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Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir

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In the tradition of Sean Wilsey's Oh The Glory of It All and Augusten Burrough's Running With Scissors, the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt gives readers a grand tour of the world of wealth and WASPish peculiarity, in her irreverent and darkly humorous memoir. For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to th In the tradition of Sean Wilsey's Oh The Glory of It All and Augusten Burrough's Running With Scissors, the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt gives readers a grand tour of the world of wealth and WASPish peculiarity, in her irreverent and darkly humorous memoir. 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.


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In the tradition of Sean Wilsey's Oh The Glory of It All and Augusten Burrough's Running With Scissors, the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt gives readers a grand tour of the world of wealth and WASPish peculiarity, in her irreverent and darkly humorous memoir. For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to th In the tradition of Sean Wilsey's Oh The Glory of It All and Augusten Burrough's Running With Scissors, the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt gives readers a grand tour of the world of wealth and WASPish peculiarity, in her irreverent and darkly humorous memoir. 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.

30 review for Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Dunckley

    This book was charming and really funny! I don't normally read memoirs, but this one came so highly recommended that I gave it a try—and I'm glad I did! For most of us, the lifestyles of the obscenely rich are a complete mystery. Building multiple homes with 20+ rooms each, flying everywhere on the Concorde, having staff to do everything for you including but not limited to wiping your rear end! Wendy Burden's family is a branch of the Vanderbilts—she is the great-great-great-great granddaughter o This book was charming and really funny! I don't normally read memoirs, but this one came so highly recommended that I gave it a try—and I'm glad I did! For most of us, the lifestyles of the obscenely rich are a complete mystery. Building multiple homes with 20+ rooms each, flying everywhere on the Concorde, having staff to do everything for you including but not limited to wiping your rear end! Wendy Burden's family is a branch of the Vanderbilts—she is the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The good part is that her branch has for several generations married “out” of the family—no cousins marrying like her ancestors. The bad part is that the family is full of alcoholics and suicides, bizarre behavior and overbred, overfunded, overeducated people who have no goals or ambition or ability to take care of themselves. The Vanderbilt family is somewhat misogynistic—sons are everything, daughters are not valued at all. And of course it's the sons who are prone to suicide or stupid fatal accidents. Wendy's father kills himself and her mother is now free to pursue the sun and a social life. She leaves the kids to be brought up by the grandparents, periodically taking them back to keep them in squalor. Well, “squalor” compared to their previous accommodations. They have to do chores, OMG!! Neither parent seemed to have any maternal/paternal instincts. The grandparents are fabulous caretakers in comparison, but the job is mostly done by a huge staff of nannies, chefs, butlers, maids, etc. The grandparents treat their granddaughter with a cheerful sort of neglect, being not really interested in her because she's not the HEIR. While she asks for a pony for every birthday and Christmas, one is given to her brother, because HEIR. Somehow Wendy seemed to grow up relatively normal, she tries to have relationships with her family members in spite of their strange behavior and lack of affection towards her. While the book stops before this happens, she appears to have ended up happily married with children. It's Wendy's voice, and her self deprecating humor that MAKES this book. It was fascinating and completely engrossing. I felt like I liked her, and wanted to be her friend. Recommend to anyone who likes to read about messed up families, or the “uber-rich”, or simply anyone looking for a good read!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I didn't have the highest of hopes for this book about the dysfunctional, decaying Vanderbilt family. I grabbed it from the office pile this weekend for what I thought would be some guilty pleasure reading, mostly because I enjoy books with dynastic tension, from The Forsythe Saga to your average non-fiction tome about the Kennedys. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the most redeeming quality of Dead End Gene Pool was the writing. Burden is ridiculously talented. I found myself la I didn't have the highest of hopes for this book about the dysfunctional, decaying Vanderbilt family. I grabbed it from the office pile this weekend for what I thought would be some guilty pleasure reading, mostly because I enjoy books with dynastic tension, from The Forsythe Saga to your average non-fiction tome about the Kennedys. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the most redeeming quality of Dead End Gene Pool was the writing. Burden is ridiculously talented. I found myself laughing out loud over her lively descriptions of mortician hopes and dreams, the pranks she played on her alcoholic grandparents, and getting bit on butt by the family chef. Sentences such as "Whereas my grandfather had the rounded physiognomy of a blue-eyed owl, his mother had creased eyes and a crumply sort of face that managed to look austerely bluestocking, yet warm and amused," are not the words of a hack trying to cash in on her genetic makeup. The book played out almost as a surreal Willy-Wonky fantasy for children, except for the fact that Burden's childhood sounds like an awful, lacking way to grow up. I hope she writes more books.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Over the years I've discovered that it is not the life an author has lived that makes a good memoir, it's the writing. A middle-aged woman living a middle-income life in any given city can - if she has talent - write an engaging memoir that will be a pleasure to read and recommend to others. Sadly, this book is neither engaging nor a pleasure to read. Ms Burden has no doubt led an interesting life, but her writing style is forced and over-written. In what I assume are attempts to shock the reade Over the years I've discovered that it is not the life an author has lived that makes a good memoir, it's the writing. A middle-aged woman living a middle-income life in any given city can - if she has talent - write an engaging memoir that will be a pleasure to read and recommend to others. Sadly, this book is neither engaging nor a pleasure to read. Ms Burden has no doubt led an interesting life, but her writing style is forced and over-written. In what I assume are attempts to shock the reader with brashness or wow us with her sense of humor the author loses credibility. An example of forced writing from Dead End Gene Pool -- "When I'd look at his mouth, an unfamiliar worm would flip around in my future uterus, and when the golden hairs of his forearm accidently brushed against mine, I'd envision our dogs mating."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Riccol

