REVIEW ✓ The Beneficiary

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Randmother Helen Hope Scott a socialite and celebrated horsewoman said to have inspired Katherine Hepburn's character in the play and Academy Award winning film The Philadelphia Story For others including the author's father she concludes the impact was complexBringing her journalistic talents light touch and crystalline prose to this powerful story of a child's search to understand a parent's puzzling end Scott also raises uestions about our new Gilded Age New fortunes are being amassed new estates are being born Does anyone wonder how it will all play out one hundred years henc. Were your parents happy when you were growing up If you find when you re an adult that there is evidence lots of it to support a decidedly non affirmative answer to the uestion how do you accept it and move on That s Janny Scott s uest in this gutsy remarkable memoirScott sets out to understand why her father drank himself to death It sounds grim but her father Robert Montgomery Scott was a son of the woman who was the model for Tracy Lord the Main Line socialite heroine played by Katherine Hepburn in Philip Barry s The Philadelphia Story and so the story of the three generations of his wealthy and eccentric family who made their fortune in the railroad in the latter part of the 19th century is a fascinating read Their saga is an entertaining history of the American industrial economy and the people who extravagantly rode its crest into the early part of the 20th centuryThese people were smart well traveled well educated patrons of the arts darlings of the press even successful cattle farmers They were known for the Ayrshire cattle they raised in the shadow of Ardrossan the spectacular estate built by Scott s grandfather with Scott s mother as the capable rancher in charge for many years the only rancher with a meticulously arranged closetful of designer dresses in the big house She could carry a book on her own yet the story here always comes back to the author s father Aided in her uest by the discovery of a carefully packed box holding years of her father s journals the author conducts a journalist s clear eyed post mortem of his alcoholism zoning in on it in the last third of the book in a way that is heartbreaking in its frankness Her father didn t struggle with alcohol He surrendered to it danced with it parried with it occasionally but clearly never intended to give it up The last time she saw him he d been drinking so much that his stomach was bloated like a basketball and his face looked like it had been burned she writes he the former golden boy sophisticated handsome athletic revered and loved by many in his role as president of the Philadelphia Museum of Art now a dying man in his 70s in a family whose progenitors were known to live well into their 90s Gone too soon A family history of alcoholism and a penchant for holding himself in low regard he apparently regretted never having been able to escape the family s secure moneyed embrace did their partScott s description of the family intervention which included her father s mistress at the time and her father s attempt at rehab is chilling as one by one the truth dawns on all parties concerned This isn t working is itI like this passage near the end of the book after Scott confesses she wasn t fully forthcoming with the press when they asked about the cause of her father s death in 2005 If you were to ask me now I d say my father drank himself to death But that leaves a lot unsaid I ve come to think of his disease as something complex shaped by the whims of economic and social history along with the strands of the double helix He was the beneficiary of abundant good fortune that s a fact But good fortune doesn t necessarily drop from the heavens unencumbered Like the rest of us he had his woundsAnd this one Land houses money Wealth had tumbled in my father s family from one generation to the next Each new descendant arrived as an unwitting conduit for its transmission You had a right to enjoy it an obligation to protect it a duty to pass it on to your own unsuspecting children It was a stroke of good fortune of course But what you could never know starting out was how those things would influence decisions you d make over a lifetime You might resolve to live as though that wealth didn t exist but sooner or later it would probably insinuate itself into your thinking about jobs profession marriage children Some beneficiaries flourished Some didn t For some the impact of all that good fortune appeared to have been mixed My father I began to think had sensed the conundrum early on in that earliest dayAs the book s title character the author does a magnificent job dissecting the conundrum understanding the gifts and the risks it has passed on to her In surely one of the most stunning epilogues ever to grace a work of non fiction she takes a few steps away from her subject speculating as to where the next great generation of wealth will locate itself and succumb to the same costs of privilege Somewhere in the world she writes a new place is being born Maybe it s in the Bay Area or Mumbai or Shenzhen or Hangzou The titans of the new gilded age like their predecessors wish to be known for their superior taste But the rules of the consumption game appear to not be all that different Do they ever wonder how it will all play out one hundred years henceWith The Beneficiary Janny Scott provides a portrait of that place and a cautionary tale of what might happen to those who find it


