The Last Castle
“A soaring and gorgeous American story” (Karen Abbott) from the author of the New York Times bestselling The Girls of Atomic City.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 unique American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.

The Last Castle Details

TitleThe Last Castle
Author
ReleaseSep 26th, 2017
PublisherTouchstone
ISBN-139781476794044
Rating
GenreNonfiction, History, Historical, Biography, North American Hi..., American History, United States Of America, American, Southern, Architecture

The Last Castle Review

  • Cindy (Thoughts From a Page) Burnett
    January 1, 1970
    The Last Castle is a phenomenal read. When I went to school in North Carolina years ago, I visited Biltmore House several times so as soon I learned about this book, I was dying to read it. I am so glad it lived up to my expectations. Denise Kiernan chronicles the tale of George Vanderbilt, the man who ultimately built the largest residence ever constructed in the United States – 175,000 square feet on 125,000 acres of rugged wilderness. Biltmore House contains 250 rooms in all including: 33 bed The Last Castle is a phenomenal read. When I went to school in North Carolina years ago, I visited Biltmore House several times so as soon I learned about this book, I was dying to read it. I am so glad it lived up to my expectations. Denise Kiernan chronicles the tale of George Vanderbilt, the man who ultimately built the largest residence ever constructed in the United States – 175,000 square feet on 125,000 acres of rugged wilderness. Biltmore House contains 250 rooms in all including: 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 3 kitchens, 2 bowling alleys, an indoor pool, and a library with 65 fireplaces to supplement the complicated heating system necessary to keep the house warm in the winter. In The Last Castle, Kiernan comprehensively describes how Biltmore House came into existence from George’s first purchase of land in the Asheville, North Carolina area to the final completion and opening of the Music Room in 1976 long after the home became a tourist destination. With the confidence and financial cluelessness of someone who inherited untold wealth, George Vanderbilt never worried about funds nor created any type of budget within which those assisting with the building had to adhere. As a result, Biltmore House was incredibly expensive to erect and subsequently operate, and as a result, it severely and irreparably impacted the family’s finances. Numerous rooms were not completed, and plans for various parts of the property abandoned. As I read about the process of building Biltmore House, I found it very hard to imagine undertaking such a project with little or no budget planning.While George had the idea to build Biltmore House and hired the various individuals to implement his idea, Edith is the individual who protected both Biltmore House and the Asheville area and ensured that her husband’s legacy would remain. She was devoted to the area and the Biltmore’s employees. I found Edith fascinating and was pleased that Kiernan devoted substantial pages to Edith’s story. She lived for a long time after George died and left quite a legacy of her own.Not only does Denise Kiernan thoroughly and thoughtfully recreate the timeline for and the process that went into the building of Biltmore House, she also places this monumental endeavor into its historical context. Adding historical context is either skillfully accomplished or haphazardly included in a manner that makes the story disjointed and hard to follow. Thankfully, Kiernan masterfully incorporates the history of both the Vanderbilt family and George’s wife Edith Stuyvesant Dresser’s family, events such as the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania, both World Wars, the development of Forestry Programs (such as the one developed at Biltmore House), and the impact of the Great Depression; I never found myself wondering why a topic was being addressed or how I was suddenly reading about some new subject. The Last Castle flows beautifully, and I learned copious amounts of information about both the Vanderbilts and Biltmore House and in addition the decades spanned by the building of this magnificent mansion. The book abounds with fascinating facts and details from the late 1800’s to the death of George and Edith’s daughter Cornelia’s death in 1976. The highlights for me were the descriptions of John Singer Sargent painting various portraits at Biltmore House, the innovative refrigeration, wiring and elevator systems installed at the house, that Teddy Roosevelt was visiting Biltmore House when the idea for the teddy bear came about, and that Edith’s second marriage was to Elbridge Gerry, the individual who inspired the term “gerrymandering”. I also was unaware that George and Edith had almost traveled on the Titanic but chosen last minute to take an earlier ship. The historical information included in the book was a true highlight for me.The Last Castle provides a glimpse into the Gilded Age, an era of excess and untold wealth, and one man’s decision to build the grandest home in the United States. I highly recommend this fabulous book. Thanks to Touchstone and Goodreads Giveaways for the chance to read this ARC. All opinions are my own.
