cover image Gilded Lily: Lily Safra, the Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows

Gilded Lily: Lily Safra, the Making of One of the World's Wealthiest Widows

Isabel Vincent, Harper, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-113393-0

A skillfully executed exposé of the life of the Brazilian-born widow of Monaco banker Edmond Safra, who died in a suspicious fire in his Monte Carlo penthouse in 1999, delineates the paranoid desperation of the very rich. Journalist Vincent (See No Evil) delves fearlessly into the messy, lucky, upwardly mobile climb of four-time-married Lily Safra nee Watkins, the daughter of a native Londoner who made his fortune in railroads. Spoiled, pampered, more socially adept than beautiful, Lily first married the wealthy hosiery manufacturer Mario Cohen in 1952, when she was 17, then divorced him after 13 years and three children to marry the Rio millionaire Alfredo Monteverde. With his dubious suicide in 1969 (manic depressive, he supposedly shot himself twice in the chest while napping in his home), Lily inherited $300 million, much of it squirreled away by the discreet Syrian-born Sephardic Jewish banking brothers, Joseph, Moise, and Edmond Safra, the widow relying on the last to extricate herself from the Monteverde family's challenging the will. A romance developed between Edmond, who moved fluidly among his banking enterprises in Geneva, New York, and London, and Lily. Now members of the "billionaire's club," regularly noted approvingly in gossip columns, as Vincent shows through great reporting, Lily and Edmond Safra entertained like royalty, yet found their wealth could not shield them from family tragedies and threats to personal security. (July)