    Despite the fact that this book had no real point and no satisfying ending, I found it rather entertaining. I see many people have given it poor reviews/ratings because it deals with a bunch of wasteful, old-money rich people who are rather unlikable, but it's non-fiction, the author didn't invent these characters, so if you don't like the subject matter why did you choose to read it in the first place? My biggest beef with the book is that she told quite a story about her and her older brother " Despite the fact that this book had no real point and no satisfying ending, I found it rather entertaining. I see many people have given it poor reviews/ratings because it deals with a bunch of wasteful, old-money rich people who are rather unlikable, but it's non-fiction, the author didn't invent these characters, so if you don't like the subject matter why did you choose to read it in the first place? My biggest beef with the book is that she told quite a story about her and her older brother "stealing" ALL of the food that was to be used for a big fancy party, but then she stopped cold and never told us what happened when the adults discovered everything was missing on party day, and never told us what the consequences to her and her brother were. Big boo on that.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

    I got an early copy from a friend. Paris Hilton is a better writer. A waste of time.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stefani

    I found this book utterly fascinating, perhaps because I'm a real sucker for dysfunctional family memoirs of the super-rich. Without giving away too much of the plot, Wendy is a fourth descendent of Cornelius Vanderbilt on her father's side and grows up in the shadow of this wealth, as the money and the family name has become somewhat diluted over the years. After her father's suicide, Wendy and her brother Will are basically raised by her grandparents, who are so wealthy that they don't have to I found this book utterly fascinating, perhaps because I'm a real sucker for dysfunctional family memoirs of the super-rich. Without giving away too much of the plot, Wendy is a fourth descendent of Cornelius Vanderbilt on her father's side and grows up in the shadow of this wealth, as the money and the family name has become somewhat diluted over the years. After her father's suicide, Wendy and her brother Will are basically raised by her grandparents, who are so wealthy that they don't have to raise them, so they end up being ignored a lot and tended to by the massive housestaff. It's not really a situation that lends itself to people's sympathies, however, there's something so tragic about children being neglected by their own family members. What I found most entertaining about this book was that it was written with a huge dose of self-deprecation and humor, with very little self-pity, although that could just be the whole WASP upbringing where admitting that you have problems is strongly discouraged. There were many many laugh out loud moments which detailed, with a touch of gallows humor, the absurdities of Wendy's family situation. For example, Wendy's mother was described in this fashionMy birthday was the single day out of the year when my mother behaved like a mother. In fact, she behaved like she was running for Mother of the Year, though that didn't make up for the other 364 days that she embarrassed me, ignored me, or or was geographically elsewhere. Ha! I felt this was well-written, especially for a first book, and quite an intimate look into a painful and emotional topic. Really bittersweet when you think about the fall of this great family and their descent into alcoholism and drug abuse. Tragic but so interesting.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pooch

    This memoir is an extremely disappointing, depressing story about a dysfunctional girl who apparently has become a morbid, unforgiving woman. This disturbing story does not center on Wendy Burden's mother, but on Burden herself. As unfeeling as the grandparents and parents she vilifies, Wendy seldom visited her brother at a psychiatric hospital because "...the inmates creeped me out." The very idea that one can visit a dying grandfather and stand as far away as possible from him "...while still This memoir is an extremely disappointing, depressing story about a dysfunctional girl who apparently has become a morbid, unforgiving woman. This disturbing story does not center on Wendy Burden's mother, but on Burden herself. As unfeeling as the grandparents and parents she vilifies, Wendy seldom visited her brother at a psychiatric hospital because "...the inmates creeped me out." The very idea that one can visit a dying grandfather and stand as far away as possible from him "...while still managing to convey a sense of compassion." is laughable. As pathetic as her life has been, I did not find the author to be a sympathetic character because of her vitriol.The "humor" does work in a few places, but most of the attempts at humor are caustic and mean. In writing this book, the author appears to have disgorged her rage and sickness much as her brothers did in the therapy programs that she finds so ridiculous. The fact that the author wants her bleak book to answer her daughters' questions about their grandmother is a disgusting idea. I do hope that Miss Burden finds peace within. Perhaps, this unfortunate book is meant to be a step towards a more positive, hopeful life. I pray that she finds it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

