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

Justin Kaplan, Author
Justin Kaplan, Author . Viking $24.95 (196p) ISBN 978-0-670-03769-8
Reviewed on: 04/03/2006
Release date: 06/01/2006

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)

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