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  • Touchstone Books
    January 1, 1970
    Denise Kiernan is back and she's better than ever. Can't wait to share this one with you this Fall!
  • Margaret Sankey
    January 1, 1970
    Emblematic of the Vanderbilt family's cycle "from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" (well, maybe "shirtsleeves to Anderson Cooper in three generations"), the estate at Biltmore was meant to be a semi-feudal estate, with European-style managed forests, dairies and local crafts. Instead, although it made an indelible impact on Asheville and the region, it quickly became a white elephant of expenses, impractical living and changed social mores. Kiernan follows the Vanderbilts and t Emblematic of the Vanderbilt family's cycle "from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" (well, maybe "shirtsleeves to Anderson Cooper in three generations"), the estate at Biltmore was meant to be a semi-feudal estate, with European-style managed forests, dairies and local crafts. Instead, although it made an indelible impact on Asheville and the region, it quickly became a white elephant of expenses, impractical living and changed social mores. Kiernan follows the Vanderbilts and their in-laws from the 1860s through the present grand-grandchildren running the estate as a tourist attraction, with side lights about the Newport Season, Paris in the 1890s, the Arts and Crafts movement and Biltmore as a secret storage space for the national gallery during WWII.
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  • Kim McGee
    January 1, 1970
    The great Biltmore Estate which many consider an American castle was the vision of George Vanderbilt and continued by his wife, Edith. While the design and grounds changed a bit through the years one thing did not and that was their dream of the area being self sustaining. The village (or later town) that grew up beside it and where Edith created a cottage industry to keep the dream alive.The history of Biltmore is so closely messed with what was happening in the rest of the country and abroad. The great Biltmore Estate which many consider an American castle was the vision of George Vanderbilt and continued by his wife, Edith. While the design and grounds changed a bit through the years one thing did not and that was their dream of the area being self sustaining. The village (or later town) that grew up beside it and where Edith created a cottage industry to keep the dream alive.The history of Biltmore is so closely messed with what was happening in the rest of the country and abroad. We think we know the American royalty through Fitzgerald's and Wolfe's books but there were so many good deeds performed behind the scenes at Biltmore that few knew about. Kiernan gives us all the glory and the sad reality of what it took to keep this grande dame going. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.
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  • Emesskay
    January 1, 1970
    This book is the biography of a building (or estate) - the Biltmore near Asheville North Carolina. It goes into great detail about how it came to be, the problems and how they were overcome, and how this wonderful example of gilded age architecture came to remain intact for future generations to enjoy. Much of the credit is due to the family that resided in the house (estate). It would have been easy to shut themselves away and ignore the locals, but they felt the need to give back to the commun This book is the biography of a building (or estate) - the Biltmore near Asheville North Carolina. It goes into great detail about how it came to be, the problems and how they were overcome, and how this wonderful example of gilded age architecture came to remain intact for future generations to enjoy. Much of the credit is due to the family that resided in the house (estate). It would have been easy to shut themselves away and ignore the locals, but they felt the need to give back to the community in which they were located. The tale isn't just about the buildings and grounds, but it covers the lives of the people who resided there, and how earlier experiences in their lives affected decisions that were made. The book is extremely well researched, I feel I learned so much from reading it. Highly recommend for history buffs, or those just curious about how the Biltmore came to be and managed to stay.
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  • Linda Smatzny
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book via First Reads on Goodreads. This is a fascinating story of the the Biltmore House near Asheville, North Carolina. It starts with a brief history of the Vanderbilt family up to George Vanderbilt. The book continues up to the present time and the grandsons who continue to share in the management of the house. It is full of detail of the various time periods involved in the building of the house. Then when George marries Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and her contributions to the h I received this book via First Reads on Goodreads. This is a fascinating story of the the Biltmore House near Asheville, North Carolina. It starts with a brief history of the Vanderbilt family up to George Vanderbilt. The book continues up to the present time and the grandsons who continue to share in the management of the house. It is full of detail of the various time periods involved in the building of the house. Then when George marries Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and her contributions to the house. It was a fast easy read.
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  • Bonnie
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC for an honest review. I'm always in awe of architecture; especially, historic ones. I thought that this was a fascinating and enlightening read about the Biltmore House. I'd love to see it one day.
