Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman
The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

76%

28 Critic Reviews

Bill Dedman first wrote about Clark’s life in 2010 and with the help of Paul Newell — a distant relative who was not involved in the suit — has written a blood-boiling exposé. It will make you angry and it will make you sad. Huguette deserved far better.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

When Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?
 
Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.
 
Huguette was the daughter of self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark, nearly as rich as Rockefeller in his day, a controversial senator, railroad builder, and founder of Las Vegas. She grew up in the largest house in New York City, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for a family of four. She owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls. But wanting more than treasures, she devoted her wealth to buying gifts for friends and strangers alike, to quietly pursuing her own work as an artist, and to guarding the privacy she valued above all else.
 
The Clark family story spans nearly all of American history in three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to mining camps in the Montana gold rush, from backdoor politics in Washington to a distress call from an elegant Fifth Avenue apartment. The same Huguette who was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11 held a ticket nine decades earlier for a first-class stateroom on the second voyage of the Titanic.
 
Empty Mansions reveals a complex portrait of the mysterious Huguette and her intimate circle. We meet her extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her French boyfriend, her nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives fighting to inherit Huguette’s copper fortune. Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, Empty Mansions is an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.

Advance praise for Empty Mansions
 
Empty Mansions is a dazzlement and a wonder. Bill Dedman and Paul Newell unravel a great character, Huguette Clark, a shy soul akin to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird—if Boo’s father had been as rich as Rockefeller. This is an enchanting journey into the mysteries of the mind, a true-to-life exploration of strangeness and delight.”—Pat Conroy, author of The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

Empty Mansions is at once an engrossing portrait of a forgotten American heiress and a fascinating meditation on the crosswinds of extreme wealth. Hugely entertaining and well researched, Empty Mansions is a fabulous read.”—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Bill Dedman

See more books from this Author
BILL DEDMAN introduced the public to heiress Huguette Clark and her empty mansions through his compelling series of narratives for NBC. He received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting while writing for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and has written for the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe. PAUL CLARK NEWELL JR., a cousin of Huguette Clark, has researched the Clark family history for twenty years, sharing many private conversations with Huguette about her life and family. He accepted her invitation for a rare private tour of Bellosguardo, her mysterious $100 million oceanfront estate in Santa Barbara. A grandson of W.A. Clark's sister, Newell is not a party to the battle over the inheritance.
































Author Residence: Connecticut (Dedman) and California (Newell)
 
Published September 10, 2013 by Ballantine Books. 514 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Business & Economics, History, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
icon3
Peak Rank on Sep 29 2013
icon7
Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
1
Want to Read
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for Empty Mansions
All: 28 | Positive: 24 | Negative: 4

Kirkus

Above average
on Jul 21 2013

Clark is an intriguing figure with a story that will interest many, but the book misses the mark as an in-depth exposé.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou... | See more reviews from Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Sep 16 2013

Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., a cousin of the book's subject, reconstruct the life of reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark...in this riveting biography.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Sep 04 2013

Mr. Dedman had stumbled onto an amazing story of profligate wealth, one so wild that “American aspiration” doesn’t begin to describe its excesses...“Empty Mansions” is the self-explanatory title of the Huguette Clark story.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou... | See more reviews from NY Times

Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Christopher Bray on Jul 13 2014

It is way too long, ponderously chronological, and laden with detail that has no purchase on the story proper. Worst of all, it fights shy of its central implication. You'd have to be mad not to spot that Huguette Clark was mentally ill. Yet Dedman goes on insisting that his subject "lived a surprisingly rich life"...

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou... | See more reviews from Guardian

Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Curt Schleier on Dec 31 2013

Bill Dedman first wrote about Clark’s life in 2010 and with the help of Paul Newell — a distant relative who was not involved in the suit — has written a blood-boiling exposé. It will make you angry and it will make you sad. Huguette deserved far better.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou... | See more reviews from Star Tribune

Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Orlando Bird on Sep 05 2014

Bill Dedman’s absorbing book follows his rise and focuses on his daughter, Huguette...A powerful illustration of the pitfalls of wealth.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou... | See more reviews from Financial Times

Huntington News

Good
Reviewed by David Kinchen on Sep 19 2013

My assessment of "Empty Mansions": a marvelous, entertaining, moving, educational and very readable account of an era and a woman who did it her way.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

The Christian Manifesto

Good
Reviewed by Shondra Brown on Oct 14 2013

If you’re looking for a fascinating read, and love to learn and read historical accounts, then this just may be the biography for you! You’ll definitely want to check out the first few chapters, if only to read of their mansions and fortunes!

