Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

Book rating: 05 Hardback Ballantine Books

By (author) Bill Dedman, By (author) Jr Paul Clark Newell

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  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • Format: Hardback | 456 pages
  • Dimensions: 165mm x 236mm x 33mm | 885g
  • Publication date: 10 September 2013
  • ISBN 10: 0345534522
  • ISBN 13: 9780345534521
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations, colour illustrations
  • Sales rank: 31,540

Product description

#1 "NEW YORK TIMES "BESTSELLER NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Janet Maslin, "The New York Times - St. Louis Post-Dispatch" When Pulitzer Prize"-"winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty 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 nineteenth century with a twenty-first-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 twenty 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. Huguette was the daughter of self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark, nearly as rich as Rockefeller in his day, a controversial senator, railroad builder, and founder of Las Vegas. She grew up in the largest house in New York City, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for a family of four. She owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls. But wanting more than treasures, she devoted her wealth to buying gifts for friends and strangers alike, to quietly pursuing her own work as an artist, and to guarding the privacy she valued above all else. The Clark family story spans nearly all of American history in three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to mining camps in the Montana gold rush, from backdoor politics in Washington to a distress call from an elegant Fifth Avenue apartment. The same Huguette who was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11 held a ticket nine decades earlier for a first-class stateroom on the second voyage of the "Titanic." " " "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. Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, "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. Praise for "Empty Mansions" "An amazing story of profligate wealth . . . an outsized tale of rags-to-riches prosperity."--"The New York Times" "An evocative and rollicking read, part social history, part hothouse mystery, part "grand guignol."""--The Daily Beast" " " "Fascinating . . . [a] haunting true-life tale."--"People" " " "One of those incredible stories that you didn't even know existed. It filled a void."--Jon Stewart, " The Daily Show" "Thrilling . . . deliciously scandalous."--"Publishers Weekly" (starred review)" "

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Author information

Bill Dedman introduced the public to heiress Huguette Clark and her empty mansions through his compelling series of narratives for NBC, which became the most popular feature in the history of its news website, topping 110 million page views. He received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting while writing for "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" and has written for "The New York Times, The Washington Post, "and" The Boston Globe." Paul Clark Newell, Jr., a cousin of Huguette Clark, has researched the Clark family history for twenty years, sharing many conversations with Huguette about her life and family. He received a rare private tour of Bellosguardo, her mysterious estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara.

Customer reviews

By Nicola Mansfield 04 Jun 2014 5

I have Asperger's and this is my take Huguette Clark. I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed this book which is a biography of two people, father and daughter, while also being a history of the Gilded Age and a brief overview of the 20th century. I had heard of Ms Clark when she was in the news and concern was raised about whether she may be a case of elder-abuse by those in charge of her financial and medical care, since she was a reclusive centenarian. I then forgot about her until I read a few reviews of this book. Reading those couple of thought-provoking reviews it crossed my mind as to whether Huguette might have been Aspergian; did she have Asperger's.

I thought of this because I myself have Asperger's, am a loner and for a certain period of my life was house-bound by choice. My reading interests (naturally?) involve recluses and mental health and historically I'm well-read in the Victorian age and early 20th century. Thus, could not pass up this book.

Starting off historically we are given the story of W.A. Clark's life, born 1839, a copper baron and once possibly the richest man in America. The history follows his life, then his second wife, 40 years his junior and their two children, progressing on with his youngest daughter Huguette who lived until the ripe old age of 104 and died in 2011. It absolutely amazes me that the two people, father and daughter, only two generations of a family cover the time period from the 8th President of the US of A, Van Duren to the 44th President, Obama. Hugette herself barely escaped two world disasters, the sinking of the Titanic and the attacks on the World Trade Center. Fascinating!

I don't feel Huguette had a sad life at all. Of course, she suffered sad events such as the death of her elder sister at only 17 years of age and perhaps Huguette's life may have been different if this very close sisterly bond had been able to continue into her adulthood. Yes, she had empty mansions and several apartments but many of them were inherited and one especially was dear to her because of it's meaning to her mother. She had many obsessive hobbies and was a very talented painter. Her hobbies included doll houses, normal sized-dolls, miniature house replicas, expert knowledge of Japanese cultural history and cartoons. Painting was more of a profession, though she didn't sell her work; she did consider herself an artist. Huguette may have inherited astronomical amounts of wealth, by today's standards, but this was obtained for her and the family by her father during the Gilded Age, a time when money practically grew on trees for the rich and their extravagance matched that ideology.

