Saturday, January 20, 2018

Fortune's Children

Cornelius Vanderbilt was once the richest man in America. Yet none of his descendents just three generations below him could count themselves as millionaires! How did this happen? Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt tells the tale.

The first fifty pages of the book are fantastic. They are all about how The Commodore had built his wealth. With a loan of $100 from this mother, the teen-aged Cornelius followed his father's line of business by buying a boat to help transport farmers' crops to market. He worked hard and kept costs low and soon had a few boats to his name. He continued to grow his transportation network over the decades, culminating in some valuable railroad assets that took his wealth to the next level.

The next few pages aren't bad either, as they focused on one of his sons (to whom The Commodore left most of his money) who doubled the family wealth by focusing on strengthening the railroad monopolies that characterized him as one of the Robber Barons. But soon after, the family's wealth went off the rails.

The book at times felt like a tabloid, as it delved into the details of the court cases, estates (which needed several servants to keep running), yachts, addictions and parties that destroyed the family's wealth. The Commodore was a miser, but his descendents knew how to live the good life, thanks to the dead man's loot.

It's a sad story, with a bit too much detail on the extravagance of the family's spending. But it contains a great intro to The Commodore, who started it all.


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