Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach

Overview

Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme has devastated the eternally sunny world of Palm Beach, bringing down multimillionaires and destroying once wealthy widows. At the center of the scandal is the isolated, insulated winter home of the mega wealthy. Suddenly, everyone in America is talking about the South Florida island and the rarified life so apart from the rest of America. Everyone wants to know what are the deepest truths of this strange, exotic universe of wealth and privilege. In Madness Under the Royal Palms, ...

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Overview

Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme has devastated the eternally sunny world of Palm Beach, bringing down multimillionaires and destroying once wealthy widows. At the center of the scandal is the isolated, insulated winter home of the mega wealthy. Suddenly, everyone in America is talking about the South Florida island and the rarified life so apart from the rest of America. Everyone wants to know what are the deepest truths of this strange, exotic universe of wealth and privilege. In Madness Under the Royal Palms, Laurence Leamer has the answers. It took him fifteen years to get them, and to expose the inner life and drama of the wealthy as it has never been exposed before. It is an often shocking, scandalous book that will forever change not only the way Palm Beach is viewed but the life of wealth and privilege in America. Leave it to Leamer, the bestselling author known for getting the inside story on his elusive subjects, to take us behind the walls of America's most exclusive enclave of wealth and privilege. In Madness, Leamer tells a braided story involving a socialite determined to make it to the top of Palm Beach society, two infamous murders, and a powerful society reporter. As a backdrop, Leamer tells the story of the clash between old money and new, religion and status, and the love, lust, and fatal hatreds that determine the shape of a fiercely protected society. The cast of characters include trophy wives, trophy husbands, purported gigolos, glamorous widows, a pioneering gay couple, a wildly irreverent event planner, a sociopathic multimillionaire, and an elegant society queen. For a hundred years Palm Beach has been a fantasy land nurtured by, and maintained for, the megawealthy. In the end, Leamer's tale of money, murder and mad pretension reveals a darker strain. Uncovering that strain, as the author himself writes, turned into as fascinating, in some cases as shocking, and always as unexpected a journey as I have ever taken.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Leamer (The Kennedy Women) reveals the secrets of the Palm Beach elite who reside behind the high walls and manicured hedges of this exclusive enclave. A winter resident since 1994, the author gains the trust of his subjects, playing tennis with them and attending their parties. Such firsthand experience is supplemented by newspaper articles and interviews with scores of men and women who, although usually guarded, are unusually open to Leamer (the informant for the chapter "Palm Beach Millionaire Seeks Playmate" gave the author access to his personal papers, including unpublished memoirs). The book's highly visual vignettes-dominated by divorce, infidelity, excessive drinking and violence-produce a depressing picture of sad, angry, insecure and frequently nasty people hiding behind empty smiles, luxury cars and socially invisible servants. Leamer reflects: "Like [Henry] James, I found that few of the lives have the beauty of the surroundings, or the depths of the artistic vision that inspired this island." Some readers may find this book a penetrating portrayal of a privileged segment of the American population; others might regard it as a book-length gossip column. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Palm Beach, FL, is a resort town for the superwealthy, where outsiders are clearly not welcomed, as evidenced by such facts as that its beautiful, pristine beaches do not provide access to public bathrooms and there are no chain stores and outlets along its boulevards, just the likes of Tiffany's and Louis Vuitton. Leamer (The Kennedy Women), a resident of Palm Beach, describes the private lives of many of the town's wealthy inhabitants. In chapter after chapter, and story after story, he details how the city is really one big soap opera ruled by a number of matriarchs who inherited their money by marrying wealthy, older men who are now deceased. In turn, these aging trophy wives now pursue private lives with gigolos and public lives in the island's society pages. The recent influx has led to a conflict between those with "new" money and the WASPS who once dominated the island. Although Madness provides a number of sociological insights about the private lives of wealthy people and social class etiquette, this book will appeal mainly to fans of tabloid gossip.
—Tim Delaney

