The Bettencourt Affair: The World's Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris

by Sancton, Tom
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Sancton, Tom The Bettencourt Affair: The World's Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris
Sancton, Tom - The Bettencourt Affair: The World's Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris

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An NPR Best Book of 2017

The Bettencourt Affair is part courtroom drama; part upstairs-downstairs tale; and part character-driven story of a complex, fascinating family and the intruder who nearly tore it apart.

At the time of her death at age ninety-four, in September 2017, Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L'Oréal fortune, was the world's richest woman and the fourteenth wealthiest person. But her gilded life took a dark yet fascinating turn in the past decade, when she became embroiled in a scandal that dominated the headlines in France.

The Bettencourt Affair, as it came to be called, started as a family drama but quickly became a massive scandal, uncovering L'Oréal's shadowy corporate history and buried World War II secrets. It all began when Liliane met François-Marie Banier, an artist and photographer who was, in his youth, the toast of Paris and a protégé of Salvador Dalí. Over the next two decades, Banier was given hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts, cash, and insurance policies by Liliane. What, exactly, was their relationship? It wasn't clear, least of all to Liliane's daughter and only child, Françoise, who became suspicious of Banier's motives and filed a lawsuit against him. But Banier has a far different story to tell. . . .


Sancton, Tom

Further information

Illustrations Note:
Chapter 1

The Founder

Charles Schueller never expected to be a soldier. Six months earlier, the young man had been a cook in his native Alsace, France's easternmost province. Now he was huddled with 15,000 Garde nationale volunteers in the town of Belfort, trying to defend its heavily fortified citadel against the far larger German force that had besieged them. More accustomed to wielding a frying pan than a rifle, Schueller, like his comrades in the ill-equipped and untrained band, mainly tried to survive until hoped-for reinforcements could arrive. Meanwhile, the Germans pummeled the citadel with their Krupp six-pound field guns, the long-range, rapid-firing weapons that had been decimating French troops ever since the Franco-German war broke out in July 1870.

The conflict had been triggered by a trivial diplomatic incident about which Charles Schueller, the twenty-two-year-old son of a shoemaker, understood nothing. What he did understand was that la patrie was being invaded by the Germans and his beloved Alsace was on the front lines. Like most German-speaking Alsatians, Schueller was a fervent French patriot who would rather die than live under German occupation. The Belfort volunteers-les mobiles-held out until February 18, 1871, three weeks after officials in Paris had capitulated and signed an armistice. Their commander, Col. Pierre Denfert-Rochereau, was thereafter hailed as "the Lion of Belfort" for leading the heroic resistance.

The Franco-German war had far-reaching consequences. Germany was unified under Prussian leadership. The French Second Empire collapsed when the dyspeptic Emperor Napoleon III, unwisely venturing onto the battlefield, was captured and imprisoned. Most important for Charles Schueller, the triumphant Germans annexed Alsace and Lorraine.

Schueller moved to Paris in 1871 in order to remain French. He knew no one in the capital, but soon met and wed AmŽlie Denisot, daughter of a toolmaker from Burgundy, who worked as a domestic servant for a baker. Shortly after their marriage, they bought a pastry shop on the rue du Cherche-Midi. It was there, on March 20, 1881, at nine a.m., that AmŽlie gave birth to Eugne Schueller in a back room. Eugne was lucky: He was the only one of their five children who survived.

It was an inauspicious beginning for a man who was destined to build one of the world's great fortunes. "Life was very rude and very hard for us," he wrote in a biographical rŽsumŽ, "and it's in this atmosphere of effort and work that I was raised, under the example of my hardworking parents." Before he went to school each day, he would rise early to help prepare the pastries, an apprenticeship that pointed to a future in the family business.

But the collapse of the Panama Canal Company in 1891 wiped out the couple's savings and forced them to move to the cheaper suburb of Levallois-Perret, where they bought another pastry shop. That turned out to be a big break for Eugne: His parents supplied bread to the nearby Collge Sainte-Croix de Neuilly, an elite private school, which agreed to admit the boy as a student.

