Monday, May 10, 2010

Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden
Published by Gotham Books on April 1, 2010

For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius "The Commodore" Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy's birth, the Burden's had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink. In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family, including an uncle with a fondness for Hitler, a grandfather who believes you can never have enough household staff, and a remarkably flatulent grandmother.
At the heart of the story is Wendy's glamorous and aloof mother who, after her husband's suicide, travels the world in search of the perfect sea and ski tan, leaving her three children in the care of a chain- smoking Scottish nanny, Fifth Avenue grandparents, and an assorted cast of long-suffering household servants (who Wendy and her brothers love to terrorize). Rife with humor, heartbreak, family intrigue, and booze, Dead End Gene Pool offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of old money and gives truth to an old maxim: The rich are different.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Dead End Gene Pool, a book about the once illustrious Vanderbilt family. I picked it up mainly because I love reading about New York and the author’s family had home a home in New York City and a country estate in my own home town of Mount Kisco (among other residences in Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia, Paris and elsewhere).

I was surprised to find that this book was ultimately about Wendy’s (the great- great- great- granddaughter or Cornelius “the Commodore” Vanderbilt) experiences growing up in the shadow of the dysfunction and wealth of the Vanderbilts. After the death of their father, Wendy and her brothers were pretty much left to be raised by their grandparents; which really meant that they were largely raised by the household staff. Their mother spent most of her time traveling, looking for the perfect tan, and only making sporadic appearances in their lives.

What I found to be the best part of the book was Wendy’s writing. She writes with humor and puts her experiences into episodes that when grouped together reveal the bigger picture or the specific point she was trying to make about her family. I found myself laughing out loud several times, as well as going to back to reread to make sure that what I read was really what was written on the page. It often felt like Wendy was having a conversation with me over tea and cookies, rather than me actually reading a book. 

If Wendy decides to write additional books about her family, there are several unanswered questions, I would love the answers to, I would read those too.  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading memoirs or about the lives of famous American families.

About The Author:

Wendy Burden is a confirmed New Yorker who, to her constant surprise, lives in Portland, Oregon. She is the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, which qualifies her to comment freely on the downward spiral of blue blood families. She has worked as an illustrator, a zookeeper, and a taxidermist; and as an art director for a pornographic magazine from which she was fired for being too tasteful. She was also the owner and chef of a small French restaurant, Chez Wendy. She has yet to attend mortuary school, but is planning on it.

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This book was a review copy provided by TLC Tours:


  1. Wow wonderful review! This sounds interesting. I love those laugh out loud books! I'll definitely have to look into it :D

  2. Great review! I'm so pleased you enjoyed the book-thanks so much for being on the tour. Oh! I wanted to let you know that Wendy will be discussing her book on my blog, Books on the Brain, "live" for one hour on May 18th, 5pm PST, so if you want to ask her those questions.. come on over!

  3. I couldn't get into this one. =( I might try again since I've read this and other good reviews.


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