Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue

The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon

Rating: 4 Stars

Description:  This is a detailed look at the life of Huguette Clark, the daughter of the 2nd richest man in America who was nicknamed the Copper King.  This book goes from Butte, Montana, Paris and New York taking us from Huguette' childhood, her early life as a socialite and finally the seclusion that she spent most of her life as well as giving us a look at her father.  This book also looks at both sides of the fight to protect both Hugette and her estate.

Genre: Non-Fiction/Biography

Why I Picked This Book: The title first captured my imagination and then when I saw this was a biography on an heiress that I don't know much about other than a vague memory of an uproar after she died I was hooked.  I love biographies on people I haven't really heard of.

My Impression:
Pros: I loved the writing in this one.  Gordon manages to give you enough information to really flesh out her characters and explain their history without bogging you down in too many details.  She's also tremendously fair.  With the battle around Hugette's care and estate we see the motivations of both sides.  Even with her portrayal of William Clark who was a fairly ruthless and corrupt individual (the 17th Amendment was basically created just for him) we are shown not just his business side but him as a more loving family man as well.  I was concerned at first that too much time was going to be spent on the father and we weren't going to see much of Hugette but that didn't end up being the case.  You do get a look at William but he was so crucial to much of Hugette's upbringing, mental state and fortune that to leave him out would've been leaving a hole in the story and would've hindered the understanding of Huguette.  Gordon handles the other characters in Huguette's life with the same fairness and attention to detail.  This is a fascinating look at a fascinating and complex woman.

Cons: I would've loved to have seen more photographs of some of the main players in this story, the art or locations that were important to the Clark family especially since the author references dozens of pictures.

Overall: A fascinating look at an unusual woman.  This biography was as compelling as fiction while still being very informative.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Yes, she has another book about Brooke Astor that is now on my wishlist.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Yes, to anyone interested in American history or just interesting people in general.


  1. "I was concerned at first that too much time was going to be spent on the father and we weren't going to see much of Hugette but that didn't end up being the case."

    That was one of my main concerns with Empty Mansions, too! It sounds like the two books are very similar. I wonder whether it's worth it to read both, or if they overlap too much...

    1. I've been wondering that as well. I have heard that Empty Mansions has more photos so I think I'd take a look at it just for that if nothing else but I'm not sure if you'd get much benefit. It was definitely a fascinating book!

  2. I am unfamiliar with Huguette Clark and her story, but it sounds like she's someone worth getting to know. I like that the author was fair in her descriptions of the characters--that says a lot in terms of her trying to maintain some objectivity. I will have to look for this one! Thanks for the great review, Katherine.

    1. I had no idea who she was either which is strange because apparently there was a lot of press surrounding her death. It's definitely worth reading. I really enjoyed this one!