cover image Astor: The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune

Astor: The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune

Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe. Harper, $32.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-296470-0

CNN journalist Cooper and novelist Howe follow up Vanderbilt with an exhaustive history of the Astor family. After a failed attempt in the 1810s to open a new trading outpost in the Pacific Northwest, by the 1830s John Jacob Astor had grown the American Fur Company into one of the country’s largest business concerns, mainly by profiting off trade to Indigenous people in the American territories along the Mississippi and Canadian border, undercutting government trading posts and pushing alcohol sales. He later turned to real estate development in New York City. Subsequent generations had a long downward spiral, starting with John Jacob Astor IV’s death on the Titanic in 1912. The book ends by detailing the elder abuse case surrounding Brooke Astor, widow of Vincent Astor, a scandal that played out in the tabloids in the mid-2000s after her son by a previous marriage was accused of mistreating and exploiting her. This meticulously detailed family saga is also rich with insight into U.S. history, including revealing chapters on topics ranging from mid-19th-century populist sentiments concerning Shakespeare (the Astor Opera House staged a performance of Macbeth that was widely reviled for its high ticket price) and the early 20th-century gay scene (when the Astor Hotel became a queer rendezvous spot). History buffs and readers fascinated by the rich and famous should take note. (Sept.)