    I received this as a giveaway here on goodreads. I excited to read the book, but it wasn't really what I expected. I thought it read like a YA book through about 200 pages, probably because it covers ages sixish through twentyish. Hearing about her Gaga fart 100 times was a bit much. I'm sure it was meant as humor, but it wasn't for me. Just as the book seemed to mature enough for me to start wanting to know more, it ended. I received this as a giveaway here on goodreads. I excited to read the book, but it wasn't really what I expected. I thought it read like a YA book through about 200 pages, probably because it covers ages sixish through twentyish. Hearing about her Gaga fart 100 times was a bit much. I'm sure it was meant as humor, but it wasn't for me. Just as the book seemed to mature enough for me to start wanting to know more, it ended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Presley

    Bravo to Wendy Burden for writing what was seriously the most messed up, psychotic memoir I've read to date. For those who don't know, Wendy Burden is the Great-great-great-great Granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Yes, that Vanderbilt. Between reading about the morbid fascinations Wendy had growing up, suicidal dogs, alcoholic mothers, sexual deviancy... the list literally goes on and on. As I read through the book I had two main threads of thought going on. Number One was: how much of a spoil Bravo to Wendy Burden for writing what was seriously the most messed up, psychotic memoir I've read to date. For those who don't know, Wendy Burden is the Great-great-great-great Granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Yes, that Vanderbilt. Between reading about the morbid fascinations Wendy had growing up, suicidal dogs, alcoholic mothers, sexual deviancy... the list literally goes on and on. As I read through the book I had two main threads of thought going on. Number One was: how much of a spoiled brat was this girl. Number Two was: Good lord, this book is way too long. It just rambled and rambled. The last half of the book I really had to force myself to focus in on what I was reading because, at times, it felt as if I were just reading the same thing over and over, just in a different time and place. Too much. I will say this for the writing though - Burton pulls of the snarky, wickedly funny humor with quite a bit of pizazz. I snorted with laughter quite a few times and it was only for those moments that I actually felt any desire to finish the book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Peacegal

    2.5 stars --The author writes of her singularly strange experience growing up in an old-money family in the waning days of their prominence. The memoir is well-written, and conveys a variety of emotions from laugh-out-loud funny to desperately sad. I loved the hoity-toity grandmother who punctuated every sentence with farts, which, if you listen to the audiobook, are provided by raspberry sounds from the narrator. It’s an interesting study of a very specific time and social strata that most read 2.5 stars --The author writes of her singularly strange experience growing up in an old-money family in the waning days of their prominence. The memoir is well-written, and conveys a variety of emotions from laugh-out-loud funny to desperately sad. I loved the hoity-toity grandmother who punctuated every sentence with farts, which, if you listen to the audiobook, are provided by raspberry sounds from the narrator. It’s an interesting study of a very specific time and social strata that most readers will be unfamiliar with. There are also some assumption-smashing revelations, such as the actual atmosphere of “swinging London” in the late 1960s (mostly un-groovy). That said, I’m docking my review half a star because GENE POOL falls into a trap that is depressingly common in the memoir genre: it casts animal abuse as humor. As a child, the author engages in multiple acts of deliberate cruelty toward pets, some of which is alluded to, and others which are described in upsetting detail. It’s not exactly surprising: the Burdens grew up amongst opulence in possessions but scarcity in any sort of parental concern, guidance, or compassionate role-modelling; the abuse could be seen as a cry for help and attention. That doesn’t erase the pain and fear experienced by the animals, nor the tone-deaf way the adult author remembers it. Writers, can we all just stop this? If animal abuse makes an appearance in your work, spinning it as humor should be an option best avoided.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gaby

