The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan

The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction
Length: Full Length (416 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The story of Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

Orphaned at a young age, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser claimed lineage from one of New York’s best known families. She grew up in Newport and Paris, and her engagement and marriage to George Vanderbilt was one of the most watched events of Gilded Age society. But none of this prepared her to be mistress of Biltmore House.
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Before their marriage, the wealthy and bookish Vanderbilt had dedicated his life to creating a spectacular European-style estate on 125,000 acres of North Carolina wilderness. He summoned the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to tame the grounds, collaborated with celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a 175,000-square-foot chateau, filled it with priceless art and antiques, and erected a charming village beyond the gates. Newlywed Edith was now mistress of an estate nearly three times the size of Washington, DC and benefactress of the village and surrounding rural area. When fortunes shifted and changing times threatened her family, her home, and her community, it was up to Edith to save Biltmore—and secure the future of the region and her husband’s legacy.

A huge house, a wide landscape and a fairy tale in a real place.

I knew when I picked up this book that I’d be transported and I was. I’ve never seen the Biltmore estate, but through this book, I did.

This book tells the story of the Biltmore through the years, the way it’s changed and just how expensive it can be to keep up the house.

One thing about this book, the author not only discusses the house, but the branch of the Vanderbilt family that created it. I got to learn about the people and the home. I liked learning about the peripheral people as well–who were the movers and shakers at the house, who helped make the house fabulous. I can’t imagine my day to day life having so many fascinating people who are historical figures just being part of it. There are a ton of details and this isn’t an easy read, but it is fascinating.

If you want a book about a place you can just about only dream of, then this might be the book for you.

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