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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 Rooseve 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 uniquely American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.


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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 Rooseve 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 uniquely American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.

30 review for The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home

  1. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    3.5 Stars The Last Castle is a book for serious history nerds like myself. I haven't read Denise Kiernan's other book The Girls of Atomic City, but after reading The Last Castle I'll be pushing it up my TBR list. This book is a meticulously researched look at the building of the largest house of The Gilded Age, The Biltmore. The Last Castle is a deep dive not only into the history of The Biltmore but also the legendary family behind it, The Vanderbilt's. Part family saga and part history of the ear 3.5 Stars The Last Castle is a book for serious history nerds like myself. I haven't read Denise Kiernan's other book The Girls of Atomic City, but after reading The Last Castle I'll be pushing it up my TBR list. This book is a meticulously researched look at the building of the largest house of The Gilded Age, The Biltmore. The Last Castle is a deep dive not only into the history of The Biltmore but also the legendary family behind it, The Vanderbilt's. Part family saga and part history of the early twentieth century. This book features cameos by Mark Twain, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, Edith Wharton, Henry James, Henry Ford, The Wright Brothers, and Cholly Knickerbocker.(If you don't know who these people are, this book is not for you. But also Google them). The Last Castle is the story of The Gilded Age and all of its excesses.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Martha Mason

    Disappointing If one judges a book solely on the basis of the epic amount of research that went into its writing this book might be judged a success. The amount of detail presented is prodigious. But taken as a whole the book, to me at least, is flat, repetitive and boring. George Vanderbilt is an unknown quantity. His reasons for building a monstrously large and unwieldy house, far beyond his needs, are never explained. The French chateaux upon which Biltmore House was modelled had a raison d'etr Disappointing If one judges a book solely on the basis of the epic amount of research that went into its writing this book might be judged a success. The amount of detail presented is prodigious. But taken as a whole the book, to me at least, is flat, repetitive and boring. George Vanderbilt is an unknown quantity. His reasons for building a monstrously large and unwieldy house, far beyond his needs, are never explained. The French chateaux upon which Biltmore House was modelled had a raison d'etre. They were huge but they were also hugely occupied. Residents usually included extended family plus their staff, domestic and other and even contingents of the military. Other than times when the Vanderbilts were entertaining, much of the main house remained empty. It is only now, when it is filled with fee-paying gawkers, that the house stays occupied. The person of Edith Dresser is less enigmatic than her husband but without the injection of some "imagined" conversations such as those employed by chroniclers like Erik Larson, she, along with everyone else in the book remains two-dimensional at best. MS. Kiernan takes us on many side expeditions, introducing us to a multitude of characters some of whom have little or nothing to do with Biltmore House. Of what importance are F. Scott Fitzgerald's final inebriated days? Why must we be inundated with myriad distant Vanderbilt family members whose existence has little or no bearing on the story of Biltmore House? They are simply distractions. The final result is a book that is neither epic nor is it truly a "story of love, loss and American royalty." It is a boring, dry and repetitive tale of one man's unrealistic great expectations. In my opinion three stars is generous. But the author gets kudos for her research.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Burnett

    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. Listen to my podcast at https://www.thoughtsfromapage.com for fun author interviews. For more book reviews, check out my Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/thoughtsfro....

