Mesmerizing topic, VERY disappointing execution. Awarded 2 stars on Goodreads.
As someone who likes to read about the lives of the rich and famous, I expected this book to be fascinating. NOT! While there were some parts of interest, it felt like most of the book was a narrative about money — how much was spent on this, how much it cost to built that, what mansion contents were sold to whom for how much. I actually found myself skipping long paragraphs full of figures. (I suppose we have to give the author lots of credit for thorough research.)
There was an additional confusing element to the story of four generations of Vanderbilts — the fact that they kept using the same names in each generation. So, the reader has to try to figure out which Cornelius Vanderbilt was being discussed or which William or Alva, etc. The author did not do a very good job of helping with this.
On the plus side, I liked the story of the rivalry between Mrs. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Astor, the efforts to marry Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough, and the custody battle over little Gloria Vanderbilt (she who makes the jeans and is mother to Anderson Cooper). And you do get a reasonable tale of how the enormous fortune of the Commodore was squandered by subsequent generations — through lavish entertaining, ostentatious building, and extravagant spending.