Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty
Tuesday, March 14th, 2023 6 – 7 PM
Bomhard Theatre, 501 W. Main St, Louisville (In-Person and Virtual Options)
Part of The Gertrude Polk Brown Lecture Series
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.
Katherine Howe is a New York Times bestselling and award-winning writer of historical fiction. Her adult novels are The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list in 2009 and was named one of USA Today’s top ten books of the year, and The House of Velvet and Glass, which was a USA Today bestseller in 2011.