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cyndi

    I'm not exactly sure how a book can be interesting and boring all at the same time, but this one achieved that strange balance. I'm not exactly sure how a book can be interesting and boring all at the same time, but this one achieved that strange balance.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    I usually love historical nonfiction book. I find the best in the genre manage to weave together a wide variety of subjects to give you a real feel for the time. And while this one was interesting, it was just way too dry. It concentrates too much on the house itself. I really wanted to learn more about the contrast between the haves and the have nots. And yes, there is some of that. But there’s way too much about how many times the Vanderbilts sailed to Europe or who visited the Biltmore. It ne I usually love historical nonfiction book. I find the best in the genre manage to weave together a wide variety of subjects to give you a real feel for the time. And while this one was interesting, it was just way too dry. It concentrates too much on the house itself. I really wanted to learn more about the contrast between the haves and the have nots. And yes, there is some of that. But there’s way too much about how many times the Vanderbilts sailed to Europe or who visited the Biltmore. It needed context in addition to the facts. Why did George feel the need to build this massive house (still the largest in the country)? What did Edith think about the house itself? Kiernan touches on the economic downturns, but I would have liked more contrast between how it affected the general population vs the Vanderbilts. So, obviously, I felt the book worked best when there was contrast. One of the most meaningful sections to me was when Field pitied George when he was buying things in Europe. “Half the pleasure in life comes from learning to choose between things.” The book is extremely well researched. And the pictures at the back definitely added to my enjoyment. I actually wish there had been more.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    I am giving this book a 3 star rating. To me that means it was a good book, nothing special but worth the price paid. I read some of the reviews of other GR members and it appears that some were rather disappointed in this book for a variety of reasons. I guess I can understand that feeling as I too was initially disappointed. I have visited Biltmore a couple of times but my last visit was nearly 20 years ago and curiosity got the better of me so I Googled the site and discovered that things hav I am giving this book a 3 star rating. To me that means it was a good book, nothing special but worth the price paid. I read some of the reviews of other GR members and it appears that some were rather disappointed in this book for a variety of reasons. I guess I can understand that feeling as I too was initially disappointed. I have visited Biltmore a couple of times but my last visit was nearly 20 years ago and curiosity got the better of me so I Googled the site and discovered that things have changed considerably since my last visit. I think tickets on my last visit were $35/person and now they are $65-75. Some changes are easier to accept than others I guess. Anyway I studied architecture in college with an emphasis on architectural history. Needless to say Biltmore was an item of discussion in my History of American Architecture course. So my primary interest in this book was the architecture and construction of Biltmore. From the title alone, and I should know better than this, one would expect this book to be solely about the house and therein is where my disappointment and that of the other GR members probably lies. This book is about more than the house, much more. The book is about building a monument to a dying era and way of life and how that monument is transformed into an example of successful evolution. We are informed of George Washington Vanderbilt's life, a brief history of his family and the source of their wealth and George's place in that family and way of life. His decision to remove himself and his mother to the wilds of North Carolina to build this enormous edifice in the middle of no where is difficult to understand especially considering the daunting logistical challenges that the project entails. I would certainly have enjoyed reading about how those challenges were met but while the building of the house and the grounds is discussed it is not discussed in the detail the title would lead you to believe. I think it is fair to say that this book is not about the building of the house but about the process of building and the affects of building and the process on the owner and those around him and especially on the community in which this structure is sited. As Biltmore is being constructed George is educated by those he has hired about new ideas and ways of advancing notions of preservation, forestry, agriculture, farming and the harnessing of natural resources. He, and later his bride Edith, become engaged in advancing local arts and crafts as a way of bringing economic growth and opportunity to the people that were now their neighbors. For this story the author goes on at length about Biltmore after the death of George. A good deal of the Biltmore story rightfully centers on George's widow Edith and her efforts to make Biltmore profitable once it becomes clear that the age of houses like Biltmore is a time past and not to return. She guides the house's transformation into something that will sustain it and keep it viable as the times change. From Edith the baton passed to her daughter, Cornelia and from her to Edith's grandsons the Cecil brothers. Today the house is still in the private ownership of the Cecil family and is a profitable and expensive tourist attraction of the City of Asheville. The book is titled "The Last Castle" but unlike the abandoned ruins of those castles of ages past this one has evolved and managed to stay alive and vital and an asset to its surrounding community. This is a history of more than a great house it is about a family and a community that all changed to meet the challenges life presented them with.

  7. 4 out of 5

    BAM Endlessly Booked

    "Half the pleasure in life comes from learning to choose between things."-William Osgood Field "Half the pleasure in life comes from learning to choose between things."-William Osgood Field