  • Stephanie Crowe
    January 1, 1970
    Visits to The Biltmore always provoke awe. The beauty and grandeur are stunning! Now we have a fascinating story of the people who had the vision to develop this lovely place- George Vanderbilt and his team of specialists, who contributed more than just a building. The impacted the community in a very positive way. This is a wonderful history and I loved it! It's time to go back and visit!
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  • John
    January 1, 1970
    The 175,000 square foot Biltmore was constructed in the waning years of America's Gilded Age by the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt, couched within his beloved mountains surrounding Asheville, N.C. Although the focus of this historical work is scheduled to be published at the end of September 2017 is the Biltmore Estate, the book also explores the mistress of the Biltmore Estate, George's wife who he married after its construction, who I believe had a larger presence in Ashev The 175,000 square foot Biltmore was constructed in the waning years of America's Gilded Age by the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt, couched within his beloved mountains surrounding Asheville, N.C. Although the focus of this historical work is scheduled to be published at the end of September 2017 is the Biltmore Estate, the book also explores the mistress of the Biltmore Estate, George's wife who he married after its construction, who I believe had a larger presence in Asheville than her husband. Other dignities and their connection to the Vanderbilts discussed in this book included Richard Morris Hunt, Frederick Law Olmsted, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Singer Sargent. Having visited the Biltmore Estate twice and especially loving his personal library of approximately 24,000 books, I was interested in the origin of many of its furnishing. If you are an aficionado of the late 19th - early 20th century United States history, this needs to be a must read.
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  • Sue Flynn
    January 1, 1970
    Having visited Biltmore several years ago, I enjoyed reading more of the back story of the estate. It is a beautiful and interesting piece of literature. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of our country during that time.
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  • Kate
    January 1, 1970
    This book provides a fascinating overview of American history from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the context of George and Edith Vanderbilt and their construction and caretaking of Biltmore House. I often found myself wishing for more detail, as sometimes I felt a topic was introduced just in time to move onto another one. Edith Vanderbilt is a fascinating example of a strong/independent woman from the time period, and I would have loved for more in-depth examination This book provides a fascinating overview of American history from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the context of George and Edith Vanderbilt and their construction and caretaking of Biltmore House. I often found myself wishing for more detail, as sometimes I felt a topic was introduced just in time to move onto another one. Edith Vanderbilt is a fascinating example of a strong/independent woman from the time period, and I would have loved for more in-depth examinations of her life and viewpoints. With that said, I enjoyed the many references to well-known American people and events, from Edith Wharton to the 1893 World's Fair to the creation of the teddy bear. I could see this book appealing to readers who have visited Biltmore or Asheville, as well as to fans of Downton Abbey who would enjoy reading about the American equivalent of the great English estates.
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  • C
    January 1, 1970
    I received this enthralling read as a Goodreads giveaway. The author has delivered an impeccably researched history of George Vanderbilt and Edith Dresser Vanderbilt through a beautiful love story focused on their lavish Biltmore estate in Asheville, NC. The strong characterization, descriptive settings in New York, North Carolina, and Europe provide a completely fascinating world and story line. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.
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  • Dara
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting history of the Biltmore Estate. Anyone interested in shows like Downton Abbey or the novels set during the Gilded Age will enjoy this. I'm definitely putting the Biltmore Estate on my list of places to see. (ARC)
  • Donald
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book as part of a Goodreads Giveaway and I enjoyed the story about Biltmore House and the Vanderbilt family. It was fascinating to read about the opulence of the age and how it all changed during the first half of the 20th century.
  • Mandy Kirkendall
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this one in the beginning, but it started lagging a bit and ended up taking me four days to finish. Still, an intriguing story, and I'll be interested to check out the picture insert in the finished book.
  • Williamaye Jones
    January 1, 1970
    Absolutely wonderful, interesting to see how Biltmore began, along with its sorrows and triumphs of the family who created it and lived there.
  • Krista
    January 1, 1970
    ARC edition. Loved it! Looking forward to seeing final edition with illustrations/photos. Touring the estate in two days...driving family crazy with tidbits & info. From the book.
  • Library Maven
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating account of George Vanderbilt's vision for his Biltmore estate and the process of building the house and developing the area.
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