    In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy Burden shares her unique insight and quirky stories of her privileged upbringing as the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The details of their everyday life and Wendy's anecdotes about her family are fascinating on their own, but with the added advantage of her biting wit, Dead End Gene Pool reads so well. Wendy describes the moment that she realized that Santa Claus doesn't exist: "A kid who can talk herself into believing the Addams Family was In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy Burden shares her unique insight and quirky stories of her privileged upbringing as the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The details of their everyday life and Wendy's anecdotes about her family are fascinating on their own, but with the added advantage of her biting wit, Dead End Gene Pool reads so well. Wendy describes the moment that she realized that Santa Claus doesn't exist: "A kid who can talk herself into believing the Addams Family was inspired by reality can extend faith in the existence of Santa Claus almost indefinitely. Okay, maybe I didn't actually believe in Santa Claus -- I mean I wasn't stupid enough to think an enormously fat man was going to squeeze down that skinny Philip Johnson fireplace in the living room bearing presents the size of footlockers -- but I believed in the eternal optimism and idealism of Christmas, and in the theoretical six degrees of separation as it applied to all grown-ups and Santa Claus." Wendy then proceeds to tell us about the Christmas long ago when she came face to face with her Santa Claus and what this meant to her younger self -- without drama and without self-pity. Wendy tells us of the times she met her childhood heroes Charles Addams and Walt Disney - in hilarious and self-deprecating detail. I particularly enjoyed reading about the way that her family entertained during their summer visits to Maine. From the intricacies of the menu, service, and each carefully planned item to the guests and manners, Wendy paints a vivid picture. The stories grow progressively darker over time with her mother's subsequent marriages, unexpected deaths in the family, paralyzing disappointment and the inevitable effects of time and hard living. Wendy Burden gives us a funny, fascinating and satisfying tale of American wealth and privilege. Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir is a book worth reading, rereading and sharing. ISBN-10: 1592405266 - Hardcover $26.00 Publisher: Gotham; 1St Edition edition (April 1, 2010), 272 pages. Review copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    This belongs firmly to that family of memoirs where the story is driven by the weird people in the writer's immediate family. Everyone wanders around sort of goggle-eyed and mad, as if they were permanently trapped in a Wes Anderson movie. Auguten Burroughs famously does this in Running with Scissors, but David Sedaris is also really good at it as is my personal favorite Gerald Durrell. Done well these are funny books, but also knowing books. It is essential that the author treat the people popu This belongs firmly to that family of memoirs where the story is driven by the weird people in the writer's immediate family. Everyone wanders around sort of goggle-eyed and mad, as if they were permanently trapped in a Wes Anderson movie. Auguten Burroughs famously does this in Running with Scissors, but David Sedaris is also really good at it as is my personal favorite Gerald Durrell. Done well these are funny books, but also knowing books. It is essential that the author treat the people populating these books as just that - people - with strange, funny, maddening, and endearing sides. Done poorly and these are cardboard cutouts that read uncomfortably like an author working out their childhood revenge fantasies in print. Burden's book is well done. The picture on the cover nicely sums up the stories within - they are about family in all their variations - silly, crazy, irritating, hurtful, wistful, loving. The stories of the author's childhood are particularly well-related although the later stories as we watch her grandparents descend into dementia and death are also both chilling and heartbreaking. I felt a bond with Wendy, perhaps because I also used to look at Charles Addams books when I was at my grandparents and while I didn't want to be Wednesday or a mortician I would've loved to have been Morticia. This was a fun read filled with some lovely moments, both poignant and ridiculous. The author's childhood may not have been standard, but whose is? It is good to hear her story and good to see how much she loves her family and good to know that she understands that she wouldn't be herself without them. No axes to grind here, no revenge fantasies to work out, just stories.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kerri

    I enjoyed this book as a quick read of a dysfunctional family. However, the book is described on the back jacket as being written by the four times great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt and as centering on the mother of the author. While the genealogical connection of the author is as claimed, in my opinion, the book is neither about the Vanderbilt family, nor does it center around the mother of the author in the way I expected. I expected from the description of the book for there to be m I enjoyed this book as a quick read of a dysfunctional family. However, the book is described on the back jacket as being written by the four times great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt and as centering on the mother of the author. While the genealogical connection of the author is as claimed, in my opinion, the book is neither about the Vanderbilt family, nor does it center around the mother of the author in the way I expected. I expected from the description of the book for there to be more in the way of history of the family. I would not be surprised, if the book does well, if there is some sort of sequel. There are a number of questions I wanted answered such as how the author felt she made it through her upbringing to become what appears to be a fairly normal and functioning adult (as much as anyone in this world can be) when no one else in the family seems to have done so. Overall, if you are looking for a history of this famous family, this is unlikely to satisfy the reader. If you are looking for an interesting glimpse into the life of an American family, I think this is a good read and it just happens that family has more money then most of us. And, I just realized that I was supposed to disclose that I won this through the goodreads giveaway under the explore tab at the top of your screen.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sherry Conrad