  8. 4 out of 5

    Staceyann

    The author did not appear to have enough material about the Vanderbilt family to write a book, so latched on to everything that happened in North Carolina around this time period. I wouldn’t complain if this had been billed as a history of North Carolina, but a lot of the side stories had no connection to Biltmore or the Vanderbilts other than “it happened nearby.” The first half of the book was pretty good, but the second half (after George Vanderbilt died) was not compelling. She really did no The author did not appear to have enough material about the Vanderbilt family to write a book, so latched on to everything that happened in North Carolina around this time period. I wouldn’t complain if this had been billed as a history of North Carolina, but a lot of the side stories had no connection to Biltmore or the Vanderbilts other than “it happened nearby.” The first half of the book was pretty good, but the second half (after George Vanderbilt died) was not compelling. She really did not have much information on the finances of the estate, just conjecture. I felt the book did not live up to its jacket.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    The writing is so dry and yes I know it is historically accurate non-fiction, yet the events and discussion of the building of The Biltmore and the reforestation of the property is quite boring - mind-numbing and, dry- so unless you really want to learn how bizarre the rich were in this time period (think of a woman wearing cats pelts tails and heads as an evening costume and a guy building the biggest house in the US, for no reason other than 'he could' and owning a stunning amount of property The writing is so dry and yes I know it is historically accurate non-fiction, yet the events and discussion of the building of The Biltmore and the reforestation of the property is quite boring - mind-numbing and, dry- so unless you really want to learn how bizarre the rich were in this time period (think of a woman wearing cats pelts tails and heads as an evening costume and a guy building the biggest house in the US, for no reason other than 'he could' and owning a stunning amount of property) you may want to step back a bit. Yes, this is a Kindle Unlimited book so I am not out any cash, but I just thought that there would be something more here to make me feel the way George and Edith felt about this house. The second half of this book made it a little more bearable as we got into more personal issues and a more recognizable time period- for me at least. I have never seen it and this book is most likely going to appeal to historians, architects, forestry managers, or botanists. This will also appeal to those who want to learn more about the Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age. For me, it was just so much blah, blah, blah interspersed with an occasional interesting historical fact or tidbit. Most of this book seems to be written based on letters and perhaps diaries and a lot of research- which is flawless but has no feeling. The character list is HUGE and some of the names are confusing. I did manage to finish this book, but I still never 'felt' anything. The last half of this book takes a huge turn and gets fairly personal and stays with the historical bent. There are a lot of pictures at the end of the Kindle edition, but they are poorly captioned.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lorna

    The Last Castle is an epic story about Biltmore House envisioned and built by George Cornelius Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, during the Gilded Age with the history of Biltmore Estate then spanning the Jazz Age, the Depression and two World Wars. Vanderbilt knew when he first got off the train in Ashville, North Carolina and gazed at the Pisgah peaks nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and Smokey Mountains of southern Appalachia that this was the perfect location for his sp The Last Castle is an epic story about Biltmore House envisioned and built by George Cornelius Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, during the Gilded Age with the history of Biltmore Estate then spanning the Jazz Age, the Depression and two World Wars. Vanderbilt knew when he first got off the train in Ashville, North Carolina and gazed at the Pisgah peaks nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and Smokey Mountains of southern Appalachia that this was the perfect location for his sprawling and massive estate. Consulting architects, landscape architects, interior designers, worked with Vanderbilt to build Biltmore Estate. After Vanderbilt married Edith Stuyvessant Dresser, they spent much time at Biltmore House, the home where their daughter Cornelia was born. Dedicated to charitable activities, Edith Vanderbilt oversaw the beginning of Biltmore Estate Industries dedicated to local crafts and products, including a school. Throughout the history of Biltmore Estate, was mention of F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Whistler, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, Henry James and Edith Wharton. Following the death of George Vanderbilt, Edith was forced to manage the sprawling estate and holdings to preserve her husband's vision and legacy. The estate forest land consisting of thousands of acres, was given to the federal government to form Pisgah National Forest. It should be noted that Pisgah Forest was the first experiment in scientific forestry. Biltmore Estate today is open to the public. Seeing it only from afar, I will make a point of spending a day at Biltmore Estates on our next trip through North Carolina.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)

    I first visited The Biltmore Estate as a teenager and was in complete awe trying to imagine that anyone ever had the amount of money it would require not only to build but also maintain a 175,000 square foot home.  When I began to look into the history of the estate, I was even more impressed by the careful thought put into the home and the nearby village and the grand plans owner George W. Vanderbilt had for operating a small city. The Last Castle gives readers a history lesson on the Vanderbilt I first visited The Biltmore Estate as a teenager and was in complete awe trying to imagine that anyone ever had the amount of money it would require not only to build but also maintain a 175,000 square foot home.  When I began to look into the history of the estate, I was even more impressed by the careful thought put into the home and the nearby village and the grand plans owner George W. Vanderbilt had for operating a small city. The Last Castle gives readers a history lesson on the Vanderbilt family and their immense wealth, a timeline of the progress on the estate in relation to many important historical events, the key players from its creation to completion, and the influence the grand undertaking had on the area and its people financially and politically. I enjoyed learning about Edith's influence on Biltmore and her part in keeping her husband's dream alive after his sudden death and applaud the lasting legacy the family has left behind. While many may consider Biltmore to now be an overpriced tourist stop/museum, I see what was once a complex idea dreamed up by George Vanderbilt that has become fully realized over 100 years later. I've read many reviews stating this book was too dry with too much information that didn't have anything to do with Biltmore but I think this was a great book that encompassed the family, the dream, and the influence while reminding readers of the time period and culture. I recommend this book to readers interested in history, biographies, and/or those who have visited or plan to visit The Biltmore Estate. For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com

