House of outrageous fortune

Michael Gross, Atria Books, 394 pages, $28

If anyone needs convincing that the richest of the rich have continued to get richer, unaffected by the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequently misfiring economy, 15 Central Park West is the proof.

In 2005, when billionaire Carl Icahn was outbid for a penthouse in the then-unbuilt Manhattan building, the younger hedge fund boss Daniel Loeb paid $45 million. In 2011, Sandy Weill, a former boss of Citigroup, sold his slightly smaller penthouse for $88 million, twice what it had cost him four years earlier and the highest price ever paid for a Manhattan apartment.

The building, writes Michael Gross in "House of Outrageous Fortune," represents "the resurrection and the life of our era's aristocracy of wealth,"

15CPW, as it is known locally, has special appeal to the new-money types frowned upon by the bluebloods across the park on Fifth Avenue. There are hedgies and investment bankers galore, especially from Goldman Sachs, which helped finance the development and got a discount for its boss, Lloyd Blankfein, when he splashed out $26 million on a duplex. Celebrity residents include Sting, Denzel Washington and Alex Rodriguez.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement heard that Blankfein lived in the building, it organized a protest outside, and Bill de Blasio got elected New York's mayor last year by attacking the sort of wealthy people who call 15CPW home. If only Gross had done more to analyze whether their rise is really due to policies that simultaneously harmed the less well-off, and whether there have been more of the sort of special favors for residents like those apparently extended by the police to the triple-parked limos out front. Still, he demonstrates conclusively the truth of Clare Boothe Luce's observation, "Money can't buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you're being miserable."