Vanderbilt Summary

New York Times bestselling author and journalist Anderson Cooper teams with New York Times bestselling historian and novelist Katherine Howe to chronicle the rise and fall of a legendary American dynasty—his mother’s family, the Vanderbilts.

One of the Washington Post's Notable Works of Nonfiction of 2021

When eleven-year-old Cornelius Vanderbilt began to work on his father’s small boat ferrying supplies in New York Harbor at the beginning of the nineteenth century, no one could have imagined that one day he would, through ruthlessness, cunning, and a pathological desire for money, build two empires—one in shipping and another in railroads—that would make him the richest man in America. His staggering fortune was fought over by his heirs after his death in 1877, sowing familial discord that would never fully heal. Though his son Billy doubled the money left by “the Commodore,” subsequent generations competed to find new and ever more extraordinary ways of spending it. By 2018, when the last Vanderbilt was forced out of The Breakers—the seventy-room summer estate in Newport, Rhode Island, that Cornelius’s grandson and namesake had built—the family would have been unrecognizable to the tycoon who started it all.

Now, the Commodore’s great-great-great-grandson Anderson Cooper, joins with historian Katherine Howe to explore the story of his legendary family and their outsized influence. Cooper and Howe breathe life into the ancestors who built the family’s empire, basked in the Commodore’s wealth, hosted lavish galas, and became synonymous with unfettered American capitalism and high society. Moving from the hardscrabble wharves of old Manhattan to the lavish drawing rooms of Gilded Age Fifth Avenue, from the ornate summer palaces of Newport to the courts of Europe, and all the way to modern-day New York, Cooper and Howe wryly recount the triumphs and tragedies of an American dynasty unlike any other.

Written with a unique insider’s viewpoint, this is a rollicking, quintessentially American history as remarkable as the family it so vividly captures.

Book Reviews

Courtney Heb

Disappointed2 star

Was hoping to read how the Vanderbilt’s accrued and acquired wealth, instead I was languished in a story about parties, social gathering and gossip. Unless you have a personal interest in the Vanderbilt family, I would skip.25


Awesome5 star

A fascinating read, delivered with perspective, empathy, and humor.55

love words go for it

Awesome5 star

Can’t stop reading!55


Vanderbilt1 star

Read this for a book club. Thought it sounded interesting but it was not. Who really cares about the Vanderbilts?!? I forced myself to finish it. Sorr I wasted $15!15


Amazingly written5 star

Such an amazing history and insight to the family. I loved Andersons transition to first person towards the end. It really brought everything together.55


Too detailed2 star

I was disappointed in this book. I almost couldn’t get through it. The first half or so is filled with minute details of the origins of the Vanderbilt family in the 1700’s. The intermittent referencing throughout the book back to these characters sometimes made it difficult to track. The last third of the book is the best, but also is too mired in minutia.25


Would have liked more on....4 star

the Vanderbilts who made the empire rather than so much on the ones who blew it...but good!45

Utah Cathy


A concise history of the Vanderbuilt family. Anderson describes their lifestyles in a way that the reader lives it too. I didnt want to put the book down. Also, Anderson’s love for his mother did not stop him from revealing her many shortcomings. Excellent.55



Well-written! Gave me so much imagination what it is like to be in New York during Glided Age and how it transformed New York now. Didn’t realize the influence from Vanderbilts almost everywhere in NYC. I have to admit that I am disappointed when the book had to end. I wish there are more chapters to read!55


Intriguing look Intriguing glimpse into the intimate lives of the wealthy elite.4 star

I enjoyed Anderson Coopers personal insight into the characters who built the industrial backbone of America, humanizing them and their jealousies and extravagance.45

Other Books by Anderson Cooper & Katherine Howe

The Rainbow Comes and Goes


The Rainbow Comes and Goes
4.5     203
Dispatches from the Edge


Dispatches from the Edge
4.5     126
Never Silent


Never Silent
4.5     7

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