    The rich are different- to say the least- they can pay others to deal when their kids are hideous monsters. Money can't buy class- although I hardly think that was the author's intention, that was VERY prominent throughout. While interesting enough that I finished the book- life is too short to read the ones that really stink- I was a little put off by the author's use of $20 words when a dimestore one would have worked as well or better in many cases. There simply wasn't anyone worth rooting for The rich are different- to say the least- they can pay others to deal when their kids are hideous monsters. Money can't buy class- although I hardly think that was the author's intention, that was VERY prominent throughout. While interesting enough that I finished the book- life is too short to read the ones that really stink- I was a little put off by the author's use of $20 words when a dimestore one would have worked as well or better in many cases. There simply wasn't anyone worth rooting for or sympathizing with, although I really wanted there to be. Maybe one or two of the servants. If your idea of a good time is watching adults get wasted and kids behaving badly- with celebrities tossed in here and there- you'll probably enjoy it. That being said- there were some very witty and interesting parts, (and I loved loved loved the too much inbreeding reference that was the beginning of the downfall of the family. I didn't put it down in disgust, but nor is it one I'll keep to reread when the mood strikes me.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    I don't usually read tell-all autobiographies, particularly ones that seem to be penned in that style that is currently populated so effectively by Chelsea Handler. Yet that is exactly what this book purported to be. It was only at NPR's urging that I picked it up this morning. And it was what I expected, with that telltale sign "please let this be a best seller" with episodes of bad behavior topped upon bad behavior topped upon bad behavior plied with alcohol, drugs and more bad behavior, with s I don't usually read tell-all autobiographies, particularly ones that seem to be penned in that style that is currently populated so effectively by Chelsea Handler. Yet that is exactly what this book purported to be. It was only at NPR's urging that I picked it up this morning. And it was what I expected, with that telltale sign "please let this be a best seller" with episodes of bad behavior topped upon bad behavior topped upon bad behavior plied with alcohol, drugs and more bad behavior, with some name dropping and then more bad behavoir, plied for laughs and, once in a while, for pity. Except this book was marvelously penned; her ability to put words together in wonderfully witty and immediately poetic order was marvelous. Burden's knack for description and painting a scene is revelatory. I just wish she had picked a different subject (though they say to write what you know) because this was one of those books wherein I just wanted to sit every single character down and give them each a good, hearty slap and a talking to.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    I don't think I've ever stayed up until the wee hours so that I could finish a memoir. A novel, yes, but a memoir? Never. However, not only is this written so that you feel that Wendy Burden is talking to you over some cups of tea, but the life she led as seen through her eyes, is out of the realms that most of us have ever known. She maintains a delicious irony throughout. She doesn't present herself as a saint or a victim, just as a mischievous little girl who happened to have this kind of moth I don't think I've ever stayed up until the wee hours so that I could finish a memoir. A novel, yes, but a memoir? Never. However, not only is this written so that you feel that Wendy Burden is talking to you over some cups of tea, but the life she led as seen through her eyes, is out of the realms that most of us have ever known. She maintains a delicious irony throughout. She doesn't present herself as a saint or a victim, just as a mischievous little girl who happened to have this kind of mother, these kinds of relatives. This is not another "poor little rich girl" saga. There is no self-pitying. There is no lamenting her wealth. This is no tale of overcoming despite her privileged childhood. Indeed, despite the fabulous wealth she was surrounded by and the concomitant mistreatment she had (note I don't say suffered), she never overcame a thing. She took things as they came, dealt with them, and moved on.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I was looking forward to reading this after I read an article on Wendy Burden in the New York Times, but if you like well-written memoirs, don't read this! Her sardonic tone is tiresome after only a few pages, and it doesn't let up. She focuses on the vulgar to the point where her relatives seem like mere caricatures - which is sad, as it's obvious that there was a good story here. I stopped reading after a few chapters - although I may skip to the end, based on some other reviews I've seen here I was looking forward to reading this after I read an article on Wendy Burden in the New York Times, but if you like well-written memoirs, don't read this! Her sardonic tone is tiresome after only a few pages, and it doesn't let up. She focuses on the vulgar to the point where her relatives seem like mere caricatures - which is sad, as it's obvious that there was a good story here. I stopped reading after a few chapters - although I may skip to the end, based on some other reviews I've seen here.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Britney

    This book was funny! Wendy Burden tells about her childhood growing up the great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Her stories run everywhere from an obsession with Wednesday Addams, her discovery that a member of her grandparents' staff was actually Santa Claus, and her younger brother's insistence that he was the reincarnation of their father. Burden has a sense of humor about growing up in a family with too much money, which made this book a lot of fun to read. This book was funny! Wendy Burden tells about her childhood growing up the great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Her stories run everywhere from an obsession with Wednesday Addams, her discovery that a member of her grandparents' staff was actually Santa Claus, and her younger brother's insistence that he was the reincarnation of their father. Burden has a sense of humor about growing up in a family with too much money, which made this book a lot of fun to read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl S.

