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on 22 August 2014
This book has everything; money by the truckload, truly fabulous stuff and people who couldn't really appreciate any of it. Both Huguette and her mother were shy, sensitive souls whose way of dealing with life was to make it small, so that they could cope with it.

Huguette was a kind and generous person with an artistic nature, possibly somewhere on the autism scale and lost without her family but she seemed happy with such a little life. Inevitably, being America, many of those around her took advantage of her generosity and by and large, she was happy to give.

A really interesting, thought-provoking read from beginning to end.
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on 30 July 2017
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 1 October 2013
Huguette Clark lived to the age of 104, a life "long enough to narrowly escape both the Titanic's sinking and the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center", as the authors put it. Her father, the 'Copper King' W.A. Clark, in his day as wealthy and as well-known as any Carnegie, Rockefeller or Vanderbilt, was in his late sixties when she was born, their combined lives stretching from the American Civil War to the modern day.

This is a fascinating tale of Gilded Age wealth, as ostentatious and glamorous as any story in such an age can be. From the immense mansion in Manhattan to the fabulous estate in Santa Barbara, Huguette lived a life of almost unimaginable luxury - Monet paintings, Cartier jewels, diamonds, Stradivarius violins, estates in France. And yet she died in a small shabby hotel room in 2011, rich to the end, obsessed with cartoons and dolls, gifting millions to her nurses, her accountant, her lawyer, the children of employees and friends, whilst retreating from the world, ignoring her family, and refusing to sell any of her five homes, some of which she had not set foot in since the Second World War. After her death a vicious court battle broke out between her disinherited family, many of whom had never even met her, and the beneficiaries named in her will, primarily her dedicated nurse of twenty-plus years, who stood to inherit millions in addition to the more $30 million she had already received during Huguette's life.

Whether Huguette was mentally ill and being unduly influenced by her advisors, or whether she simply enjoyed making people happy, of using her wealth to help the people she cared about, of using her money in whatever way she wanted, the authors leave up to the reader. It is impossible to know one way or the other, but to my mind, Huguette simply created a cocoon for herself in the hsopital and didn't want to leave it. For someone born in a quieter world in 1906, one can hardly blame her from retreating from the chaotic 21st century.

It's a shame the publishers of this book didn't hold off for just a few more months, because the case has just been settled, literally a week ago (at the time of writing this review). I won't spoil it for anyone who wants to read this book, although you can Google Huguette's name to find the news articles easily enough.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 February 2014
While house-hunting online, author Bill Dedman came across a mysterious real estate listing: a $24 million house in New Canaan.

That was the beginning of a search for the life story of Huguette Clark, whose own employees weren't entirely sure she was alive. It's a big challenge for any writer -- telling the story of an heiress whose life is more mystery than verified fact -- and with the help of her nephew Paul Clark Newell Jr., Dedman brings alive the last embers of the Gilded Age.

After investigating the for-sale mansion -- which had not been inhabited since 1951 -- Dedman became intrigued by the story of the woman who owned it. Huguette Clark was 103 years old, possibly dead, and had not lived in her expensive mansions for many decades. She had not been photographed in decades, and was so fiercely private that many of her own relatives could not contact her.

But as buried as it is, there is a story behind Huguette Clark -- she was the youngest child of multimillionaire Senator W.A. Clark, grew up in an absurdly large mansion, debuted in the flapper era, married briefly, hobnobbed with royalty, and became increasingly reclusive and eccentric as her life wound on. Eventually she moved into a hospital for many years, despite being in excellent health, and died after a century of life, leaving behind a will as weird as she was.

A writer of nonfiction needs to do at least one of two things: bring the story to life as a writer, and bring factual information to light for the reader. Dedman succeeds in both things -- he resurrects countless ragged scraps of information and patches them together into a cohesive story, and he brings to life the shadowy, forgotten moments of Clark's life. Newell further embellishes these scraps by revealing the conversations he had with his mysterious relative, and the various things she said to him.

In fact, the dearth of detailed information about Clark means that Dedman's investigations are all the more in-depth -- every interview is precious, every detail is described with loving care. His descriptions of the post-Gilded-Age wealth that spawned Clark -- such as the beautiful "fairy-tale" mansion where she grew up -- are absolutely luscious to read.

And while Huguette is the focus of the story, Dedman also explores the lives and personalities of the people around her. Her father -- who is interesting enough for his own biography -- gets a few chapters, and her sister Andree as well.

But there's always a bittersweet note to the story, because of just how strange this woman became. She seems to go from a normal young girl to an increasingly strange woman, using her money to insulate herself into a comfortable little bubble of familiarity -- she almost ceases to exist, except in a nebulous, faraway sense. Through others' accounts -- including Newell -- she seems like a sweet, pleasant person, but it leaves you with a sense of sadness that her life was so devoid of normalcy.

"Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune" is a beautifully bittersweet little book, stoking a story from little smoldering twigs. Definitely an intriguing read, and a beautifully-written one.
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on 22 September 2013
There is so much info in this book that it is hard to know where to start.
At this very moment in time there are two groups of people fighting over Huguette's money. One side is made up of living relatives (a lot of them) and the other side consists of her lawyers, caregivers and charities. The relatives haven't seen the heiress for decades, some of them literally haven't laid eyes on her in half a century.
Not one of them checked to see if she was alright or even alive. That might sound strange but being the recluse she was it would have been an easy feat to keep a premature death hidden. All contact to family members was directed via her lawyer and there was no way to contact her directly.
Just before she entered the hospital, which was twenty years prior to her death, she was extremely ill and parts of her face were cancer ridden. I will spare you the gory details. Needless to say this was an old woman in her eighties who should have been in care or being cared for. Not one family member bothered to check on her.
Huguette enters the hospital and is then subjected to what I can only call financial blackmail, thievery and completely unethical behaviour at the hands of her carers, the hospital and board of directors of the hospital.
When a nurse or caregiver is receiving money and gifts to the tune of 20 million dollars then that person is morally and ethically corrupt. There are many examples in the book most of which just had me shaking my head and I have to ask why there was no person there looking out for her best interests?
She spent her entire lifetime writing giving away money to anyone and everyone. That generousity was abused by many people. Her property was stolen, her art was stolen by reputable museums, two of her bank safety deposit boxes complete with family jewels were sold off illegally/stolen by her bank. On and on the list goes. Her lawyers were too busy making millions off her back and her family had forgotten she existed.
This was an educated woman with amazing connections and a massive fortune, and yet she died as neglected as most of the elderly do in our society. Old and forgotten.
The story is filled to the brim with names, places, facts and figures and it does weigh it down. I think the author wanted to make sure he didn't miss any detail, which then meant there was no more room left for any moments of literary prowess.
Dedman paid explicit attention to the excessive spending. I have to say I was shocked at the way the relatives dismantled the properties after Huguette's father died. Dumping priceless items in landfills and the sea. Disgusting.
I also enjoyed the pictures included in the book. After reading the descriptions it gave faces to names and images to objects, especially to that spectacular mansion.
Towards the end I think there was change in tone when the author spoke about the relatives. It seemed as if he had started to feel something akin to anger on her behalf. I tend to agree. I can understand the family for not wanting the people who used Huguette to get any more money and at the same time the family doesn't deserve to have it either. Somebody in that huge wealthy and privileged family should have been watching out for her even if she was difficult.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.
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on 4 June 2014
I have Asperger's and this is my take Huguette Clark. I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed this book which is a biography of two people, father and daughter, while also being a history of the Gilded Age and a brief overview of the 20th century. I had heard of Ms Clark when she was in the news and concern was raised about whether she may be a case of elder-abuse by those in charge of her financial and medical care, since she was a reclusive centenarian. I then forgot about her until I read a few reviews of this book. Reading those couple of thought-provoking reviews it crossed my mind as to whether Huguette might have been Aspergian; did she have Asperger's.

I thought of this because I myself have Asperger's, am a loner and for a certain period of my life was house-bound by choice. My reading interests (naturally?) involve recluses and mental health and historically I'm well-read in the Victorian age and early 20th century. Thus, could not pass up this book.

Starting off historically we are given the story of W.A. Clark's life, born 1839, a copper baron and once possibly the richest man in America. The history follows his life, then his second wife, 40 years his junior and their two children, progressing on with his youngest daughter Huguette who lived until the ripe old age of 104 and died in 2011. It absolutely amazes me that the two people, father and daughter, only two generations of a family cover the time period from the 8th President of the US of A, Van Duren to the 44th President, Obama. Hugette herself barely escaped two world disasters, the sinking of the Titanic and the attacks on the World Trade Center. Fascinating!

I don't feel Huguette had a sad life at all. Of course, she suffered sad events such as the death of her elder sister at only 17 years of age and perhaps Huguette's life may have been different if this very close sisterly bond had been able to continue into her adulthood. Yes, she had empty mansions and several apartments but many of them were inherited and one especially was dear to her because of it's meaning to her mother. She had many obsessive hobbies and was a very talented painter. Her hobbies included doll houses, normal sized-dolls, miniature house replicas, expert knowledge of Japanese cultural history and cartoons. Painting was more of a profession, though she didn't sell her work; she did consider herself an artist. Huguette may have inherited astronomical amounts of wealth, by today's standards, but this was obtained for her and the family by her father during the Gilded Age, a time when money practically grew on trees for the rich and their extravagance matched that ideology.