Eugne earned top grades in all his classes before moving on to the LycŽe Condorcet in Paris, another elite school. There again, he excelled in his studies. After taking his BaccalaurŽat degree-roughly equivalent to two years of college-he entered the Institute of Applied Chemistry, where, as he said with typical immodesty, "I succeeded brilliantly and finished first in my class." Following his graduation in 1904, he took a position as a laboratory assistant to Professor Victor Auger at the Sorbonne. That seemed
Media Type:
Penguin US
Biography Artist:

Tom Sancton was a longtime Paris bureau chief for Time magazine, where he wrote more than fifty cover stories. He first broke the Bettencourt Affair for many American readers with his feature piece in Vanity Fair in 2010. Sancton coauthored the New York Times (and international) bestseller Death of a Princess, a probing investigation of the murky circumstances behind Princess Diana's death. He has also written for Fortune, Reader's Digest, Newsweek, and other leading magazines. A Rhodes scholar who studied at Harvard and Oxford, he is currently a research professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he spends part of the year. In 2014, the French government named Tom Sancton a Chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Arts and Letters.
A Buffet for Scandal Aficionados...[Sancton] is an excellent straight-up reporter, and he has dug deeply into the many, many elements that complicate this story. Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Juicy...the very picture of un grand scandale about the world s richest woman. Vanity Fair

Liliane Bettencourt, the L Oréal heiress worth billions, became infatuated with a man 25 years her junior (a former Dalí protégé and an apparent social climber), giving him lavish gifts and even moving to adopt him. The story has all the trappings of a juicy affair, including graft and hidden Nazi sympathies.
Joumana Khatib, The New York Times Book Review Paperback Row

[A] riveting page-turner chronicling this sweeping Tolstoyan saga...In gripping but unsensational prose, [Sancton] brings the debacle alive in its many dimensions, recreating not merely the lurid courtroom drama, but capturing the ineffable sadness at its heart. NPR

An intensely reported account of power, politics, persuasion and the dark family secrets of the ultra-wealthy. New York Daily News

the book that has emerged from [Sancton s] reporting on the case is surely the definitive account...riveting. Wall Street Journal

Money, glamour, and scandal are often the key ingredients of a great story especially when they re true. Real Simple

A juicy chronicle of France's richest scandal...A well-researched, crisply written, and entertaining story of family, greed, wealth, and the complex relations among them. Kirkus Reviews

Although this tale seems destined for HBO or Hollywood, to bill this a mere 'family drama' belies the staggering depth with which Sancton portrays his subjects, whose motivations, desires, and downfalls are 'so difficult to judge according to a moral code based on right and wrong, black and white, good and evil.' A natural for book clubs, which will drain a French cellar s worth of wine while appreciating Sancton s meticulous research and discussing this unbelievable cast of characters. Booklist (starred review)

This true story of the elderly billionaire, the artist to whom she gave a fortune, and the family that claims it s all been a big con, is proof that truth is stranger or at least makes better poolside reading. Town & Country

There is no comparable work on the Bettencourt scandal, only interviews and articles, making this highly recommended and pleasurable read a mix of luring tabloid fare and professionally researched courtroom and political drama. Library Journal (starred review)

The story of this convoluted war of wills (pun intended), told with skill by former Time Paris bureau chief Tom Sancton in The Bettencourt Affair, features a cast of characters pulled straight from a Tolstoy novel. BookPage

A longtime reporter on a foreign desk, Tom Sancton knows Paris and has done his homework...The Bettencourt Affair is a devilishly engaging immersion into a world few of us can imagine. Shelf Awareness

This book has it all! Money, class, art, greed, intrigue, seduction, betrayal, and politics. It reads like a novel a racy and intense thriller but it's all true. With amazing reporting and wonderful writing, Tom Sancton brings alive the drama of the richest woman in the world, the powerful minister she married, their intellectual daughter, and the audacious artist who may have siphoned off a fortune. Their battles shook France and will fascinate readers. Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs

The Bettencourt Affair reveals the far-reaching tentacles of a sensational family squabble over the $40-billion L'Oréal fortune. The aging cosmetics heiress gave hundreds of millions of dollars to her protégé, who was then charged with criminal manipulation by the woman's embittered daughter and convicted at a trial that also entangled French President Nicholas Sarkozy, a labor minister and others. It's an eye-popping, page-turning read. John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The City of Falling Angels
A riveting, dishy account of one of France s wealthiest families, whose Olympian grasp reaches scandalously deep into the French political world and the government itself. No one who reads this intimate tale of materialism and dangerous liaisons peppered with political stars and so steeped in paranoia that even a butler makes surreptitious recordings to defend himself will ever again associate the French upper classes with discretion and understatement. Anne-Marie O Connor, author of The Lady in Gold
Number of Pages:

Master Data

Product Type:
Paperback book
Release date:
26 July 2018
Package Dimensions:
0.209 x 0.139 x 0.026 m; 0.333 kg
Manufacturer Part Number:
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