    A little "glasscastle-esque" but with lots more alcohol and money. A little "glasscastle-esque" but with lots more alcohol and money.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    A wild, wild read. A woman with wild experiences as a child, and a hilarious storytelling ability as an adult. I didn't know the filthy rich had such experiences. First you hear of the extravagant life in Burdenland when Wendy and Will, her brother, live with their grandparents. That's when it starts to feel like life is geared for the adults, but for children it's mostly boring. When Wendy's mostly absent mother returns from many trips to the Caribbean and marries her suicide dead father's best A wild, wild read. A woman with wild experiences as a child, and a hilarious storytelling ability as an adult. I didn't know the filthy rich had such experiences. First you hear of the extravagant life in Burdenland when Wendy and Will, her brother, live with their grandparents. That's when it starts to feel like life is geared for the adults, but for children it's mostly boring. When Wendy's mostly absent mother returns from many trips to the Caribbean and marries her suicide dead father's best friend, Peter Beer, the arms dealer is when the fun really begins. They buy a house in Virginia that Wendy describes as all brick: exterior, floors, inside walls. It's a ranch house and Peter fires all the help because he wants her Mother to do it all. Since her three children have mostly been at the Burden in-laws most of the time, this is very novel. The children must shovel horse manure and paint fences and get 25 cents as an allowance for doing so. Wendy's descriptions of the food her grandfather obsesses over in the first part of the book switch to discussions of animal poop here. This is a funny story, one which I read parts of aloud to my better half while he watched the ball game and he laughed instead of yelled. That really speaks of comedic talent. Wendy obsesses about being a funeral director and then killing off her family with various poisons she researches and a scene where she and Will singlehandedly empty the room sized walk-in refrigerator and cupboards of all food and put it on her grandparent's flat roofed mansion in Desert Is., Maine is priceless. All this they did because they want the chef, Alberto, to be fired. Alberto bit Wendy on the butt and her grandfather says, "well, chef's are hard to replace." There are so many tales and details in this book that each few pages yields a new set of almost unbelievable circumstances. This woman has an incredible memory of a very eventful childhood. I can almost see and hear the child at all times as though the author still retains her childlike view of the world. She was a regular in the Principal's offices of the various schools she attended and suddenly she found a way to get recognition in a positive way after one of her uncles realizes she fantasizes about gore all the time and turns her on to the gore of literature. She receives her first A on a paper written about the books she has read. Finally years of cutting the heads off of her smurfs and other toys with a guillotine pays off! This book is reminiscent of Augusten Burrows but on a very different economic level and much funnier. This book proves that children at their core are all the same and don't change much with the times. As a wise custodian in my school told me decades ago, "the world is complex now and kids are growing up faster, the world has changed radically, but the kids are the same as they always were." Lot's of truth there. One thing for sure, I can't think of any grandparent or parent on the planet who will be happy with the possibility that their offspring will say these kinds of things about them several decades after they have moved on. You can't even imagine the irreverence for the foibles and shortcomings of family until Wendy dishes the dirt on her very blue blood, social register and DAR but very human brood until you read this book. The ending spirals down in a not funny way and is appropriate as she wants to show that the generations that come after so much money often accomplish much less.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    From My Blog...[return]Dysfunctional families are not uncommon and while the stories usually will bear some similarities very few are told of the wealthiest of families, at least not before Wendy Burden's memoir Dead End Gene Pool. Burden's great-great-great-great grandfather was none other than Cornelius Vanderbilt and his eccentricities and proclivities apparently lived on throughout the generations. Wendy's father, William Armistead Moale Burden III died when she was 6 years old, changing her From My Blog...[return]Dysfunctional families are not uncommon and while the stories usually will bear some similarities very few are told of the wealthiest of families, at least not before Wendy Burden's memoir Dead End Gene Pool. Burden's great-great-great-great grandfather was none other than Cornelius Vanderbilt and his eccentricities and proclivities apparently lived on throughout the generations. Wendy's father, William Armistead Moale Burden III died when she was 6 years old, changing her world, but not in the ordinary way a parent's death might change a child. Rather Wendy and her brothers traveled quite often to stay with their grandparents as dictated by their attorneys after their son's death. From the beginning it is clear to see that Wendy is starved for attention and goes to great lengths to achieve recognition, including but not limited to decapitating dolls and dissecting dolls. Her older brother was given weekly therapy sessions when their father passed, however, she was not, for which she was quite envious and I do think in desperate need of. Burden paints a life without parents, however her mother was not dead but instead, off traveling the world and the children often stayed with their grandmother, who apparently was prone to flatulence as it is mentioned quite often along with grandfather, a man who valued having numerous servants, land, and boys. While the Burden children grew up surrounded by servants as well as a governess, extravagant gifts, and extremely eccentric family members, many of which were alcoholics, and siblings, something was lacking in Wendy's life. It is a rare occurrence for me to come across a memoir I am not completely absorbed into, yet I did have difficulties feeling anything for the characters in this memoir, which to me is quite telling of Wendy's childhood. While Burden uses witty comments to keep her memoir light, it is a rather sad commentary that people with the means for help could not offer help to the ones needing it the most. Dead End Gene Pool left me feeling empty and depressed, which is quite possibly how Wendy often found herself. The memoir itself is well written yet even with a lighter tone and the added wit the reader must be cautioned the tale is not always a happy one, yet one well worth reading, especially for those who enjoy history and memoirs.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

