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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

4.2 185
by Bill Dedman, Paul Clark Newell

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Janet Maslin, The New York Times • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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When Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Bill Dedman noticed

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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 185 reviews.
JBecker55 More than 1 year ago
Empty Mansions is a curious book. It details the life of Huguette Clark, a recluse millionaire and her family. There is lots of information on this little known child of wealth. Author Bill Dedman does a fine job providing details of the family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just about to finish and this is some story - or lives!!! A mega rich corrupt Democratic sentator - who bought out the state media to win and has a questionable marriage to a lady 40 years younger - begins the biography and then continues with their daughters, mostly the younger daughter. This all takes place beginning in the late 1800's. Things just don't change. This is an eye opening book. Don't miss it. Another great book on the Nook is "The Partisan" by William Jarvis. This book is about a rich family with values that fights against evil.
SarahMcClurg More than 1 year ago
Empty Mansions is a fantastic book about the life of Huguette Clark. Told in the words of Bill Dedman, the book does a fantastic job of depicting the life of millionaire recluse Clark. Empty Mansions provides a very interesting history lesson.
adrianna More than 1 year ago
This book is well written and details the life of Miss Clark, who was extremely rich and way too generous with her money. It also tells of the rotten people that took advantage of her kindness especially her nurse..which thank goodness according to recent news has to return some of the gifts and money given to her. A good story about a good woman.
usmc_brat More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful story! So much history. Bill Dedman & Paul Neville Clark worked together to bring Hugette Clark's life to us. Recluse or not, she lived in an age & knew people personally that we can only read about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a real eye-opener into the life of a child who grew up with the best, and in the end didn't know what life was about outside of her chosen room. Beautifully written. A lesson in the history and well worth taking the time to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting, well researched book on the life of Ms. Clark. Can't imagine why I haven't read more about her in the news now that she has passed on. Would recommend to anyone who enjoys true stories/biographies/autobiographies...hard to put down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an avid reader with an interest in historical fiction, this amazing book had me hooked at the first chapter. A true rags to riches story with mind boggling wealth that so few attain. Fascinating insight as to just who lives in those massive apartments on Park Avenue (people not that different from you or I). Certainly one of the best books I've read this year. So written and intriguing, many late nights were spent on this page turner. .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not the usual story of "poor little rich girl". A mostly unknown history of how this family gained its immense wealth, and a pretty bizarre story of the daughter and her extremely unusual life. You'd like to understand the psychological underpinnings of her extreme behavior, but that information isn't available. Because the initial reason for the book was her strange last 20 years and the will and distribution of wealth, it's too bad that the book was written before the will was settled (although surely that will take years and years.) Found the whole thing fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book and could not put it down. I enjoyed getting lost in the history of the Clarke family. A must read!
Brunette_Librarian More than 1 year ago
      This fascinating story begins with Huguette’s father, W.A. Clark, a man so despicable, Mark Twain wrote articles disparaging him. Clark comes from humble beginnings and actually struck out during the gold rush. Instead of finding gold though, Clark found his fortune through opportunity and chance. He would travel for days with bread, clothing, eggs, and other necessitites not easy to find out at mining camps. These miners would pay good money for eggs, which would both finance the next trip for more supplies and gave Clark a hefty profit. Moving into the big leagues and actually purchasing businesses and even mines helped W.A. Clark become one of the richest men in America during his lifetime.       Now this is where I became fascinated in the life of the Clark’s. The money aspect didn’t interest me, but the pure will it took to live and become what he did just fascinated me. Clark, rich and powerful, was married and had several children. It was during his second marriage to the much younger Anna Eugenia La Chapelle, that he had two children; Andree and Huguette.        Huguette had everything a child could ask for. Dolls, clothing, prestige, cars, wonderful foods, maids, nannies...everything. W.A. Clark didn’t let his family want for everything, and when he was gone, his second wife Anna didn’t go without either. Throughout Huguette’s lifetime she was relatively reclusive, shunning publicity but being fodder for the newspapers all the same. After her Mother passed away, if anything, Huguette became more of a recluse, only speaking with few people, hardly any family, and relying on personal nurses for her most basic needs. She even spent the last several years of her life, by herself, in a personal hospital room, which blows my mind even now.       Empty Mansions tells this incredible story of wealth, the rise of power, and Huguette Clark in such a warm and inviting way it doesn’t seem at all as a stuffy nonfiction book. Well researched and do I mean well researched, they give you an insight into this world of the uber rich. The question raised now, did Huguette know what she wanted to do with her vast fortune after her death? An ongoing dramatic story, I fell in love with Empty Mansions from the beginning. The wonderful descriptions of Huguette’s childhood and throughout her adulthood stunned me into disbelief at times.        Gritty and honest, the authors do a wonderful job of making these characters, who while are real people, seem real to you as a reader. They aren’t one dimensional creatures who fit into a stereotype, which I think would have been easy given the material to work with. I’m not a fan of nonfiction, but Empty Mansions took me in and never let me leave until the end. Fantastic job and easily one of my favorite books of 2013.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent history lesson! Author does a fantastic job of researching this huge piece of unknown American history. Despite the privacy, why don't we know more about this family? It was hard to put this book down.
