Books: Rich And Infamous

THE VANDERBILT ERA

by Louis Auchincloss

Scribner's; 214 pages; $19.95

Reading this slight, elegant book is a bit like having a guided tour through an album of family snapshots. There, notes your cicerone, is Great-Great-Uncle George, who built that incredible castle in North Carolina. Here is Great-Aunt Adele, blithe and beautiful, seated next to her sad cousin Consuelo -- she had to marry a duke, you know.

Louis Auchincloss, discreet attorney to the well-to-do and subtle novelist of their mores, proposes that the period between 1880 and 1910 could be called the Vanderbilt Era, after its largest and wealthiest clan. In...

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