    Again, this is a 3 1/2 book. Maybe even a 3 3/4 book. Just not quite a 4. It's a memoir about the great(x4) granddaughter of the Vanderbilt family. Yes, that family. It was a funny story and made me understand that whole "rich people are just like us!" Mentality that people sometimes have. It's very Sedaris-esque, if Dave and his family were to have billions and billions of dollars. And I would have to say that I agree in the idea that families all over the world, rich or poor, are all very simil Again, this is a 3 1/2 book. Maybe even a 3 3/4 book. Just not quite a 4. It's a memoir about the great(x4) granddaughter of the Vanderbilt family. Yes, that family. It was a funny story and made me understand that whole "rich people are just like us!" Mentality that people sometimes have. It's very Sedaris-esque, if Dave and his family were to have billions and billions of dollars. And I would have to say that I agree in the idea that families all over the world, rich or poor, are all very similar. The rich have just as many problems, sorrows, losses, betrayals and joys as any other family. They love their kids and grand kids and try to take care of them as best they can. They have their vices, but they also love each other fiercely. And while the author recognizes that not everyone gets a pony when they ask for it, she knows that her family wasn't spared from heartache as everyone thinks the rich should be. If I could ask for one thing in this book it would be pictures. I know that sounds weird, but when she talks about the strong love between her grandparents, I would like to see what they looked like. Same for her parents who met each other when they were 14 (but didn't get married till after college). Oh, and explain the pictures on the front and back of the jacket. What is that? Costume party? A normal Thursday? Just a little info would be great. A nice, howbeit crass (remember, Sedaris-esque) look at one of the most famous families in America

  23. 5 out of 5

    Scott Fuchs

    Within the framework of the uber-rich (Vanderbilts [transportation] and Burdens [iron]) there lurks a tale of yet another inordinately f-----ouled up family. I gotta say that this is the first book in a very long time that has made me laff out loud, at least a dozen times. Much of the rest of the time I had a grin on my face. Some of the instances of the flagrant disposal of dollars makes me doubt their veracity, but hell, they were rich, rich, rich. As verified by many histories, at the peak of Within the framework of the uber-rich (Vanderbilts [transportation] and Burdens [iron]) there lurks a tale of yet another inordinately f-----ouled up family. I gotta say that this is the first book in a very long time that has made me laff out loud, at least a dozen times. Much of the rest of the time I had a grin on my face. Some of the instances of the flagrant disposal of dollars makes me doubt their veracity, but hell, they were rich, rich, rich. As verified by many histories, at the peak of their business dealings they were head and shoulders above all, the richest family in the world I must admit that I have a particular fascination with the Vanderbilt clan [architects, social, business and along with their excesses.The fortunes that were made post civil war have fascinated me for years. I'm not at all sure that this book will appeal to a great many readers unless they too share the same predilections.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    I am three quarters of the way through this book and it has been a tough one. Right here on Goodreads it says " rate this book" . That is not an easy task. The BOOK is well written, but the story has been difficult. It is not just a story of a rich kid, it is the story of a morbid, angry, jealous, cruel rich kid. I did not find it at all funny, just profoundly sad. She was the type of child you'd want to keep your kids away from, and every teacher's nightmare. There were so many alarmingly awful I am three quarters of the way through this book and it has been a tough one. Right here on Goodreads it says " rate this book" . That is not an easy task. The BOOK is well written, but the story has been difficult. It is not just a story of a rich kid, it is the story of a morbid, angry, jealous, cruel rich kid. I did not find it at all funny, just profoundly sad. She was the type of child you'd want to keep your kids away from, and every teacher's nightmare. There were so many alarmingly awful things done by her that I am shocked that no one saw a need to send her to a therapist. She's a young teenager now and there are glimmers of hope for her and her character (if she has any). I do not like her at all. But like I said, I am not done. Finished: tragic from beginning to end. Heartbreakingly tragic. We don't learn anything about Wendy as an adult.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Candice

    Found this book fascinating. Talk about a poor little rich girl raised by wolves. Essentially, she and her brothers raised themselves. I read other reviews that said she was too caustic, too sardonic, blah blah blah, but I am quite sure it was that it was her imagination and her vigilant observation of human behavior that got her through her life without turning into a drug addict or mental case. Her character profiles were chillingly hilarious, her sardonic humor sharply both removed and poigna Found this book fascinating. Talk about a poor little rich girl raised by wolves. Essentially, she and her brothers raised themselves. I read other reviews that said she was too caustic, too sardonic, blah blah blah, but I am quite sure it was that it was her imagination and her vigilant observation of human behavior that got her through her life without turning into a drug addict or mental case. Her character profiles were chillingly hilarious, her sardonic humor sharply both removed and poignant, and turns of phrase surprising and creative. Probably a therapeutic process for her, yet you get no self-pity from her. Loved how she brought the 70's alive. Proves once again that money can't buy happiness, but a really interesting, almost incomprehensible, honest look into a lifestyle of a passing era. (Then she lost her cool husband...I wish her well.)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Freakin' hilarious. Burden, a great-great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt ("the Commodore"), and a Burden, to boot, gives up all the family secrets to great comical effect. That she manages to do so without truly vilifying anyone (except, perhaps, her Austrian weapons-dealing step-father), saves this memoir from its hateful potential. I laughed out loud throughout and immediately passed it on to my husband, who did the same. I would recommend Dead End Gene Pool to anyone who typicall Freakin' hilarious. Burden, a great-great-great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt ("the Commodore"), and a Burden, to boot, gives up all the family secrets to great comical effect. That she manages to do so without truly vilifying anyone (except, perhaps, her Austrian weapons-dealing step-father), saves this memoir from its hateful potential. I laughed out loud throughout and immediately passed it on to my husband, who did the same. I would recommend Dead End Gene Pool to anyone who typically appreciates the rich-folk-behaving-badly genre or avid readers of New York's society pages. Furthermore, it ought to be displayed prominently alongside the Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography by TJ Stiles of Cornelius Vanderbilt, The Last Tycoon.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anubis

    Wendy Burton's family is interesting to say the least, but outside a few quirks limited to the eccentric and extremely wealthy the picture painted of her relationship with her mother, grandparents and brothers seems pretty mainstream. Pretty much every person in that family acted abhorrently, so it was hard to have sympathy for any of them, but there was also a lot of sadness, hopelessness and bitterness carried around for generations. It wasn't the most well-written memoir, nor did it seem to h Wendy Burton's family is interesting to say the least, but outside a few quirks limited to the eccentric and extremely wealthy the picture painted of her relationship with her mother, grandparents and brothers seems pretty mainstream. Pretty much every person in that family acted abhorrently, so it was hard to have sympathy for any of them, but there was also a lot of sadness, hopelessness and bitterness carried around for generations. It wasn't the most well-written memoir, nor did it seem to have point outside sharing a few anecdotes, but I found her story to be quite entertaining anyway.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    I definately love reading about dysfunctional families and their crazy lifestyles. Burden, great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the first tycoon in America, manages to create a memoir that is incredibly humorous and utterly addicting. With the dark, uncomfortable upbringing she recounts, it is lucky she has such a sense of humor, which is evident in her dedication: For my mother, goddamn it.I highly recommend!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lori Trautwein

    The first line of this book - "It's a testament to his libido, if not his character, that Cornelius Vanderbilt died of syphilis instead of apoplexy." - sets the pace for this enormously funny read. Well written, fast paced, gossipy without being mean, Dead End Gene Pool offers insight into the lives of those that have vs those that have not. I'm looking forward to future books - whether they be fiction or non-fiction - from Wendy Burden. The first line of this book - "It's a testament to his libido, if not his character, that Cornelius Vanderbilt died of syphilis instead of apoplexy." - sets the pace for this enormously funny read. Well written, fast paced, gossipy without being mean, Dead End Gene Pool offers insight into the lives of those that have vs those that have not. I'm looking forward to future books - whether they be fiction or non-fiction - from Wendy Burden.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bronwen

    Not until the last two chapters did I understand. Read the book backwards. You should have seen me yesterday on Mothers Day as I handed Wendy Burden's book across to my Mum and in the air, tried to describe how `ancient', `older than' etc, Mum's Family was in comparison to Wendy's funny, edible cheesy epic based novelette was, as compared to as a mere blip on her own Eadie and Burden landscape. Not until the last two chapters did I understand. Read the book backwards. You should have seen me yesterday on Mothers Day as I handed Wendy Burden's book across to my Mum and in the air, tried to describe how `ancient', `older than' etc, Mum's Family was in comparison to Wendy's funny, edible cheesy epic based novelette was, as compared to as a mere blip on her own Eadie and Burden landscape.

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