Saturday, October 21, 2023

Reading Books I'm Excited to Read - The Last Castle

Goodreads: The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home by Denise Kiernan

Rating:  Really Liked It (4 Stars)
Source:   Purchased

Description:  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.

Genre: Nonfiction

Why I Picked This Book:  I've been fascinated by the history of the Biltmore since we visited it back in 2002.  

My Impression:  This is the story of American Royalty, the Gilded Age's rise and fall, the evolution of forestry in the US, and countless other things all told under the focus of the building of Biltmore House.   The author takes the reader on quite a journey from the very blue blooded but less well heeled Dresser family and their life before Edith Dresser met George Vanderbilt as well as what George's life looked like before he met Edith.  We also see what the small town of Ashville, North Carolina before George Vanderbilt came to visit and became enchanted with the landscape.  

I really liked that the author kept the development of the house and grounds in context with what was going on in the rest of the world and the lives of the Vanderbilt family.  The book also shows that while the Biltmore estate was George's dream it was Edith who really made it happen and flourish.  I was fascinated by her role in the creation of industry and the community itself.  

If you're interested in Gilded Age history this is a fascinating look at some of the most famous families and most notable real estate of the time.  I do wish there was more stories about life in Biltmore itself but given the limited time the family actually spent there and that they were fairly private it makes sense that there aren't more.  I guess I will just have to visit Biltmore again!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author? Absolutely!  I really enjoyed how the author laid out the story of the building of Biltmore in historical context.

Would I Recommend this Book?   If you're interested in Gilded Age history I think this is a must read - though be aware you may find yourself planning a trip!


  1. This book is very different than anything I usually read, but it sounds very interesting.

  2. I think I would enjoy this. I haven't been to Biltmore but I do live in NC now.

    Anne - Books of My Heart

  3. It's fascinating that CNN's Andersen Cooper is part of the Vanderbilt family and history.

  4. Oh, yes, this sounds like a book I'd definitely enjoy reading.

  5. I love books about the Gilded Age, and the Biltmore is such an incredible mansion. How cool that you got to visit it.

  6. I really enjoyed this one, too! It was a read/listen combo for me... and it DID lead to another trip to The Biltmore!

  7. This sounds like it would be an incredibly interesting read!

  8. This sounds really fascinating. I will have to check this one out.