The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke

Sallie Bingham. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-14259-9
In this illuminating biography, Bingham (The Blue Box) chronicles the life of philanthropist and tobacco heiress Doris Duke (1912–1993). Drawing from personal papers archived at Duke University, which bears the family’s name, as well as correspondence, journals, and reminiscences of friends and associates, Bingham eschews scandal to concentrate on the elements that shaped Duke. Details of her short-lived marriages to ne’er-do-well Jimmy Cromwell and Dominican playboy “Rubi” Rubirosa, for example, are balanced by chapters on Duke’s work as a war correspondent and undercover agent during WWII, writer for Harper’s Bazaar, investor in a Rome newspaper, and overseer of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The story of her parents, James Buchanan and Nanaline­—­and the fortune they amassed from their tobacco and cigarette companies—give context to Duke’s wealthy, privileged upbringing. When her father’s death threatens two family properties—a mansion in New Jersey, another in Newport, R.I.—15-year-old Duke challenges their sale, becoming owner of both and establishing her lifelong role as their manager and caretaker. Duke later builds Shangri La, a Hawaiian estate featuring her Islamic art collection, and crosses paths with Eleanor Roosevelt, General Patton, Jackie Kennedy, and dozens of rumored lovers. Bingham is a generous biographer in this exacting, measured work. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 11/22/2019
Release date: 06/12/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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