Huguette herself, like and even more so than her father was passionate about charities and donated millions during her lifetime to the arts, artists, animals, Israel and Girl Scouting. She also was a tremendously giving person and gave away millions to those she called friend. She was a loner, a person who preferred solitude to company but it wasn't until her 50s when her mother died that she truly become reclusive and even then she continued to have occasional visits from a handful of the closest friends. Because of the traits I've mentioned so far, I do come away from this believing that Huguette may very well have been Aspergian. The facts as presented in the book tell that all doctors who examined her diagnosed her free of any mental illness, she was always a lucid person, combine this with the intelligence, talent, "eccentricities" intense hobbies and self-induced reclusiveness, while at the same time being a content person I certainly can identify with her and feel quite confident she may well have been on the Autistic Spectrum, namely Asperger's. Choosing to live in a hospital setting once she no longer had anyone to look after her, she had outlived all her doctors, makes perfect sense to me.

The only parts of the book that didn't interest me were the detailed descriptions of the insides and contents of the mansions and apartments. I did find truly absorbing though the life, thoughts and doings of Huguette, a person who on one hand held onto many, many objects (including empty mansions) for sentimental reasons while at the same time handing out cheques for hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars to friends and acquaintances with families and children who needed the money when she herself had no personal use for it except for feeding her hobbies and obsessions; the latter being a typical way of life for aspies. Absolutely loved this book! And am glad Huguette had the money to be able to fulfill herself, during an age when she was not understood, and also able to spread that money to the charities and people she felt could use it and needed it more than she.

By Patrick McGuire 10 Nov 2013 5

A strange and fascinating story well told. If you are wondering about this book, just get it. It's a time travel through the mansions of the Glittering Age, a meditation on great wealth and a peek at a woman with extraordinary inhibitions. Some how you get to feel you know Huguette, as complex and unknowably human as she is.

Review quote

"An amazing story of profligate wealth . . . an outsized tale of rags-to-riches prosperity."--"The New York Times" "A fascinating investigation into the haunting true-life tale of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark."--"People" "An exhaustively researched, well-written account . . . a blood-boiling expose [that] will make you angry and will make you sad."--"The Seattle Times" " " "An evocative and rollicking read, part social history, part hothouse mystery, part "grand guignol.""--"The Daily Beast" " " "A childlike, self-exiled eccentric, [Huguette Clark] is the sort of of subject susceptible to a biography of broad strokes, which makes "Empty Mansions, "the first full-length account of her life, impressive for its delicacy and depth."--"Town & Country" " " "One of those incredible stories that you didn't even know existed. It filled a void."--Jon Stewart, "The Daily Show" "So well written . . . such a gripping, gripping story."--Bill Goldstein, NBC 4 New York " " "A compelling account of what happened to the Clark family and its fortune . . . a tremendous feat."--"St. Louis Post-Dispatch" " " "A fascinating story."--"Today" "Meticulous and absorbing."--"Bloomberg Businessweek" "Brilliantly researched, tough-minded, and fair . . . a fascinating read."--"Santa Barbara Independent" "Riveting . . . deliciously scandalous . . . a thrilling study of the responsibilities and privileges that come with great wealth."--"Publishers Weekly "(starred review) "A spellbinding mystery."--"Booklist" " " "Enlightening."--"Library Journal" ""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" ""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" "In "Empty Mansions, " a unique American character emerges from the shadows. Through deep research and evocative writing, Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., have expertly captured the arc of history covered by the remarkable Clark family, while solving a deeply personal mystery of wealth and eccentricity."--Jon Meacham, author of "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" "Who knew? Though virtually unknown today, W. A. Clark was one of the fifty richest Americans ever--copper baron, railroad builder, art collector, U.S. senator, and world-class scoundrel. Yet his daughter and heiress Huguette became a bizarre recluse. "Empty Mansions" reveals this mysterious family in sumptuous detail."--John Berendt, author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" ""Empty Mansions" is a mesmerizing tale that delivers all the ingredients of a top-notch mystery novel. But there is nothing fictional about this true, fully researched story of a fascinating and reclusive woman from an era of fabulous American wealth. "Empty Mansions" is a delicious read--once you start it, you will find it hard to put down."--Kate Alcott, bestselling author of "The Dressmaker" " " "More than a biography, more than a mystery, "Empty Mansions" is a real-life American "Bleak House," an arresting tale about misplaced souls sketched on a canvas that stretches from coast to coast, from riotous mining camps to the gilded dwellings of the very, very rich."--John A. Farrell, author of" Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned"