The Last Mrs. Astor: A New York Story

Frances Kiernan, Author . Norton $24.95 (307p) ISBN 978-0-393-05720-1

Until last summer's reports that Brooke Astor's son was keeping her on a shoestring budget in her Manhattan apartment, the widow of millionaire Vincent Astor was known as a society maven who doled out money to worthy causes. But in this enjoyable and flattering biography, former New Yorker editor Kiernan, who knows Mrs. Astor personally, describes how the thrice-married woman was raised to be charming and agreeable, and learned her lessons well. Kiernan finds some detractors, who saw Astor's charm as manipulative and her agreeable nature as sugarcoating on a single-minded determination to advance her status. But even the negative comments have a positive spin. Responding to the theory that Astor married the ill-tempered and reclusive Vincent for money, Louis Auchincloss said, "I wouldn't respect her if she hadn't. Only a twisted person would have married him for love." Then again, it was an odd pairing, and not just because the matchmaker was Vincent's then-second wife, who allegedly wanted out and believed the way to obtain a generous settlement was to find "a suitable replacement." Tidbits like these add zip to Kiernan's affectionate portrait of the poet and writer who really made her mark when she took over her husband's philanthropic foundation. A portrait of the grande dame in decline, manipulated by her son is a poignant end to a grand saga. 16 pages of photos. (May 21)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2007
Release date: 05/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 317 pages - 978-0-393-33160-8
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-393-07884-8
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