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

South China Morning Post

Good
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Sep 29 2013

The best parts of the book describe the unseemly efforts of trustees, hospital administrators, a private nurse who collected millions from her patient, and an accountant caught in an internet sex sting to separate the heiress from her money.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

The Missoulian

Good
Reviewed by Renata Birkenbuel on Sep 29 2013

For those Butte historians who are dying to learn more about Clark’s daughter, I highly recommend “Empty Mansions” for mesmerizing detail into the life of an ultra-rich daughter of a self-made Montana industrialist.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Star News

Below average
Reviewed by Ben Steelman on Oct 05 2013

...this, however, doesn’t quite add up to a full-length book, so the authors padded out with the story of Huguette’s flamboyant father.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Santa Barbara Independent

Good
Reviewed by CHARLES DONELAN on Oct 03 2013

Through the popularity of this highly readable account of her life, an elderly woman has gone from her status of three years ago as an ultra-recluse, when she was nearly un-findable and living under an assumed name in a nondescript New York hospital room, to the top of the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Santa Barbara Independent

Good
Reviewed by Barney Brantingham on Sep 10 2013

Eccentric? Yes. Out-of-her-mind crazy? No. That’s the conclusion reached in Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, a well-researched book by NBC investigative reporter Bill Dedman and Huguette’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell Jr.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Florida Weekly

Good
Reviewed by MOLLY FORD on Oct 09 2013

Fantastically researched, we see personalities, eccentricities and the baggage that comes with money. Huguette’s mansions might be empty of people, but her life was full of intrigue.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

DarienLibrary.org

Above average
Reviewed by Stephanie on Dec 30 2013

What I expected was another breezy story about the crazy things rich people do with all their money. As I already knew Huguette’s main obsession was dolls and dollhouses, how could I resist? What I got was a complex story about a complex woman...

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

FineBooks & Collections

Above average
Reviewed by Rebecca Rego Barry on Sep 16 2013

Empty Mansions is full of rich details and solid research--we'd expect nothing less of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dedman--and yet I did not come away as convinced as the authors seem to be about Huguette's decision-making skills as she aged...

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Luxury Reading

Good
Reviewed by Vera on Nov 06 2013

It reads like fiction and is highly entertaining even as it presents a unique woman and an in-depth look at the growth of America from the mid 1800s through to the present.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Estella's Revenge

Good
Reviewed by Andi on Dec 03 2013

I could not be more tickled to have read this book. It's a quick, easy, well-written read that will absolutely blow your mind. I hope YOU decide to pick it up!

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

The Brunette Librarian

Good
on Dec 12 2013

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...

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

JulzReads

Above average
on Sep 03 2013

Though the outcome of her estate is still not settled, it was an interesting look at a unique family who realized the American Dream and how they spent their fortune.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Kittling: Books

Good
Reviewed by Cathy on Sep 10 2013

The authors set out to present a fair and balanced portrait of a mystifying woman. They did, and in such a discerning manner that I didn't feel coerced into their way of thinking. Empty Mansions is a fascinating portrait of a bygone era and an enigmatic woman.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Words to Read By

Excellent
Reviewed by sbk on Sep 23 2013

While she would certainly have not have approved of this book being written about her, I am so glad it was written, because it was absolutely fascinating, and an intriguing look at a piece of American history that had previously been forgotten.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Meaghan Walsh Gerard

Good
Reviewed by MWGERARD on Sep 10 2013

This story is so odd it seems like it must be a Victorian sensational novel. You have to keep reminding yourself not only that it’s real, but that it just happened a couple of years ago.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Crazy for Books

Above average
on Sep 28 2013

It is an interesting yet disturbing journey into the mysteries of mind. You are unlikely to get drawn into it right away, but once you’re there, there’s no way you can leave before finishing it.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Novel Chatter

Good
on Sep 26 2013

Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, Empty Mansions is an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

The Year in Books

Good
on Sep 13 2013

Definitely recommended, and while not all reviews have been positive, I don't really pay attention to them when I find something I've really liked reading. If you are looking for something beyond the ordinary, you'll definitely find it here.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Mary Drew

Good
on Jan 11 2014

You can Google her to find out where the money went. But first read this book to see where the money came from and how she disbursed it during the 20 years she lived in that small hospital room while owning those empty mansions.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

http://www.goodreports.net

Below average
on May 30 2014

Neither tragic nor pathetic, her life was defined by emptiness. Her story is interesting, but there is nothing in it to either feel sad about or celebrate.

Read Full Review of Empty Mansions: The Mysteriou...

Reader Rating for Empty Mansions
81%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 2676 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


Rate this book!

Add Review

Reader reviews & activity

Andrew Walters

Andrew Walters 13 Oct 2013

Added the book to want to read list

×