We are living, we think, in a second Gilded Age, in which the sons and daughters of the obscenely rich frantically search for fame and airtime. Parents are struggling to instill values (see "No Silver Spoon")
And a Russian oligarch thinks nothing about spending $300 million for a yacht with faucets costing $40,000.
Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt, by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, lays out this sad and sordid history. If you think you had bad parents, just read this book!
Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) is famous for being the stingiest, most foul-mouthed monopolist of the Robber Baron era. (Okay, under duress he did fund Vanderbilt University, my alma mater, but that was for the pocket change of $1 million.)
Nicknamed “the Commodore” for his fleet of steamships that made his first fortune, Vanderbilt got ahead not only by extreme hard work and risk taking, he made much of his wealth from stifling competition—either by forcing out weaker companies through predatory pricing or by buying out stronger companies.
His second fortune was made in railroads, using the same tactics. In several instances Vanderbilt feigned starting a competing line against another and was paid handsomely to withdraw from that competition. Monopoly rents were the name of the game, then and now.
Vanderbilt, for all his business acumen, knew or cared little for being a father, despite having 13 children. The horror of growing up in that rich dysfunctional family went on for generations. [Click to continue reading.]