Dominican More than 1 year ago
This is the most amazing book. Huguette Clark is a fascinating woman with all of her interests (Japanese dolls and culture, Smurfs, animated films) and the problems excessive amounts of money can bring. Eccentric is hardly a strong enough word for her. She knows exactly what she is doing, is generous to a fault and can spot a scam when she sees one. She owns multiple mansions, but doesn't live in any of them. While healthy, she chooses a hospital room instead. One of the rooms from the New York house is now in the Corcoran Art Gallery, but the mansion has been replaced with apartments.
LovetoReadinPortland More than 1 year ago
Found Huguette's life a fascinating story, but a very sad one. The point of view of the authors was a little slanted toward the family, and quite negative on the hospital and nurse staff. So I researched the trial after finishing the book. I will not spoil it for other readers, but I was very surprised to say the least. I think it helps to research a little more to get a concise picture. I still am baffled that a woman with her money could maintain that level of privacy on her own, so I tend to agree with some others that she was manipulated and that she had some form of mental illness. Enjoyed the part about her father's history, and found his rise to power so fascinating. Enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. Well researched and written. I read the book in two days and was fascinated by the story of Hugette Clark. It is amazing that this woman spent her last years living in a hospital and nobody ever questioned it. I really could not take sides in this story (the family and the people who took her money as gifts.) The hospital does not come off as being too nice. They really shouldn't get anything. But then neither should the family and the nurse, her lawyer and accountant were not exactly stellar people either. All that money and Hugette Clark lived as a recluse. How very sad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A loving and inspirational story that needed to be told...a life of integrity indeed. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would love to have had a fairy godmother like the late Huguette Clark. She was the daughter of William Andrews Clark, owner of Jerome, Arizona’s legendary United Verde copper mine, and, in his lifetime, one of the richest men in the world. Huguette was the rich princess bestowing gifts of great worth with her magic wand throughout her 105-year life. The book, written by Bill Dedman and Paul Calrk Newell, Jr., was published in 2013 by Ballatine Books. I loved the story of Gwendolyn Jenkins, an immigrant from Jamaica who became a nurse’s aide. Jenkins helped take care of Irving Gordon, a Madison Avenue stockbroker who helped handle Huguette’s investments and died of cancer. After his death, Huguette wrote her a lovely note, “a proper note” thanking her for his care.  “She included a ‘little gift,’ “a check for three hundred dollars.” Her daughter said, “You’d better sit down, Mother, and let me read this letter over to you. This check is for thirty thousand dollars!” In another story, Huguette waved her magic wand to find the illustrator Felix Lourioux, who illustrated fairy tales in the French weekly, “La Semaine de Suzette,” a favorite in her youth, and commissioned several works by him. Lourioux was also the early illustrator of Mickey Mouse books. She lavishly supported him and his wife Lily throughout their lives. Huguette spent a great deal of her considerable fortune on her very personal tastes in art and people. She supported as many as a hundred families in her lifetime—artists, craftspeople illustrators, and musicians; William Gower husband of less than a year and his new family; the Frenchman Etienne de Villermont, the love of her life whom she refused to marry and the wife he eventually married; relatives, friends, staff that helped take care of her many properties and nurses. The surprise of the book was that Huguette’s passion was dolls. She spent millions of dollars on buying and outfitting them with costumes. She meticulously researched the period in which each doll came from and directed the building of the ‘house’ or ‘castle’ some were to live in as well as furniture and accessories to go with them. She extravagantly paid the artisans, sent gifts to their wives, children and grandchildren and continued to support the families after they died. (The collection is valued at $1.7 million.) I loved the story of the Japanese artist Saburo Kawakami who was hired to build a replica the lavish Hirosaki Castle, which included cutting shingles from a rare Japanese cedar for its roof. Huguette loved Japanese culture and history and collected rare Japanese Hina and other period dolls. As portrayed in the book, Huguette was exceptionally private, well-mannered, introverted, shy, generous, and kind, absorbed daily in private passions that gave her a great deal of pleasure. Not much more of her personality than that can be gleaned from the book. To his credit, Dedman tried hard—plugging through archives, bank drafts and written documents and interviewing anyone alive who knew her. Co-author Newell’s scant five sidebars of conversations with Huguette on the telephone don’t add much by way of illumination and left me wondering why the book included them. If I have a quarrel with the book it is that the book is very much a prize-winning journalist’s approach to writing about someone whose life was so carefully guarded. Perhaps only a third of the book is about what can be gleaned about Huguette from descriptions of her art and doll collection, descriptions of the lavish homes she lived in and abandoned, and the people that received some of her generous gifts. Even the major love of Huguette’s life (“Love of Half a Life”) with the Marquis Etienne de Villermont gets a scant five pages, taken up in part with a few short affectionate notes between them: “It’s Valentine’s Day and I am thinking of you with great affection. I send you this bouquet but the mimosas are under the snow. We will take the boat in the middle of March, the United States. It will be a joy to see you. I can’t wait, I hope you are well, will try to call you. Much love, always, Etienne.” Another page or so of this segment describes the friendship that continued after he became married to someone else, which included Huguette’s gifts to help them adopt a child