Long before America's rich were taken by the pernicious idea that wealth gained by providing a product or service people want to buy entails an obligation to "give back to society," their ideal was much closer to the description given of the role of the Prince of Wales in Chariots of Fire -- "He is here to show us what may be done and, more importantly, what may not be."
Inspired by Gene Fowler's dictum that "money is something to be thrown off the back end of trains," Lucius Beebe's chronicle of the lives and expense accounts of American magnificoes in the pre-income tax era is a remarkable story indeed. From huge houses and boats, to jaw-droppingly extravagant parties, massive jewelry collections, and -- best of all -- tremendous gestures that are sadly out of fashion, these pages chronicle an era that will never be seen again. The lushness of the era is matched by the lushness of Beebe's prose. He is an author who knew how to turn a phrase, tell a story, and have a personal voice as stylish and well turned-out as the man himself.
There are probably many people today who would see this book as a 400-page criminal indictment against the "robber barons" of an earlier era. But it's just as easily seen as a catalog of all that's been lost in the name of "equality" -- envy with a gun.