“The Great Gatsby” (2013)/Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited
Ever wonder what it would be like to have such an enormous amount of wealth that there would be no need to worry about, well, anything? Have you thought about what you would do with your spare time if you had a fortune off of which you could live, or what you would spend your money on? We’ve all imagined it, as unrealistic as it may be. Though being a part of high society is impossible for most of us, we can live vicariously through the characters in the stories that we read, whether they’re true or not.
So get lost in a life that isn’t yours – a life beyond your wildest dreams. These fourteen books will transport you to a different world, full of outrageous parties, glamour, scandal, and an overabundance of just about everything – especially drama.
Belonging to such a powerful, wealthy family comes with a price: You can’t choose your own life; it’s chosen for you. Tradition is of the utmost importance to the Edwardians, and must be upheld by future generations. Sebastian – the young, handsome, and temperamental heir – wants to veer from the path that his family has trod for years on end, but believes it to be impossible. When he meets Leonard Anquetil and Lady Roehampton, everything changes, including Sebastian’s perspective on his future. Sebastian’s sister Violet finds a way out of high society, and both siblings make the bold leap into a whole new world, leaving everything they know behind.
Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic read, and though it was published in 1890, it still resonates with readers today. The story centers around Dorian, who is an extremely wealthy and good-looking young man living in London. Dorian has a portrait of himself done by the great artist Basil and becomes obsessed with his own handsome, youthful appearance – so much so that he sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. The book was originally attacked for exposing the dark side of Victorian society, and for evoking ideas of homosexuality.
Bret Easton Ellis
Clay’s break from college means going back home to Los Angeles and resuming a life of privilege, money, and recklessness. Everyone Clay knows has fallen into a vicious cycle of destructive behavior, always wanting a high that’s even better than the last, and Clay follows suit. This book showcases the less than glamorous side of the young elite in L.A., with more parties, drugs, and sex than you might ever imagine.
When billionaire real estate tycoon Nero Golden moves to Manhattan from foreign shores, he and his three sons assume new identities and move into a grand mansion downtown. New York City natives are immediately intrigued by the bizarre newcomer and his family and the mystery that surrounds their arrival. The Golden’s neighbor, René – an ambitious young filmmaker, and narrator of the story – is especially curious, and finds the family to be the perfect subject for his work. The Golden House is a story of politics, pop culture, and identity, and serves as a force of light in current troubling times.
The apartment building at 740 Park has been Manhattan’s richest residence for seventy-five years now, and it’s certainly received a lot of attention. One apartment has thirty-seven rooms, fourteen bathrooms, forty-three closets, eleven working fireplaces, a private elevator, and his-and-hers saunas. It’s the kind of luxury of which most of us can only dream. The book begins with the story of the massive building’s construction in 1920s Manhattan, and explores how it attracted the richest, oldest families in the country. 740 Park gives readers a glimpse of the hidden lives of the wealthy residents as well as access to wealth, privilege, and all that entails. The social history of the American rich is laid out for all to see, uncensored and unprecedented.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece centers on the young, mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story who moves next door to Gatsby’s lavish mansion. There are extravagant parties, love affairs, heartbreak, and a grand amount of dishonesty. The Great Gatsby explores themes of excessive nature, indulgence, idealism, and resistance to change. Creating a portrait of the Jazz Age and the Roaring ’20s, this wildly popular book is a literary classic and has inspired many adaptations throughout the decades.
Pride and Prejudice is easily one of the most well-known novels in the United States and around the world. With the most compelling of stories and the most memorable characters, it has remained unparalleled for two hundred years. Readers will find themselves immersed in the Bennet family, comprised of a quiet father, a dutiful mother, and five beautiful daughters. Mrs. Bennet works to find eligible suitors for her five daughters to marry, but when Mr. Darcy, a handsome young man, and his equally charming and wealthy companion take residence nearby, everything changes. Grand country estates, beautiful young men and women, and unwavering courtship all comprise this endearing story of heartache and romance.
