Book Review: ‘Vanderbilt’ by Anderson Cooper

Book Review: ‘Vanderbilt’ by Anderson Cooper
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Updated 13 June 2024
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Book Review: ‘Vanderbilt’ by Anderson Cooper

Book Review: ‘Vanderbilt’ by Anderson Cooper

Written during the pandemic in 2021, “Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty” looks at the Vanderbilt family, one of the most famous in US history, written by one of its own.

It was penned by journalist Anderson Cooper, formerly of CNN, and while many of us rifled through old archives while on lockdown in our own homes, Cooper attempted to piece together fragments of his own history — and US history.

The book begins with young Cornelius “the Commodore” Vanderbilt at the beginning of the 19th century. Through grit, and a pathological desire to acquire money at all costs, he was able to build two giant 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 until well after his death in 1877.

His great-great-great-grandson is Cooper and this personal yet exhaustive book covers a vast amount of real estate — both in stories and locations — as historian Katherine Howe, his co-writer, and Cooper explore the story of the legendary family and its influence.

Cooper and Howe breathe life into the former’s ancestors who built the family’s vast empire, basked in the Commodore’s wealth and became synonymous with American capitalism and high society.

Moving from old Manhattan to the lavish Fifth Avenue, from the ornate summer palaces to the courts of Europe and modern-day New York, Cooper and Howe recount the triumphs and tragedies of this American dynasty. 

The vignettes are often fascinating and give context to tales often recounted, like that of Alva Belmont, who was married to a Vanderbilt before pivoting to a world of activism. In her heyday she hosted one of the most lavish gala balls of all time, held in 1883, which inspired many a TV series and fanciful gossip following her rivalry with the infamous Caroline Schermerhorn Astor.

The story looks at the melancholic life of Alva’s daughter, Consuelo, and at her eventual happy ending.

Cooper and Howe delve into corners of stories that are more or less unknown. I was particularly fascinated by the story of his relative who lived in a museum for years, before being eventually kicked out.

The stories link and go back and forth on the timeline, perhaps making it slightly confusing for the lay reader.

It does really require the reader to have some prior knowledge of the Vanderbilt family, with its many scandals and nuances.

The authors also go into detail about the lives, and deaths, of the many Vanderbilt men.

The last part of the book spends time exploring the late Gloria Vanderbilt, Cooper’s mother. These passages are the most emotional in the book.

Cooper, who is now a father, explains how writing the book helped to provide a historical context which his son can read about in later life to understand the story behind the stories, and tall tales, written about their family.


What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Dove’s Necklace’

What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Dove’s Necklace’
Updated 17 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Dove’s Necklace’

What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Dove’s Necklace’

“The Dove's Necklace,” which is written by Saudi novelist Raja Alem and translated by Katharine Halls and Adam Talib, is a captivating and multilayered novel that transports readers to the vibrant city of Makkah.

Alem masterfully weaves together the stories of several intersecting characters, creating a rich tapestry that explores themes of identity, spirituality, and the complexities of human relationships. 

At the heart of the narrative is Jumana, a young woman whose life is irrevocably altered by the discovery of an ancient necklace. It becomes the catalyst for Jumana’s journey of self-discovery as she navigates the intense social and religious expectations of her community. 

Alem explores her characters’ inner lives in her lyrical and incredibly sensitive language. A significant layer of cultural and historical depth is added to the story by the author’s examination of Makkah as a separate character, as well as Jumana’s poignant struggle to balance her personal aspirations with the demands of her faith.

What struck me most about this novel was the author’s ability to weave together the diverse tapestry of Makkah’s inhabitants. As I followed the intersecting narratives of characters like the enigmatic Basima, the troubled artist Khalid, and the enigmatic Grandfather, I was repeatedly challenged to examine my own preconceptions and biases.

Alem’s nuanced portrayal of this community, with all its complexities and contradictions, felt like a revelation. 

“The Dove’s Necklace” is not merely a work of fiction but a bold exploration of the complexities of faith, tradition, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world. Alem’s skillful use of symbolism and metaphor, particularly in her treatment of the necklace itself, adds a layer of depth and complexity to the narrative. 

Despite the novel’s weighty themes, Alem’s storytelling is never heavy-handed or didactic. She allows the reader to engage with the characters and their experiences on a deeply personal level, inviting them to consider the universal questions of identity, belonging, and the quest for spiritual fulfillment. 

A fantastic piece of literature that cuts beyond genre and cultural borders, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the diverse canon of Middle Eastern literature.


What We Are Reading Today: ‘Financial Economics of Insurance’

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Financial Economics of Insurance’
Updated 17 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Financial Economics of Insurance’

What We Are Reading Today: ‘Financial Economics of Insurance’

Authors: Ralph S.J. Koijen and Motohiro Yogo

“Financial Economics of Insurance” provides a unified framework to study the impact of financial and regulatory frictions as well as imperfect competition on all insurer decisions.

The book covers all facets of the modern insurance sector, guiding readers through its complexities with empirical facts, institutional details, and quantitative modeling.


What We Are Reading Today: The Tech Coup

What We Are Reading Today: The Tech Coup
Updated 16 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: The Tech Coup

What We Are Reading Today: The Tech Coup

Author: Marietje Schaake

Over the past decades, under the cover of “innovation,” technology companies have successfully resisted regulation and have even begun to seize power from governments themselves. Facial recognition firms track citizens for police surveillance. Cryptocurrency has wiped out the personal savings of millions and threatens the stability of the global financial system. 

In “The Tech Coup,” Marietje Schaake offers a behind-the-scenes account of how technology companies crept into nearly every corner of our lives and our governments.


What We Are Reading Today: ‘Snakes of Australia’

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Updated 15 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Snakes of Australia’

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Authors: TIE EIPPER AND SCOTT EIPPER

With more than 1,000 photographs, Snakes of Australia illustrates and describes in detail all 240 of the continent’s species and subspecies—from file snakes, pythons, colubrids, and natricids to elapids, marine elapids, homalopsids, and blind snakes.

It features introductions to each family, species descriptions, type locations, distribution maps, and quick-identification keys to each family and genera.

 


What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Data Economy’

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Updated 14 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Data Economy’

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Authors: ISAAC BALEY AND LAURA VELDKAMP

The most valuable firms in the global economy are valued largely for their data. Amazon, Apple, Google, and others have proven the competitive advantage of a good data set.

And yet despite the growing importance of data as a strategic asset, modern economic theory neglects its role. In this book, Isaac Baley and Laura Veldkamp draw on a range of theoretical frameworks at the research frontier in macroeconomics and finance.