Review: Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman

Title: Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Hugette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Author: Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.
Publisher: Balentine Books
Published: September 10, 2013
Ebook, Arc
ISBN13: 9780345534521
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Netgalley

Goodreads Summary:
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.

My thoughts:
Empty Mansions is an enthralling read. It's the story of Huguette Clark and her vast fortune.  Where did she get her money? She certainly didn't work for it. She was the heiress to W.A. Clark. If you're scratching your head right now, don't worry, you're not alone. I had the same reaction. In fact if my history teacher ever covered this topic, I don't remember any of it. This story starts relatively just a few years or so ago. It happened when Bill Dedman, author of this book, stumbled upon an ad for an enormous house for sale. Curious, Bill decided to check it out, so to speak. He found that even though the house had been unoccupied for sixty years, it was still run as if whoever owned it would be returning any minute. After doing a little more digging he found that the owner, Huguette Clark, had other properties of a substantial value also unoccupied. So the questions were posed: Who is Huguette Clark and Where is she?
With the help of Huguette's distant cousin, Paul Clark Newell, the mystery to one of the world's wealthiest women was solved. Huguette Clark was the daughter of W.A. Clark. W.A. has quite a lengthy resume. He was a copper industrialist, a senator, a railroad builder, and the founder of Las Vegas. So needless to say, he was a very wealthy man. Dedman dives into the history of Clark from his early years until his death. He covers his controversial role as senator to his outlandish 121-room mansion where Huguette grew up. All this serves as an important background to understanding Huguette.
Huguette was a very reclusive woman. She didn't go out very much in her early years and not at all in her later years. She led a relatively quiet life. This might lead one to think perhaps she was lonely, but she kept close friendships to the few she had. She was also very generous. She gave more money to charities and people than can be named. It was nothing for her to write out a $50,000 check to someone. She took care of the people she loved as well as the people who served her family faithfully over the years. She also had eccentric hobbies. She collected dolls and dollhouses. She spent more money than most people can dream about on her hobbies. This woman was really extraordinary. Though at times I did feel sorry for her. Toward the end of the book, in Huguette's later life, I felt as though people were preying on her, trying to take advantage. Even in her old age, Huguette remained sharp and alert. She only trusted a handful of people, and perhaps some of those people might have taken advantage. 
Empty Mansions is a fascinating read. It's a look back at history and one of America's great innovators. A history many people may not be familiar with. Dedman included many images in the book that helped bring Huguette's story to life. It also included some personal conversations between Paul and Huguette. Although I'm sure she wouldn't have liked having her life laid out like this, I'm really glad I got the opportunity to read it.

My rating: