LaPuerta Books Releases Bonfire of the Vanderbilts
September 04, 2015 (PRLEAP.COM) Business NewsSeptember 4, 2015 - The September 6 release date of Bonfire of the Vanderbilts is the author's birthday, but it also happens to be the birthday of Julius LeBlanc Stewart, the nineteenth-century painter of The Baptism, which apparently holds some century-old secrets about the Vanderbilt family.
A huge canvas owned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Baptism depicts 21 people at a christening in an elegant drawing room. For more than a hundred years, art historians have debated whether the scene was an actual Vanderbilt family event. When he first saw the painting 20 years ago, Jones wondered - what's the big mystery? Then when he delved into the facts, he wondered why the historical record is so hazy. Who would have the motive and the influence to cover up the facts?
Jones spent more than 15 years researching the origins of The Baptism, and he thinks he has the real story – which he fictionalized in the book. He's wrapped the facts in a present-day thriller about an art historian who is obsessed by the painting's "emotional pull."
Jones admits that the book's title is an homage to Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. "Yes," the author explains, "it's all about vanity. More than a century ago, the Vanderbilts controlled the largest personal fortune in the world. Today, their descendants might be well-to-do, but I don't think any of them are even on the Forbes 500 richest list. So what happened?
"One of my professors once quipped that all historical novels – and movies, too – are about today," says Jones. "And how could it be otherwise? All we have are the opinions of storytellers, even if they are respected scholars. There's no one alive to ask what it was really like in 1892.
"So this is a book about what today we'd call the 'one-percent' – the aristocrats at the very top of the social order who answer to no one. In his day, Cornelius Vanderbilt II was not only the richest, but also the most righteous, of men. He worried much more about his reputation in the Episcopal Church than anything else, including his business. He was sure he was among the elect, chosen by God to be a custodian of immense wealth and political power.
"And I see this attitude today. It's part of the American ethos. Poverty isn't just pitiful these days – it's a sin committed by the hopelessly lazy. The public seems to think that rich people have so much more because God has favored them. And we hear this not only from political conservatives like the evangelicals but also from New-Age, self-help gurus, who tell us that spiritual alignment generates wealth. The political danger, of course, is jumping to the conclusion that having wealth gives you the right to tell the rest of us how we should live."
Jones refuses to spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that history did not treat Cornelius Vanderbilt well.
"Let me put it this way," Jones concludes. "Think about famous rich people today. Do you honestly think that Rupert Murdoch or Richard Branson or Donald Trump have been specially appointed by God? Presumably, they've worked hard. But so do you, I bet. What's the answer? And a hundred years from now, who else will be making the rules?"
Bonfire of the Vanderbilts is available in trade paperback from booksellers worldwide, and in Kindle e-book format exclusively from Amazon.