The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke

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When a 21st birthday is celebrated with a ten million dollar first payout from a family trust, there is a story waiting to be told. Sallie Bingham rises to the challenge to chronicle the extraordinary life of Doris Duke, once recognized as the world’s richest woman yet now virtually unknown. But where to start and where to stop?

Bingham begins with World War II and Duke’s ambition to become a journalist in a dangerous war zone. Military, diplomatic, and political big shots pulled strings, although sadly, in truth, the dream was thwarted. Then, when peace returned, she could admire Christian Dior’s New Look, choosing from the collections to enhance the ten thousand garments carefully packed by her servants when she traveled, seeking new adventures.

No one could deny Duke’s generosity and extravagances, especially beneficiaries of Independent Aid, the first charity she launched, donations in all directions, gifts to friends and servants, a $150,000 mihrab to complement her magnificent Islamic art collection, albeit placed facing the wrong direction, and the purchase of a Boeing 737-300 to transport her camels between two of her many homes.

And then, to enhance her pleasures, a succession of lovers with hyphenated surnames and sobriquets as confusing to readers as the aliases in spy novels. Before too long individuality merges, they become a composite, changing as she adds to multiple interests such as diving and Japanese gardens, promoting birth control and supporting black dancers and jazz musicians.

The book leaps back and forth chronologically, following the tall, rich girl with the “fish-fin feet.” Today, when a girl’s height is less defining, her ephemeral happiness might well have been more lasting and sympathy could then be redirected to an author obliged to organize an undeniably distracting saga.


Reviewed By:

Author Sallie Bingham
Star Count 3/5
Format Hard
Page Count 336 pages
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publish Date 2020-04-07
ISBN 9780374142599
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue April 2020
Category Biographies & Memoirs
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