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Book Review

‘Empty Mansions’

8/13/2014

bookCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Sally Wisdom

Ballantine Books

April 22, 2014

$17

HIV

470 Pages

When Bill Dedman was house-hunting in Connecticut in 2009, he stumbled on a 22-room mansion that a New York woman, Huguette Clark, had owned for more than a half-century but never occupied. Intrigued, the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist began a pursuit of her story, which he tells in “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune” with Paul Clark Newell Jr., the son of Ms. Clark’s first cousin.

The Connecticut mansion was not the only residence Huguette Clark owned. She also owned an estate in Santa Barbara and three apartments totalling 42 rooms in Manhattan. In spite of her abundance of housing options, when Ms. Clark died at age 104 in 2011, she had, by choice, lived the last 20 years of her life in private New York hospitals, spending millions of dollars every year to have each residence, and the art that filled it, meticulously maintained. The reclusive Ms. Clark had not been seen outside her apartment since 1968 and even some of her closest advisors had only spoken to her over the phone or through a door.

The opening chapters of the book chronicle the life of her colorful father, William A. Clark. Born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania in 1839, W. A. Clark amassed a fortune through copper mines and other ventures, represented Montana for one term in the U.S. Senate (a seat he allegedly “bought”) and was at one time the second richest man in the country.

Readers are likely to marvel that, despite our endless fascination with the wealthy, Huguette Clark managed to be fabulously rich but not at all famous for more than a century. “Empty Mansions” reads like a novel but repeatedly proves the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. CV

Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.

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