Books: Society's Child Once Upon a Time

by Gloria Vanderbilt Knopf; 301 pages; $16.95

The memoir starts with a profound error: "In the beginning," writes Gloria Vanderbilt, "a child believes that all other children are in the same world that she or he inhabits. That is how a poor child defines all others, and that is how a rich child defines all others."

In fact, deprived children are cruelly aware of those who have more; the streets and screens provide all the evidence they need. It is only the privileged young who can be free, however briefly, from envy. Given this flaw, Once Upon a Time, an account of the heiress's first 17 years, might...

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