Huguette herself, like and even more so than her father was passionate about charities and donated millions during her lifetime to the arts, artists, animals, Israel and Girl Scouting. She also was a tremendously giving person and gave away millions to those she called friend. She was a loner, a person who preferred solitude to company but it wasn't until her 50s when her mother died that she truly become reclusive and even then she continued to have occasional visits from a handful of the closest friends. Because of the traits I've mentioned so far, I do come away from this believing that Huguette may very well have been Aspergian. The facts as presented in the book tell that all doctors who examined her diagnosed her free of any mental illness, she was always a lucid person, combine this with the intelligence, talent, "eccentricities" intense hobbies and self-induced reclusiveness, while at the same time being a content person I certainly can identify with her and feel quite confident she may well have been on the Autistic Spectrum, namely Asperger's. Choosing to live in a hospital setting once she no longer had anyone to look after her, she had outlived all her doctors, makes perfect sense to me.

The only parts of the book that didn't interest me were the detailed descriptions of the insides and contents of the mansions and apartments. I did find truly absorbing though the life, thoughts and doings of Huguette, a person who on one hand held onto many, many objects (including empty mansions) for sentimental reasons while at the same time handing out cheques for hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars to friends and acquaintances with families and children who needed the money when she herself had no personal use for it except for feeding her hobbies and obsessions; the latter being a typical way of life for aspies. Absolutely loved this book! And am glad Huguette had the money to be able to fulfill herself, during an age when she was not understood, and also able to spread that money to the charities and people she felt could use it and needed it more than she.
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on 6 May 2014
One of the many facts that stood out for me in this very readable and fascinating book, is that a period of 172 years is covered from the birth of Huguette Clark's father in 1839 and her death at the age of 104 in 2011 - the lives of just two people covering such a long period of development, change, social and economic history. And so much money, unbelievably vast sums of money made by Mr Clark and ultimately inherited by his daughter Huguette. At one stage WA Clark was one of the richest men in America, and by the standards of his own time his spending was extraordinarily lavish. When Huguette died she left behind a fortune of USD$300 million, most of which was donated to charity, but not before a court battle between her distant relatives and the executors of her estate. I can hardly believe that over a twenty year period, she gave away $31 million to her nurse.

Joint author, Bill Dedman, is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and quite by chance one day, while looking to buy a house to live in the state of Connecticut, he came across a very large empty house on a large piece of land. It had been empty for years and years, vines were growing through the windows, rodents and small animals wandered in and out at will. It was a mess. His interest was further piqued when he found out that rates were still being paid on the property, and were up to date. Further digging exposed a Huguette Clark was the owner. Being an investigative sort of journalist he then found out that Huguette Clark also owned a huge piece of prime real estate in New York City - overlooking Central Park no less, and a massive cliff side property above Santa Moncia foreshore. All empty, the Santa Monica property never lived in by its owner, and all up to date with rates and other expenses. Who was this mysterious Huguette Clark?

It turns out that Ms Clark had been living in a hospital for some twenty years prior to her death, by choice, and that she had lived a very comfortable but very solitary life. She had an incredibly generous nature that, it would seem, had been taken advantage of while she was in the hospital. For such a journalist as Mr Dedman, here was a story to be told, and tell it he does. He teamed up with Paul Clark Newell, jr, who is a descendant of WA Clark's via his first marriage - a detailed family tree at the beginning of the book explains it all. This relative, along with a number of distant relatives, corresponded for many years with Huguette either by letter or by phone. No one ever saw her, ever. All very mysterious.

The first third of the book I found the most interesting. It tells the story of how WA Clark made his stash - to escape being conscripted to fight in the Civil War of the 1860s, he disappeared off to the Wild West - Montana to be precise, discovered the riches that could be obtained from copper mining and the railways, and he was on his way. He sounds to have been an extraordinary man with enormous energy, not just in his business life, but also in his personal life, marrying his second wife at the age of 67 and fathering two more children - Huguette and her sister. Once he died however, in 1925, things began to unravel for Huguette and her mother, and the story also begins to lose its thread a bit. Basically Huguette had a very aimless life so consequently there is little to tell.

The book is perhaps a bit long, and there seems to be a fair bit of padding out of the last years of Huguette's life, but by crikey it is so fascinating. The book might be about Huguette Clark, but the main character undoubtedly is money, vast quantities of it, and it raises the question, yet again, of whether it is possible to have too much money.
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on 19 September 2013
Great book, enjoyed the insights into a different world. A time when extreme wealth was so extraordinary. Really worth reading.
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on 19 July 2014
I loved this book! Thoroughly documented, no judgments, no wild psychological interpretations offered by the author. The simple, rather laid-back style of writing heightens, not lessens, the drama of this strange woman's life. Highly recommendable.
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on 20 April 2016
This is a fab read exploring the life of Huguette Clark, an elusive heiress with more money than most of us can even imagine. Shying away from the limelight, Huguette lived over a 100 years - yet most of her employees and extended family had never seen her, and for the last decades of her life couldn't even be sure if she were alive or dead...

I had never heard of W.A. or Huguette Clark before reading this, but the book does a great job of covering the family history - and outlining how W.A. became so fabulously wealthy. Huguette's life comes across as equal parts mysterious and tragic and, I suppose, just goes to show that money really can't buy you everything.
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