Kirkus Reviews QR Code
EMPTY MANSIONS by Paul Clark Newell Jr.

EMPTY MANSIONS

The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

By Bill Dedman (Author) , Paul Clark Newell Jr. (Author)

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0345534521
Publisher: Ballantine

An investigation into the secretive life of the youngest daughter and heiress to a Gilded Age copper tycoon.

Huguette Clark (1906–2011) lived for more than a century and never once wanted for money. At her death, she was estimated to be worth—incorrectly, as it turned out—about $500 million. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Dedman stumbled onto her tale and wrote a series of stories about the Clark family, their fortune and the mystery surrounding Huguette. Here, with the assistance of Huguette’s cousin Newell, the author expands his search for information about the heiress who disappeared from public view in the 1980s—though she lived for another three decades. After an introduction to Clark’s fortune, Dedman moves his focus to her lifestyle and pursuits, always following the money. Clark was certainly eccentric, and her decisions, both financial and otherwise, definitely capture the imagination. She chose to live in seclusion after her mother’s death and then lived out the last few decades of her life in a hospital, despite being healthy. She spent money seemingly without thinking, giving away tens of millions of dollars to friends and employees, even selling off prized possessions to do so. As Clark aged, her family became concerned that her gifts were not necessarily voluntary and went looking for her. The story picks up steam with the family’s search for their wealthy relative and its aftermath. Unfortunately, this thread ends soon after the conflict is introduced, and it isn’t fleshed out as well as the rest of the book. Though her father’s fortune is central to the story—he is considered to have been one of the 50 richest Americans ever—so much focus on his exploits early on makes Huguette seem like a secondary character.

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