When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age

When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age

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by Justin Kaplan
     
 

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This newest book by Pulitzer Prize winner Justin Kaplan is a sparkling combination of biography, social history, architectural appreciation, and pure pleasure Endowed with the largest private fortunes of their day, two heirs of arch-capitalist John Jacob Astor battled with each other for social primacy. William Waldorf Astor (born 1848) and his cousin John Jacob Astor… See more details below

Overview

This newest book by Pulitzer Prize winner Justin Kaplan is a sparkling combination of biography, social history, architectural appreciation, and pure pleasure Endowed with the largest private fortunes of their day, two heirs of arch-capitalist John Jacob Astor battled with each other for social primacy. William Waldorf Astor (born 1848) and his cousin John Jacob Astor IV (born 1864) led incomparably privileged lives in the blaze of public attention. Novelist, sportsman, and inventor, John Jacob went down with the Titanic, after turbulent marital adventures and service in the Spanish-American War. Collector of art, antiquities, and stately homes, William Waldorf became a British subject and acquired the title of Viscount Astor. In New York during the 1890s and after, the two feuding Astors built monumental grand hotels, chief among them the original Waldorf-Astoria on lower Fifth Avenue. The Astor hotels transformed social behavior. Home of the chafing dish and the velvet rope, the Waldorf-Astoria drew the rich, famous, and fashionable. It was the setting for the most notorious society event of the era—a costume extravaganza put on by its hosts during a time of widespread need and unemployment. The celebrity-packed lobbies, public rooms, lavish suites, and exclusive restaurants of the grand hotels became distinctive theaters of modern life.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Observer
Mr. Kaplan is a companionable writer, and his well-turned sentences are a delight to read.
New York Daily News
An entertaining social history.
The New York Sun
Mr. Kaplan, a dazzling stylist, is perfectly suited to his subject: what Henry James lovingly called 'hotel civilization' ... [A] splendid book about a bygone age that has not quite gone away.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
A subject that proves more revealing of the nature of American democracy than many hefty social and political histories.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Justin Kaplan's short but diverting tale of the career of the Astor family is told with gleeful humor and frequent sarcasm. He defines his subject as a commentary on the progression of taste and social attitude—and does it very well.
BookPage
A fascinating social history as well as a fun gossipy read. Kaplan has an eye for both the dishy details and the deeper meaning beneath them. This vision makes When the Astors Owned New York the best kind of history: entertaining.
Jonathan Yardley
… Kaplan's evocative, witty and handsomely written little book reminds us that there were indeed giants in those days and that the Astors, for all their innumerable faults, were among them.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This frothy look at several generations of Astors by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain is custom-made for the Waldorf gift shop. The tightwad founder of the Astor dynasty was a butcher's son from the German backwater of Waldorf. By the time John Jacob Astor died in 1848 at the age of 84, the richest man in America had turned a fur trade monopoly into a Manhattan real estate empire. Astor House, his "astonishing" luxury hotel adjacent to City Hall, cosseted the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Britain's future King Edward VII in its 80-year history. John Jacob's "phlegmatic and cautious" son, William, increased the family fortune, married a blueblood and sired sons who couldn't abide one another. "Imperious and somber" John Jacob III and playboy William, who was married to society queen Caroline Schermerhorn, passed on the family feud to their sons who managed to combine forces in 1897 to build the Waldorf-Astoria. Prickly and snobbish William Waldorf Astor failed in New York State politics, became a novelist and an art collector, and died a British viscount. John Jacob IV's military service and his death on the Titanic helped temper his reputation as a spoiled fool. B&w photos. (June 5) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
From humble origins in Waldorf, Germany, where he was born in 1763, John Jacob Astor became the wealthiest man in America. Through a fortune founded mainly on the fur trade and Manhattan real estate, he left heirs who have influenced the social life of New York City almost to this day. Kaplan (Walt Whitman: A Life) eloquently tells a part of the family story in his highly literate book, focusing on two of John Jacob's great-grandsons, cousins William Waldorf Astor and John Jacob Astor IV, who developed separate-but ultimately conjoined-hotels, the Waldorf (opened in 1893) and the Astoria (opened in 1897). In discussing these men's lives and projects, Kaplan writes charmingly about an era in all its cultural prominence and extravagance. John Jacob Astor IV's life ended as a first-class passenger on the Titanic; William Waldorf Astor became an English aristocrat who hired genealogists to search for a possible noble ancestry. He died in his adopted country after achieving his long-sought British peerage. This book will be a welcome addition to all libraries.-Elaine Machleder, Bronx, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
National Book Award-winning biographer Kaplan (Walt Whitman, 1980, etc.) tells a tale of two cousins, William Waldorf Astor and John Jacob Astor IV. Great-grandsons of America's first millionaire, and prototypical scions of America's Gilded Age, the two men left enduring marks on their native New York City's architecture, high society and especially on the business of luxury hotels that they all but defined. They inherited a family feud along with their fortunes, exacerbated by their divergent temperaments. John Jacob (1854-1912), better known as Jack, was tagged in the newspapers with the sobriquet "Jack Ass," thanks to his knack for political blunders, social faux pas and a habit of running the family's mammoth 250-foot yacht aground or into other vessels. William Waldorf (1848-1919) was a rigidly disciplined intellectual and collector of fine art who eventually immigrated to England. Together, they created the original Waldorf=Astoria, which debuted in 1897 as the world's most opulent hotel, but their fragile alliance soon shattered as the cousins engaged in a continuing struggle of competitive extravagance that produced such luxurious establishments as the Hotel Astor (William) and the St. Regis (Jack). Yet while they helped to transform the very idea of the hotel into an ostentatious showcase for the lifestyles of the extremely wealthy, the Astor scions maintained the tradition of their dynasty's founder by also serving as the city's leading slumlords. William and Jack were as much responsible for the invention of conspicuous consumption as they were for the creation of the grand hotel, and long before the likes of Dennis Kozlowski, the Astor cousins were groundbreakers in thediscovery that it's easier to buy crass than class. A far-reaching portrait of fin de siecle New York, buttressed by the author's assiduous research-even though one can only gasp so many times at the excesses, indulgences and vanities of these two antiheroes.
From the Publisher
A gem of a book . . . No one since [Henry] James has written with such ease and grace about the era of excess as Kaplan. (Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters)

Mr. Kaplan, a dazzling stylist, is perfectly suited to his subject: what Henry James lovingly called 'hotel civilization' . . . [A] splendid book about a bygone age that has not quite gone away. (The New York Sun)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101218815
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/01/2006
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
147,187
File size:
0 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
A gem of a book . . . No one since [Henry] James has written with such ease and grace about the era of excess as Kaplan. (Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters)

Mr. Kaplan, a dazzling stylist, is perfectly suited to his subject: what Henry James lovingly called æhotel civilizationæ . . . [A] splendid book about a bygone age that has not quite gone away. (The New York Sun)

author of The Peabody Sisters Megan Marshall
A gem of a book ... No one since [Henry] James has written with such ease and grace about the era of excess as Kaplan. (Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters)

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