Kirkus Reviews
Gossipy, depressing chronicle of ossified Florida high society. Nonfiction vet Leamer (Fantastic: the Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2005, etc.) moved with his wife to Palm Beach in 1994. Long a miner of celebrity gossip for his books, he found himself sinking deeper and deeper into the snobbish, wealth-soaked milieus of both Palm Beaches-one dominated by Protestants, the other by Jews. The two sometimes meet, but only superficially and rarely without resentment. Selecting from hundreds of potential protagonists, the author settles on about a dozen, alternating their sagas with sweeping observations about what he sees as a unique social setting. Some of the story lines involve suicide, some murder. Most of the rest portray poorly matched couples of wealthy, vain old men and ambitious young women trying either to claw their way to the top of Palm Beach society or to retain their hegemony over it. The overarching theme is that egregious wealth never buys happiness, at least not for long. Leamer injects himself into the narrative frequently. He observes the gala events, sometimes as an invited guest. He becomes a confidant of certain Palm Beach queens and kings-female and male, heterosexual and homosexual, those born rich and those who have married into wealth. To his credit, he almost always uses real names and immediately informs readers when employing a pseudonym. Stars and supporting players alike are either relentlessly mean or utterly hapless. Leamer conveys the bizarre absurdity of it all, as when an exclusive club makes grudging adjustments to its rigid code regarding the physical appearance of guests in order to accommodate members' tattoo-sporting or bodily pierced grandchildren.Required to place Band-Aids over the offending markings, "a young guest enters the dining room so swathed in bandages that she looks as if she has just left intensive care."A professionally reported account, but it's difficult to imagine an audience other than those with a pre-existing personal interest in Palm Beach. Author events in New York, Palm Beach, Florida
From the Publisher
"Madness offers buckets of heart-warmimg Schadenfreude for all." —-The Washington Post
The Washington Post
"Leamer, who's lived in Palm Beach since '94, knows his stuff. . . . Madness offers buckets of heart-warming Schadenfreude for all."
St. Petersburg Times
"Now, as unflinching as Dante, the irrepressible Laurence Leamer . . . has turned his attention to the society in which he luxuriates most winters. Social lepidopterist that he is, in the 300-plus pages of Madness Under the Royal Palms Leamer pins out that gaudy, conflicted community like cornered butterflies fluttering, hectic and doomed."
Bloomberg
"Leamer meticulously paints the kind of frenzied desire to belong to the club, literally and metaphorically, that led people to abandon most principles."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401322915
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 1/20/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurence Leamer is the author of twelve books, including Make-Believe: The Life of Nancy and Ronald Reagan, The Kennedy Women, The Kennedy Men, King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson and Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger. A member of the Peace Corps and a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, Leamer was on staff at Newsweek, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Playboy and many other publications.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 5, 2009

    Leamer's Madness Under the Royal Palms is going to be a hit

    Given the name and uber wealthy playground about which Madness was written, I was expecting an oblique assault on an elitist and secretive sliver of society suspected of profligate spending, narcissism and caste systems.<BR/><BR/>Instead, I found that the book is more of an amusing anthropological study that offered layers of depth and insight into individuals, relationships and social groups. The result is a humorous parable with some heavy moral lessons. <BR/><BR/>Leamer used multiple sources to build a penetrating character analysis of some of the more notable Palm Beach residents who, as an aggregate, are symbols of the various cliques that define the essence of Palm Beach. <BR/><BR/>NON-FICTION THAT READS LIKE FICTION<BR/>While it's a non fiction work, it has the literary ardor, flow, and the readability of a sticky novel you can't put down. The structure and clever collation of the vignettes is a thing of genius; like a movie that presents a montage of time periods in a character's life, Leamer seamlessly builds the story, jumping from one vignette to the next, and then taking us backwards and forwards in time. As you move through the book, the building of the individual events sculpts the big picture, and lives are viewed through different lenses. The result is a story that comes together so artfully, that it's hard to believe it's non fiction. For this reason, among others, Leamer has become my favorite contemporary writer.<BR/><BR/>STORIES THAT WILL MAKE YOU CRINGE<BR/>As Leamer draws us into his world and follows the lives of the characters, like with Aesop's Fables, we cannot help but predict the tragic outcomes of the paths they have chosen. The irony here is that these are real people, illustrating that the tragic flaw of humanity is our inability to step outside our selves and get past the artificial world of our own construct. This is the real-life version of Faust, and a lesson in perception, misperception and mortality. Some of the characters were blessed with not surviving to read about their own catastrophic social failures.<BR/><BR/>KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES' IS NOT ENOUGH<BR/>Money seems to be the fulcrum in the lives of the residents, an ends and not a means. Greed is the corrupting factor that invariably crushes relationships, family, trust and trust funds. In a twist of the plot, however, money is the engine that fuels their existence, and yet it is still a limiting factor on the island. For the very privileged, social status is determined by caste, not wealth alone. You can keep up with the Jones', but they'll never have you over for dinner. The elite must maintain their exclusivity at all cost. The "caste" of characters is so colorful and the world so utterly bizarre, that it is hard to fathom such a place exists.<BR/><BR/>It's the American Dream stretched to extremes, at which point it becomes distorted and absurd. We get the special insight and understanding from an author who has lived among these people for fourteen years.<BR/><BR/>After putting down Leamer's new book, I was reminded of the profound statement that some ascribe to Samuel Johnson: "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good." <BR/><BR/>Leamer's Madness Under the Royal Palms is a must read for anyone aspiring to "achieve" the American Dream. This book might put things in perspective and make you a little more satisfied with your lot in life.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2009

    Terrific Expose

    It is great book for both Beach and non Beach Reading. The author has done his research about Palm Beach residents. It is well written and absorbing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    How the other 1% of the population lives....

