The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home
Author: Denise Kiernan
Published: September 26, 2017
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore—the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.
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.
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.
The Last Castle is the uniquely American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.
This is a great history book! I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Biltmore has a special place in my heart; I’ve been visiting since I was a kid and it ignited my imagination as a place of finery and magnificence! I’ve said many times that if you haven’t been to visit, you should and I hold to that.
Kiernan laid out not just the history of the house, but the people who built her. George Vanderbilt is the height of refinement and education and Ivan and I have already decided that we need more dapper gentlemen like him. Edith was a classy, yet humble woman who accomplish much. I grew to love them the more I learned and I’m so happy that their legacy survives in that estate.
As a historian, I was happy with the way Kiernan presented the facts. She did extensive research and put all kinds of resources throughout the book. The personal letters were fascinating. I also loved how she focused on the trailblazing that happened at Biltmore. The National Park Service practically started on the estate and the agricultural and forestry development procedures were revolutionary. Overall, this was a great and easy read and I learned a lot!
Here a few pictures of Kim and Ivan at Biltmore: