Book tackles darker side of inheriting a family fortune

Author and journalist Janny Scott be at two Mount Desert Island libraries next week for author talks and book signings. She will speak Wednesday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Jesup Memorial Library and Thursday, Aug. 29 at 5:30 at the Northeast Harbor Library.

Scott’s book, “The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father,” which is part memoir, part class history and part detective story, explores the degree to which an inheritance — financial, cultural and genetic — conspired in one person’s self-destruction.

“The Beneficiary” is story of an American family’s fortunes, in which Scott explores this private and unexplored universe and examines the weight of inheritance, the tenacity of addiction and the power of buried secrets.

In the early 1900’s, Robert L. Montgomery, Scott’s investment banker great-grandfather, pieced together a grand estate on Philadelphia’s Main Line — building a 15-bedroom mansion and acquiring 800 acres along with farmhouses, stables, carriage houses, silos and a swimming pool.

Land, houses and money tumbled from one generation to the next. There was an obligation to protect it, a license to enjoy it and a duty to pass it on.

However, behind the glossy veneer there was depression, suicide and addiction.

Some flourished, including Scott’s grandmother Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, a socialite and celebrated equestrian said to have inspired Katherine Hepburn’s character in the play and Academy Award-winning film “The Philadelphia Story.”

For others, including Scott’s father Robert Montgomery Scott, she concludes, the impact was more complex. His death sent Scott, an heir to both of these legacies, on her search to understand the rarefied world that shaped her father.

Kirkus writes, “The family story the author tells is fascinating for the painful personal legacies it uncovers. At the same time, it is also compelling for the parallels it draws between an earlier age of inequality and our own, and the questions it raises about how contemporary stories of new-rich families will play out, ‘one hundred years hence.’ A heartfelt and rich narrative tapestry.” Frances FitzGerald, author of “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” writes that “The Beneficiary” is “a remarkable book … Scott, who has an eye for the telling detail, writes with wit and flair.”

Scott is the author of the New York Times bestseller “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother.” She was a reporter for The New York Times from 1994 to 2008 and was a member of the Times reporting team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

Contact the Jesup at 288-4245 or the Northeast Harbor Library at 276-3333.

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