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.
Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.
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About the Author
Anderson Cooper joined CNN in 2001 and has anchored his own program, Anderson Cooper 360°, since March 2003. Cooper has won 18 Emmys and numerous other major journalism awards. He lives in New York with his son, Wyatt.
Table of Contents
Vanderbilt Family Tree x
Prologue The Breakers: March 30, 2018 1
Part I Rise
1 The Tycoon: January 4, 1877 15
2 Van der But: c. 1660 37
3 The Blatherskite and the Namesake: April 2, 1882 51
4 Society as I Have Found It: October 22, 1883 73
5 Venetian Princesses: March 26, 1883 91
6 American Royalty: November 6, 1895 111
Part II Fall
7 Failure Is Impossible: May 4, 1912 137
8 Down with the Ship: May 1915 161
9 Standing in a Cold Shower, Tearing Up Hundred-Thousand-Dollar Bills: September 15, 1934 183
10 Living a Roman à Clef: November 21, 1934 205
11 Gloria at La Côte Basque: November 28, 1966 235
12 The Last Vanderbilt: October 28, 1978, and June 17, 2019 259
Epilogue Christmas Eve, 1930 279