The Beneficiary

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR A poignant addition to the literature of moneyed glamour and its inevitable tarnish and decaylike something out of Fitzgerald or Waugh The New YorkerA parable for the new age of ineuality part family history part detective story part history of a vanishing class and a vividly compelling exploration of the degree to which an inheritance financial cultural genetic conspired in one person's self destructionLand houses and money tumbled from one generation to the next on the eight hundred acre estate built by Scott's investment banker great g. I enjoyed the style in which this was written kind of felt to me like a well written historical novel but it s non fiction instead It starts out with a family tree showing the major players the patriarch the Colonel who started the grand estate named Ardrossan with 800 acres back in the day down to the present day narrator who is an offspring It tells about major people down through the years but is about the author s father It shares how he d gotten rich almost overnight during the Panic of 1907 when he started buying up small businesses His family felt he d cut his life short through choices he d made in the way he did things Author Janny Scott just seriously felt that her father could have made different choices and lived a good deal longer thus being around for his family It s an intriguing look into this family of privilege during the end of a bygone era My thanks for the advance electronic review copy that was provided by Edelweiss author Janny Scott and the publisherAlso in my BookZone blog

Janny Scott ¶ 1 REVIEW

Randfather on Philadelphia's Main Line There was an obligation to protect it a license to enjoy it a duty to pass it on but it was impossible to know in advance how all that extraordinary good fortune might influence the choices made over a lifetimeIn this warmly felt tale of an American family's fortunes journalist Janny Scott excavates the rarefied world that shaped her charming unknowable father Robert Montgomery Scott and provides an incisive look at the weight of inheritance the tenacity of addiction and the power of buried secretsSome beneficiaries flourished like Scott's g. I will read any book about the Kennedys and similarly any book about a well known Gilded Age type family Scott s memoir is beautifully written and because she s a journalist first and foremost it has a certain feel to it not found in similar works but it s subtle not constantly announcing itself as this is a piece of journalism It can be a little confusing at times with the various generations and names but the author tells you herself not to focus too much on memorizing them and this is good advice Interesting and devastating and had me googling for hours I also appreciated the greater look at the Gilded Age families and their loss of wealth or their loss of grand estates many of which didn t last 50 years

10 thoughts on “The Beneficiary

  1. says:

    I enjoyed the style in which this was written kind of felt to me like a well written historical novel but it’s non fiction instead It starts out with a family tree showing the major players the patriarch the Colo

  2. says:

    New York Times reporter Janny Scott grew up not understanding that the 800 acre family pile on the Philadelphia Main Line was extraordinary Her grandmother –– the inspiration for Katherine Hepburn's character in the Philadelphia Story –– and grandfather both were the scion of robber baron fortunes The memoir is thoughtful and well

  3. says:

    Oy What a numbing catalog of wealth and power Reading this was like being caught in a relentless avalanche of famous names I suppose Janny Scott in writing this monument to her family's historyhoped to extend its glamor for one generation but r

  4. says:

    I will read any book about the Kennedys and similarly any book about a well known Gilded Age type family Scott's memoir is beautifull

  5. says:

    I really wanted to like this book but really really didn’t Too many people from too many generations and the author hops from one to another before skipping back two generations or forward three I needed a family tree But everything is listed the wardrobe the food at a meal the books in the library I just didn’t care a

  6. says:

    Actual rating 25 starsEnjoyed this for the Main Line history but felt the story could have been condensed considerably

  7. says:

    Were your parents happy when you were growing up? If you find when you're an adult that there is evidence lots of it to support a decidedly non affirmative answer to the uestion how do you accept it and move on?

  8. says:

    We hear a lot these days about “the 1%” those Americans who are wealthier than 99% of the nation’s population Janny Scott a New York Times reporter who has also written a biography of Barack Obama’s mother

  9. says:

    Here’s an interesting biography of Robert Montgomery Scott written by his daughter Janny Scott It’s actually a family history spanning four generations of a wealthy family that settled on what’s called the Main Line ou

  10. says:

    Second half about her dad better than the first half about the ancestors although I get that she feels it's all connected She tries to seem very matter of fact about the vast wealth amassed by her ancestors but that part feels a littl