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. However, I must admit that I always enjoy getting a peek into the lives of the "super rich." It just goes to show that you can have all the money in the world, but it won't bring you happiness, nor will it get you into the upper echelons of society.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2009

    Great Book!

    Could not put it down. I highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 3, 2009

    Great book!

    I found this book to be amazing! All the short stories are interesting and insightful. Explore the details behind the darkness of money. Please do yourself a favor and read this book. <BR/><BR/>In my opinion, we can't get enough insight on the things people with money and power and doing behind closed doors. So when you get your hands on this book, it will open up your mind to help you think about remarkable situations. Social devastation! Read this book! I would recommend it to anyone. -Cheers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2009

    fascinating

    I live in palm Beach and saw a copy because a friend of mine was mentioned in it and once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. It's absolutely fascinating and filled with interesting little stories. I don't think you have to live here to enjoy it. It reminded me of "Midnight in the Garden of Eden," only there were more characters in this one so it was a very lively read. Very definitely recommended for those who like to read about the rise and fall of the rich.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2009

    Interesting Read

    This book is a great read. It switches between history and current events. It tells the story of different people and how they got their start on the island and tells stories of thier lives. It is written so you feel as if you really know the people being discussed. The stories are so engaging and it makes the reader feel as if they are involved in the very exclusive scene of Palm Beach. The author lives in Palm Beach, knows these people, and has been to the parties so this book is almost like an entrance pass into a lifestyle that most people will never be able to experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2009

    Disappointing

    I am familiar with this area of florida and even some of it's players and I was disappointed with this book. It was chosen as our book club book and not one single person got through it. I'm sorry, but it was really boring and didn't hold my attention. If it eventually got better, I don't know, I never get to that point.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009

    Well Honestly!!!

    Most of these folks definitely do not have the heart of a generous thinking (although wealthy) Brooke Astor. The term self centered comes to mind.

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  • Posted January 18, 2009

    The Tragic Trajectory of a National Power Enclave: Exposure of Muted Malaise within the Mansions of Palm Beach

    As a chronicle of cultural decline, Laurence Leamer's exposure evokes Plato's counsel in the opening dialogue of The Republic on the enfeebling effects of excessive wealth on the integrity and concord of individuals and societies. The gilded marble tables that distracted the opulent Athenians from the just and good life reappear in the Palms, but by now they have distended to idolatrous slabs of oblation on which generations have been sacrificed. <BR/><BR/>Leamer captures not only the tragic trajectory of the rituals of this power enclave; he vividly portrays, almost cinematically, the visceral interplay of mind and body in its denouement. He reveals the muted malaise within the emotionally hollowed out mansions of Palm Beach, much as Orson Welles exposed the Hearst empire in Citizen Kane: Consumed by an imperious proclivity to usurp, the magnate's torso stiffened, frame by frame, to a brittle and lifeless statue, on object among other objects in his mansion. <BR/><BR/>In this milieu discourse is depleted of all vitality and substance. Leamer aptly compares Stendhal's observations on the cultural decay just prior to the fall of the French aristocracy, with particular focus on its cordially encoded censorship and tedium. <BR/><BR/> "In the salons of the gentile elite there has been a long decline into intellectual and spiritual decadence. Dinner at the B&T is a scene not unlike that described by Stendhal in The Red and the Black ... just before the French Revolution: 'In the marquis' dinning room, provided you did not make jokes about God, or priests, or the King, or those holding government posts, or artists patronized by the court, or all the established ideas and institutions... and provided, above all, that you never discussed politics... you were free to talk about anything you like...any idea with a scrap of vitality seemed gross coarseness. Despite polished manners, complete courtesy, and a desire to please, boredom could be seen on every face.' "<BR/><BR/>When an entire community is codified by commodity or the family crest, individual initiative, rectitude and character become endangered qualities. Its social assemblies remain incubators of bigotry: In Palm Beach four of its five clubs exclude Jews, the very people that has contributed most culturally and philanthropically to the island in the past quarter century, as Leamer rightly points out. Indeed, even before the publication of his book, Leamer himself was expelled from the alluded to club when compromising passages were revealed. Some will see Leamer's covert reconnaissance mission as betrayal, a tribal breach. Yet it is precisely this critical recoil that is his eminent distinction. If, say, a Korowai tribesman of Papua reproves the menu of his cannibalistic horde, he might be deemed nobler than the others who are about to bite into your shank.<BR/><BR/>Leamer's titration, to borrow a term from chemistry whereby a substance of known strength is infused into a solution to detect the concentration of an acid, will elicit further reprisals. For we are witnessing, on a microcosmic level, the last morbid twitch of a dying culture as we embark on a conceivably more meritorious millennium, less marooned in creed and greed. Leamer's expose of Palm Beach will have a healing effect in contributing to an eventual understanding of such anachronistic remnants, not unlike the archeological evidence of bones excavated in the former Roman Empire that indicate nutrition improved in vast

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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