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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of…
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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of…

by Bill Dedman, Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

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» See also 58 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed this book. If you are not used to regular non-fiction, you might not like this. It does not read like a novel like some non-fiction will occasionally. I, however, was happy with it. I had heard about Hugette Clarke before she died and was interested in what had happened to her and her life. She donated lots of money as well as spent lots of money. ( )
  shelbycassie | Aug 5, 2018 |
Empty Mansions This is less a review of the book than of Huguette Clark's life. I give her 4 1/2 stars for staying true to her own peculiar self for more than a century. I don't know that this is a great book viewed strictly on literary terms--the writing is purely serviceable and I don't think the organization works well--but the story of Huguette Clark is going to stay with me for a long time.
 
I said in my post yesterday that Huguette Clark was happy, and she certainly was for a long time. But something happened as she got older. Her staff dwindled. She developed a facial cancer that was left untreated for a significant period of time. When someone finally sought treatment for her, the cancer had made it nearly impossible to eat and she had almost starved to death. she required cosmetic surgery to repair the damage to her face, and she was no longer able to eat solid foods. (The big flaw of this book, in my opinion, is that there is a ten-year gap which goes undescribed, that might explain how this possibly could have happened. Yes, her staff was smaller -- but you would think that even a staff of one could have prevented the cancer from advancing so far before it was treated.) It is astonishing that she managed to recover from this cancer and then live another two decades.
 
As I suspected, the last twenty years, which she spent in the hospital, took a dark and disturbing turn. She was still, in many ways, happy. But she was also clearly taken advantage of, by her attorney, her accountant, and most significantly, her beloved nurse, to whom she gave literally millions of dollars over the course of twenty years. (Clark paid for the nurse's children's school from preschool through college. She paid for vacations and camps and summer homes and a Bentley.) Clark's will cut out her family completely, leaving vast sums to caregivers, as well as establishing an arts foundation in California.
 
When she died at 105, her half-nieces and nephews (who had barely seen or spoken to her since the 1950s, if then) were shocked to hear they'd been left out of the will and sued. And although they may have been legally and even ethically right--as I said, Clark was clearly taken advantage of--it's hard to feel sympathetic or morally indignant on behalf of a group of people who didn't even bother to check on their elderly aunt after 9/11, or during the 2003 power outage in the heat of the summer. (The book ends before the final settlement, but you can read about it here. Essentially, the nurse was the big loser.)
 
You read this book and you want to draw some kind of lessons from Clark's life. Huguette Clark  made herself comfortable in her hospital bed for two decades, but she died more alone than she realized, having for many years trusted people who were not trustworthy. When I turned the last page, I wanted to call everyone I knew just to extract promises that they would not leave me alone in a dark apartment in my old age. I thought, she should have gotten out more. She shouldn't have isolated herself. But that's not a rational response. Clark's main problem was that she outlived everyone--her doctors, her lawyers, her dearest friends. No amount of face-to-face contact would have prevented that.
 
It is tempting to look at the end of her story and allow it to color her whole life, but that would betray years of contentment and even joy. The authors of this book, to their credit, make this point well: "She was a recluse in that she locked herself away from travel and sunsets and cafes, but a woman who leaves twenty thousand pages of affectionate correspondence is also a world traveler." ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
I am completely surprised that I liked this book so much. Biographies about people famous for being famous, definitely not my thing. And yet, here I go, handing out the rare (for me) five stars.

What got me interested in making this exception was a 2014 news article on the Clark estate auction, specifically that the 1730s-era “Kruetzer” Stradivari violin had failed to sell. The same article listed the items that did sell, an impressive list of artwork, jewelry, first edition rare books. Who the blazes had owned this amazing collection? Then, while watching some back episodes of The Daily Show, I stumbled upon an interview with Bill Dedman, the author of this book. When my library brought it into their inventory, I knew I had to read it.

My mind is a little blown to realize only two generations of the Clark family, W.A. Clark and his youngest daughter Huguette, had combined lifespans of nearly 175 years. Clark was born in 1839. Huguette was the youngest daughter of his second marriage to a woman nearly 40 years his junior. She, a lifelong recluse, died in 2011, leaving an estate valued at over $300 million and lot of fighting over her will(s).

It’s an intriguing story, part history, part psychology mystery. What made Huguette Clark so wary of strangers and so adverse to change? Why would someone -- who by all accounts was charming, witty, extremely intelligent and quite lucid up until immediately before her death at 104 and who had nearly infinite resources -- so generously give to friends and family but flat-out refuse to meet with them face-to-face? Why would she choose to spend the last twenty years of her life in a hospital room in spite of the fact she was healthy and owned several mansions? An accomplished artist who spoke several languages and left over twenty thousand pages of personal correspondence, she was clearly not intellectually deficient. Was she mentally ill? As the authors point out, eccentricity is not psychosis.

Dedman and co-author (and distant Clark relative) Newell don’t try to explain Huguette Clark or rationalize her behavior. They don’t judge how she (or her father) chose to spend their money nor do they venture into speculation about periods when there was no document trail. Instead, they meticulously record the family history from W. A. Clark’s childhood through to the protracted fight over Huguette’s estate.

