to his ambition and work ethic--he wanted to be, and is, self sufficient. Good job! And that baby Wyatt...what a doll.

13 people found this helpful

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Interesting

I’ve read other books about the Vanderbilts including the much more comprehensive Fortune’s Children. This doesn’t pretend to be a whole history, but the stories Cooper selected and the way he chooses to describe them says a lot about his perspective on his mother’s origins.

I eagerly awaited the segments about Gloria towards the end. I think anyone curious about the family will want to know how Cooper speaks about his mother’s childhood now that she’s passed. There were no big surprises, but one for me in relation to her adult estrangement from Dodo. Good to know.

Another thing that was new to me was a whole chapter dedicated to Capote’s caricaturization of Gloria in a short story. One, even though I’ve read two Capote novels I didn’t know that happened. Two, it’s fascinating that it’s such a big deal to Cooper.

I’m not giving 5 stars for the narration. Cooper makes a few mistakes along the way though he quickly recovers. Also, a cadence that is effective for a news story doesn’t quite work for a family history and he didn’t do anything to alter his customary style.

Cooper’s devoted love for his mother and hers for him shines through and it’s maybe the best thing about the book.

11 people found this helpful

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Work Worthy of its Namesake Family and its Time

Absolutely loved this book! As a child assigned to produce a required school project, I became aware of Gloria Vanderbilt, her storied life and fascinating family. So, like others, I grew up wondering what it must have been like to grow up as a member of a family that hardscrabble effort, grit, and determination made their life's work into immense and unimaginable wealth only to lose it all through successive generations. I especially appreciate that Anderson Cooper is willing to record his family history for his son, Wyatt, and for all of us. Thanks to Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe, who made this book a rare treat. Anderson's narration is lovely and a highlight adding to one's enjoyment and understanding. Highly recommend this listen. Once started, I couldn't wait to get back to it.

9 people found this helpful

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What I took away from this splendid family tale

Anderson Cooper does a most amazing job on the Vanderbilts. As you might expect, there’s social commentary along with the simple telling of the family saga. The most compelling was how POSTbellum America under the “guidance” of Mrs. Caroline Astor and her minion “walker” (safe escort for married gentry whose husbands couldn’t be bothered) Ward McAllister, shaped a society where there wasn’t the landed aristocracy of the Old World. “With each wave of new people, she felt the imperative to codify and define who should qualify as polite society.” The key to her success was “the invention of celebrity, a concept made possible by the new technologies for the cheap dissemination of images. “
I’d always heard of Mrs. Astor and The Four Hundred, but his explanation of how it evolved was eye opening!
Alva Vanderbilt would later eclipse Mrs. Astor and marry her daughter off into that same British nobility.

5 people found this helpful

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Sadly captivating.

Listened to the complete book in one afternoon. Of course the narration by Anderson Cooper was excellent and fascinating telling the story of the Vanderbilt family....his Mother's family....his family.

3 people found this helpful

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Not A Great Narration

The story of this family is fascinating history. Was surprised that as captivating as a news anchor Anderson Cooper is, the story telling was so bland and monotone, he kept losing my attention.

3 people found this helpful

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  • 10-12-21

Dull

Listening to this book was like listening to a mundane history book for me. I wanted to like it more because Anderson seems like a nice guy but that wasn’t enough to make this interesting.

2 people found this helpful

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Intimate insights I to the gilded age

Interesting and intimate insights into the lifestyle of the guilded age and the lives of those who lived it. Sprinkled in were some great history of New York City and disposition of some of the artifacts. I love Anderson Cooper or, at least the idea of him in my head, he repeatedly compares himself to the reader as if he's led a normal lifestyle like you or I while telling stories of the millions his mom has made and lost, the penthouse they lived in or riding in a stream of limos with Michael Jackson to Studio 54 at the age of 14. While I believe him to be sincere, it did seem slightly out of touch as I e never had to worry a single day about any potential modeling career. It was a well written book and memoir providing insight into their private lives which I quite appreciate but, living just outside of Asheville, was sad not to hear the Biltmore mentioned once. Worth the read for sure, just not all I had hoped for.

2 people found this helpful