and a description of some of the gifts she sent to that child. You have to admire a woman who was able to guard her privacy to that extent and live quite a full life absorbed by the pleasures and people she was drawn to. Up until her twenty-year stay at Beth Israel Medical Center, she stayed clear from fortune hunters, gossip, media attention, and family or friends that might only have cozied up because of that fortune. What is interesting is that the book documents the sadness of those aspects of a very wealthy person’s life—attempts by Beth Israel to get her to sign over much of what remained of her fortune (politely called ‘cultivating the donor’). Equally sad is the lawsuit instigated by remnants of her family, most of whom had never met her, who wanted a piece of her fortune. Sad too the controversy surrounding Hadassah Peri, the nurse that devoted her life to taking care of Huguette while she was in the hospital and became perhaps her only friend and confidante. Huguette supported her with huge donations to her and her family ($31 million!) and left a considerable portion more to her in the will. There's a lot of captivating detail to interest the reader who can’t get enough of the lives of the rich and famous. The most interesting and valuable segment  of Empty Mansions is the 125 pages or so (almost a third of the book) devoted to William Andrews Clark, Huguette’s father. For me, It is single best biography yet written about W.A. Clark, from his birth to a not so poor family, to his education, growth of his business empire, the building of his mansion in New York, and the dissolution the mansion and sale of the United Verde mine. The book offers a much more complex and interesting portrait of him than the one of Huguette. Perhaps this is where Newell added a great deal of value to Empty Mansions. Newell’s father was Clark’s uncle and Clark often visited him when he was in Los Angeles. Newall was writing a biography about Clark but “his health was failing, so only fragments of that work were completed.”  Newell took up that his father’s work by organizing the archives, visiting museums and historical societies and developing friendships with some of the relatives that had known Clark. It was a visit to the Corcoran Gallery that revealed that Huguette was still alive (by this time she was already ensconced in Beth Israel Medical Center). Newell Jr. was quick to say that even his father had never met the very shy and reclusive Huguette. The segment on Clark included 18 pages of rich new information bout the battles between Marcus Daly (owner of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company) and Clark for control of political power in Butte.  These include debunking some of the allegations of Clark’s bribery for the United States Senate and its aftermath, which included the Daly Camp’s bribery of some of the Montana legislators that had initially voted for Clark to recant their testimony. Clark eventually resigned in the swirl of controversy, then was reappointed to fill the vacancy. Newall also debunks the veracity of Mark Twain’s now famous and oft-quoted excoriation of Clark.  “He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag." (It goes to show that negative accusations always stay more firmly in the mind that positive ones, especially when they are well-written.) Turns out Twain had been saved from bankruptcy and was a close friend of Henry Huttleston Rogers, CEO of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, the company which took over Daly’s Anaconda Copper, a fabulous stock swindle story all on its own. Empty Mansions contains twenty-four pages of wonderful (and rare) color photographs and many black and white ones. My favorites were the black and white photo of Anna Clark’s bedroom with her harp at Bellosguardo taken in 1940 by Karl Obert and the full page photo of the very lovely Huguette taken in 1943. In summary: Empty Mansions is a good read—especially for those of us who love the history of Jerome and all the byways it can take us on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an interesting family history, initially paralleling quite an adventurous time in our country's history. Hugette herself would appreciate the book. I think she was shy and unimpressed with her wealth. Wealth effects people in many different ways.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not withstanding the robber barons that everyone has heard of, it was interesting to learn about a woman from the golden age that had managed to live so very privately despite her great wealth that no one knew who she or her family was. My main disappointment was hoping for more pictures of her various estates, the ghost apartments on 5th avenue and her vast collections of dolls and the dollhouses she had specially commissioned
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting to try and figure out what makes people tick! Was a little disappointed to never really know, but it was still a good read. Enjoyed the photos.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with the other 5-star reviewers: A good one, especially for those who like history and biographies. I hope there's a sequel -- but I won't give away why I say that for those who haven't yet enjoyed this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting book about a family that had a large impact across American history and yet they are not in our history books like Rockefeller or Carnegie. Excellent research and personal interviews.
lgervais More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book about a time lost of millionaire mansions and when wealth mattered more than your personality. It's truly fascinating to read about what happened to one of Americas most wealthiest families that no one really knew about until the heiress was older and leaving her fortune. This book is, in my opinion, not just a mystery but a book of historical significance. The pictures are beautiful and it was a quick yet interesting read.
AF-REMF More than 1 year ago
The Clark family has had an important place in our history - you either love them or despise them; however, this peek into their lives through the exploitation story of heiress Hugette Clark makes me keenly aware of how vulnerable the elderly are and how unethical some medical caregivers can be. A good read for anyone who deals with the elderly as a family member or social services. It was worth every penney!