That’s not to say that Dedman and Newell don’t express some opinions. It seemed clear to me that they don’t think much of Beth Israel Hospital’s blatant (and documented) efforts to pressure their patient for massive donations. The relatives who had made no attempt to contact “Tante Huguette” for 30, 40, 50 years, but were lining up to fight the will don’t fare well either. And while they made a valiant effort to remain even-handed and objective about the private nurse who ended up with $31 million in gifts (including seven homes and a Bentley), one gets the impression they had to stop themselves from saying they thought she was greedy and unethical. (I’ll say it: anyone who thinks accepting $31 million in “gifts” from an elderly person under their care is a normal and acceptable behavior has no moral compass.)

There is much detail in the book that gives the reader a feel for the late 18th and early 19th century as well as the lifestyles of the super rich during those years. The photos are numerous and stunning; the website even more amazing and stunning. I learned much about mining towns, dirty politics of the late 1800s, NYC during the gilded age, estate law, and bizarre tax mazes pertaining to gifts and bequests. This may be one of the most interesting, bizarre, mind-bending biographies I’ve ever read. I even felt a little protective over Huguette Clark myself. The woman portrayed in this book is nothing like the caricature of the simple-minded victim recent news stories have made her to be. She was utterly fascinating.
( )
  Yaaresse | Apr 24, 2018 |
This was a very odd book. I think the authors did a pretty good job of not casting judgement on a very eccentric woman (until the epilogue), but I found it hard not to do so myself. What makes a woman hide herself away for decades, shutting herself off from family, and giving millions and millions of dollars away to people who simply work for her? It's so odd. As I already said. Reinforces my belief that money and family do not mix. ( )
  gossamerchild88 | Mar 30, 2018 |
Oops, the digital subscription expired and I had a hundred pages or so left. No matter I think I got the gist of this sad cast of characters.
  kimkimkim | Aug 21, 2017 |
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Clark Newell, Paul, Jr.main authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345534522, Hardcover)

When Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Bill Dedman noticed a real estate listing for a grand estate in Connecticut that had sat empty for nearly sixty years, he had no idea that he was stumbling onto one of the most surprising American stories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—complete with copper barons, Gilded Age opulence, backdoor politics, and a reclusive 104-year-old heiress.
 
Empty Mansions explores the fascinating life of Huguette Clark, an enigmatic figure who had not been photographed in public since the 1920s. Though she owned three palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, they sat vacant while she lived out her final two decades in a New York City hospital, despite being in excellent health.
 
Dedman and Huguette’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have had frequent conversations with Huguette, present a fairy tale told in reverse: a daughter born into privilege who in time locks herself away from the outside world. By age twenty, Huguette had inherited her fortune from her father, copper industrialist W. A. Clark, who at the dawn of the twentieth century was one of the richest men in America, possibly even as rich as John D. Rockefeller. The money afforded Huguette gorgeous paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renown Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique  dolls, lavish gifts for friends (and even strangers), the freedom to pursue her own work as an artist, and the privacy she valued above all else.
 
The Clark family story encompasses the entire span of American history in just three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to mining camps in the Montana gold rush, from cross-country travel in private railroad cars of the nineteenth-century to a police investigation in one of the largest apartments on Fifth Avenue in the twenty-first-century. The same Huguette who held a ticket for the return trip of the Titanic was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11.
 
Making use of twenty thousand pages of personal and financial correspondence, Dedman and Newell transport us into Huguette’s private world, where we meet her extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her noble French boyfriend, the nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives seeking to inherit Huguette’s $300 million fortune. Including previously unseen photographs of Huguette and her homes, Empty Mansions is a rich and touching story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:29 -0400)

"When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed a property listing for a grand estate that had been unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled into one of the most surprising American stories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Empty Mansions is a rich tale of wealth and loss, complete with copper barons, Gilded Age opulence, and backdoor politics. At its heart is a reclusive 104-year-old heiress named Huguette Clark. Dedman has collaborated with Huguette's cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have had frequent conversations with her, to tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter who is born into an almost royal family of amazing wealth and privilege, yet who secrets herself away from the outside world. Empty Mansions reveals a complete picture of the enigmatic Huguette Clark, heiress to one of the greatest fortunes in American history, a woman who had not been photographed in public since the 1920s. Though she owned three palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, they sat vacant while she lived out her final two decades in a New York City hospital room, despite being in excellent health. Her father was self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark, who at the dawn of the twentieth century was one of the richest men in America. Huguette's inheritance afforded her untold luxury: gorgeous paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls, lavish gifts for her friends, the freedom to pursue her own work as an artist, and, most important, the privacy she valued above all else. The Clark family story takes the reader nearly the entire span of American history in just three generations. The same Huguette who held a ticket for the return trip of the Titanic was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11. In this scrupulously detailed account, we meet Huguette's extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her noble French boyfriend, the nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives seeking to inherit Huguette's $300 million fortune. Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, some never before seen, Empty Mansions is a touching story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms"--… (more)

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