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Crazy Rich People and Their Houses: A Reading List

I think I mentioned that I’m on a bit of a kick for books about Crazy Rich People and Their Big Houses. It started with Empty Mansions and continued with The Secret Rooms. It’s even bleeding into my fiction reading with The Emperor’s Children, which has its fair share of rich people craziness.

Not one to ignore a reading trend, I went looking for more books on this theme. No surprise, there are a ton to choose from. Here are a few that caught my eye:

740 park by michael gross740 Park by Michael Gross

Rich people live in nice houses. One of the ritziest apartment buildings in Manhattan is 740 Park Avenue, which has been home to old money legends like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers and remains the address of choice for the wealthy today. In 740 Park, Michael Gross looks at the history of the building and offers a “social history of the American rich.” And how about this for a “fun” fact about the building: “After World War II, the building’s rulers eased their more restrictive policies and began allowing Jews (though not to this day African Americans) to reside within their hallowed walls.” I must read this.

when the astors owned new york by justin kaplanWhen the Astors Owned New York by Justin Kaplan

The Astors made their fortune by turning a fur trading monopoly into a real estate empire in Manhattan. In the Gilded Age, cousins John Jacob Astor IV and William Waldorf Astor used their fortunes to build the grandest hotel in New York, the Waldorf-Astoria, as well as other grand hotels. Apparently, the cousins were so argumentative that the hotel was actually two connected buildings that could be sealed off from each other — fun facts from When the Astors Owned New York. Family drama + money = my genre kryptonite.

fortunes children by arthur vanderbiltFortune’s Children by Arthur Vanderbilt II

I will pick up any book with a subtitle that discusses the fall of a famous person or family — it’s schadenfreude, not my best quality. But whatever! Fortune’s Children is the story of the Vanderbilt family. Patriarch Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt made his fortune in shipping and railroads, becoming the richest man in the world by 1877. Forty-eight years after his death, one of his descendants died penniless as part of the fall of the house of Vanderbilt.

the phantom of fifth avenue by meryl gordonThe Phantom of Fifth Avenue by Meryl Gordon

If you can’t get enough of Huguette Clark, make sure to look for The Phantom of Fifth Avenue, which is coming out on May 27 from Grand Central Publishing. Based on the description, it sounds like this one will focus more on Huguette than her father, W.A. Clark, than Empty Mansions did. The marketing also claims that the author will “finally solve the mystery of what turned a Jazz Age socialite into an Internet Era recluse,” which intrigues me.

house of outrageous fortune by michael grossHouse of Outrageous Fortune by Michael Gross

Not one to stop at one book, Michael Gross will be back on March 11 with a new book on the rich and their crazy houses, House of Outrageous Fortune. In this book he’ll be taking a look at 15 Central Park West, a “new-moneyed wonderland that’s sprung up on the southwest rim of Central Park.” Tenants include actors, athletes, top executives and hedge fund heads. I’m sensing a Rich People Houses tour during Book Expo America this year?

Actually, I could have just made a list of Michael Gross’ books, which include titles like Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles and Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women. Dang!

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  • tanya (52 books or bust) January 27, 2014, 6:31 am

    This is such a great list. I love rich crazy people (and their homes!). Must get to some of these books ASAP. And isn’t The Emperor’s Children wonderful?

    • Kim January 27, 2014, 7:49 pm

      I really liked it a lot, despite sort of hating everyone in it. I think that was at least partially the point 🙂

  • Jenny @ Reading the End January 27, 2014, 6:57 am

    Wow, this is an amazing list! I had no idea there were so many books in this very niche book-type.

    • Kim January 27, 2014, 7:50 pm

      There were quite a few to choose from. Rich people provide plenty of fodder for books, I suppose.

  • Athira January 27, 2014, 8:38 am

    People have written so much about the crazy rich? 🙂 740 Park is something I would enjoy reading. This hotel has had a good share in making history.

    • Kim January 27, 2014, 7:51 pm

      Besides the Huguette Clark book, I think that’s the one I’m most excited to try and find.

  • Kailana January 27, 2014, 1:15 pm

    The problem with being successful at Blog-hopping lately is that I keep finding so many books I want. haha. (I bought The Secret Rooms over the weekend. I need to ignore the rest of these. haha)

    • Kim January 27, 2014, 7:51 pm

      Yay! I hope you love it!

  • bookmammal January 27, 2014, 1:24 pm

    Great list! I love to read books like this because it’s such a form of pure escapism–I will never have such a lifestyle, I know no one who has such a lifestyle. . . but I can read all about it without worrying about paying the taxes or hiding my wealth in an off-shore account. What could be better?

    • Kim January 27, 2014, 7:51 pm

      That’s partly why I love them too. These are lives I will never really get into, so it’s fun to get a glimpse.

  • trav January 27, 2014, 3:09 pm

    Fantastic list. Thank you for putting it together. I agree that 740 Park is a must-read and am adding it my list. Hard to imagine what it’d be like to live in a building full of rich folks holding out to such out-dated thinking. They must be crazy rich indeed.

    • Kim January 27, 2014, 7:52 pm

      I did a double take when I saw that in the description I was reading — it’s totally insane.

  • Sandy January 28, 2014, 5:27 am

    This is awesome! Holy crap, I want to read them all. I’m doing to dig a little bit, and for sure will have to read some of these.

  • Helen @ My Novel Opinion January 28, 2014, 10:28 am

    I have Empty Mansions on my reading list, it caught my eye a while ago and I’m trying to branch out into more non-fiction so thanks for this list! I expect I’ll read some of them after Empty Mansions.

    • Kim January 30, 2014, 8:29 pm

      Empty Mansions was really fantastic. I highly recommend that one.

  • Andi @ Estella's Revenge January 28, 2014, 2:30 pm

    I <3 you and these book recommendations. I was totally taken by Empty Mansions, so these are going on the wishlist.

    • Kim January 30, 2014, 8:29 pm

      Aww, thanks 🙂 I hope you enjoy them!

  • christie January 28, 2014, 3:22 pm

    All these books look super fascinating! I actually recently watched a document about one of the buildings on Park Avenue (maybe the one in 740 Park), and it was a bit mind blowhttp://topdocumentaryfilms.com/park-avenue-money-power-american-dream/ing how these people live their lives (http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/park-avenue-money-power-american-dream/)

    • Kim January 30, 2014, 8:30 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Laurie C January 29, 2014, 6:03 am

    I would read a novel about people like any of these, but I don’t want to read about the actual people! (Maybe I’m jealous of their money.)

  • Tayé Foster Bradshawé January 29, 2014, 6:44 am

    I stumbled onto your blog from a link by my friend and fellow bibliophile writer, Joy. I’m happy I took the fall, everything on this list seems intriguing and will add fodder to our book club discussions. Thanks for the amusing descriptions, I’ve seen some of the buildings mentioned during a recent trip to New York City, it will be interesting to read the stories behind the places.

    • Kim January 30, 2014, 8:31 pm

      I’d venture to guess any of these would be decent book club fodder. The Secret Rooms would also be good, I think, so there are a lot of issues to talk about with the various secrets the Duke tried to keep.

  • Colleen February 19, 2014, 7:41 pm

    I have a similar fascination with the intersection of family drama and real estate. I listened to 740 Park on audio a number of years ago and the craziness of some of those residents is just staggering. I am looking forward to his new book.

    The Astors certainly have their share of family drama – it is actually sad to see how the current generation have behaved over some inheritance especially considering they already have so much.