On New Year’s Eve of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent finds herself second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, an extremely handsome banker, sits down next to her. They begin to mingle, and though she doesn’t know it at the time, Katey’s encounter with Grey will lead her into the upper class of New York society. To fit in with the elite, Katey will have to rely on her wittiness and her keen eye. Amor Towles’s lively depiction of New York’s social strata, along with his enchanting characters, make Rules of Civility a must-read for everyone.
The Bonfire of the Vanities is a 1987 satirical novel centered on Sherman McCoy, a New York City bond trader with a wife and young daughter, who is rapidly losing his wealth. McCoy turns to his mistress, Maria Ruskin, for solace. One night, on a drive with Maria, Sherman accidentally enters the Bronx. He and Maria exit the car to determine where to go next, and are approached by two black men whom they perceive – uncertainly, in Sherman’s case – as predators. They quickly get back into the car and race away, striking one of the two boys. This compelling story focuses on racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980s New York City, and captures what it truly means to have privilege.
Dr. Faraday, a country physician who built a decent life for himself, is called to attend to a patient at the Hundreds Hall, which has been home to the Ayres family for over two hundred years. The Georgian house, once impeccable, is now falling apart – and so are the Ayres. They are struggling to keep up with the changes in society, while also dealing with the strange happenings taking place in their home. Dr. Faraday finds much more than he ever expected in Hundreds Hall, and attempts to make sense of the ghostly events that unfold. The brilliant combination of the supernatural and high society in The Little Stranger reflects the evil and the social upheaval of the class system in postwar Britain.
B. G. Firmani
Francesca “Chess” Varani experiences the gritty ins-and-outs of college life at Barnard in mid-eighties New York in B. G. Firmani’s novel Time’s a Thief. She grows up quickly as she encounters everything from toxic friendships, damaging love affairs, and difficult decisions that change her future. As more and more time passes, she finds herself caught up in the choices she’s made, and perhaps more importantly, the ones she didn’t. Chess is always looking back, always wanting something more than she has. When she accepts a job at the Marr-Löwenstein house in the wealthy West Village, she finds more than she ever expected, and discovers what happens when two very different worlds collide.
Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
Empty Mansions reveals the ins and outs of the mysterious life of Huguette Clark, the daughter of self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark. Huguette grew up in the largest house in New York City, with a remarkable fortune. But instead of keeping the money to herself, she devoted her life to sharing her wealth with friends and strangers. Readers will be introduced to her distinct family, her French boyfriend, her nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the greedy relatives who wanted nothing more than to get their hands on Huguette’s fortune. Filled with beautiful illustrations and photographs, Empty Mansions is a captivating story of a misfit in the highest order – an extraordinary member of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms, despite the judgment of others.
This fascinating story follows heroine Undine Spragg – a vain, spoiled, selfish, but irresistible Midwestern girl who attempts to ascend through the ranks of New York City society. Wharton takes readers on a journey from New York to Europe, detailing Undine’s many marriages, affairs, and schemes. Undine doesn’t learn any lessons as she moves through life, and doesn’t go through any profound changes. She continues to care only about her own wealth and power, and finds pleasure in creating chaos. Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country is a clever, satirical, and detailed examination of the exploits and foolishness of the modern upper class.
This romantic comedy depicts what aristocratic life was like in England between the wars. It follows the life of Polly Hampton, a beautiful, young noblewoman who has been set up with the perfect marriage by her mother. She is expected to do her duty without question, and be a proper lady. But Polly finds England to be quite boring, especially after experiencing life in India, where her father served as Viceroy. When she reveals a long-kept secret, she shatters her mother’s dreams and loses her inheritance. With her newfound independence, Polly is free to do as she pleases, and her parents seek to find a new heir. Everyone eventually gets a happy ending – even if it’s not what they expected.