  12. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Mitchell

    What a disappointment!! There is nothing epic about this book and that is the letdown. There is just enough detail to think the book will pick up but it never happens. With the right author this could truly be an epic story but this was a book that was ard to pick up and finish.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Touchstone Books

    Denise Kiernan is back and she's better than ever. Can't wait to share this one with you this Fall! Denise Kiernan is back and she's better than ever. Can't wait to share this one with you this Fall!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    In the mid-1890s George Vanderbilt built America's largest residential home in Western North Carolina. He called it Biltmore. He also purchased land--and lots of it. Much of the land he purchased is now the Pisgah National Forest. The book details how Vanderbilt brought a responsible forest management program to that acreage and how it came to be in the hands of the United States Forestry Service. He also built an Episcopal Church and community he called Biltmore Village. The village provided em In the mid-1890s George Vanderbilt built America's largest residential home in Western North Carolina. He called it Biltmore. He also purchased land--and lots of it. Much of the land he purchased is now the Pisgah National Forest. The book details how Vanderbilt brought a responsible forest management program to that acreage and how it came to be in the hands of the United States Forestry Service. He also built an Episcopal Church and community he called Biltmore Village. The village provided employment for the village's residents with profits, when they eventually came, going to the Estate, similar to a feudal system. George was a bachelor when he envisioned and built Biltmore, but the book shows how Edith Stuyvesant Dresser came to be his bride and her passion for serving the community. It also details the measures she took upon his death to ensure the estate would be viable when their daughter came of age and that George's legacy would continue. The home began allowing guest tours in 1930 as an income for the estate. When Vanderbilt envisioned Biltmore, he never really thought through how much a home and estate that size would cost to run. It turned out to be a huge drain on the family's finances. The music room was never completed in the lifetimes of George, Edith, or their daughter Cornelia. The book talks about many of the persons in the circle of friends of both George and Edith, about Cornelia's failed marriage and subsequent romantic interests, and about regional authors. She also discusses the nearby Grove Park Inn and its owner. While the book is a very interesting read, it does not very compelling. The author lists repositories used in her research. The only local repository she utilized was the local public library's North Carolina room. I feel she probably missed out on many great resources by not using the Southern Historical Collection at UNC Chapel Hill, the archives of Western Carolina University, the archives of Appalachian State University, and the State Archives of North Carolina. Perhaps the most glaring omission in the book is the lack of a full description of what is available to tourists visiting the estate today. While she did provide the 2016 admission costs in passing, no mention was made of what that included. The winery was never mentioned--a newer Biltmore industry that generates income for the estate. Biltmore is about a 90-minute drive from my front door, and I enjoy visiting the house and estate. Perhaps I can thank George Vanderbilt's inability to see money doesn't grow on trees for the opportunity to visit the estate today.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Several years ago, we took a vacation to Tennessee and to Asheville, North Carolina. Our main destination in Asheville was Biltmore, America’s largest house. Since then, I’ve wanted to read “The Last Castle,” about the house. Finally I got around to doing that. So, back in the late 1800s, the richest Americans were building grand houses in places like Newport (another place I’ve been and thoroughly enjoyed). One of those families was the Vanderbilts, and young George Vanderbilt decided to build a Several years ago, we took a vacation to Tennessee and to Asheville, North Carolina. Our main destination in Asheville was Biltmore, America’s largest house. Since then, I’ve wanted to read “The Last Castle,” about the house. Finally I got around to doing that. So, back in the late 1800s, the richest Americans were building grand houses in places like Newport (another place I’ve been and thoroughly enjoyed). One of those families was the Vanderbilts, and young George Vanderbilt decided to build a grand home in Asheville, NC. The area had been dubbed “place of the blue smoke” by the Cherokee, and having been there, I can attest that there really is a blue haze over the mountains. He assembled some of the greatest minds to make his dreams a reality; notably architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape artist Frederick Law Olmstead. Hunt’s wife found Vanderbilt “insatiable in his desire to see beautiful interiors and pictures,” and he “delighted any time a particular gallery paled in comparison or size” to those at Biltmore. Biltmore took around 6 years to build and has 250 rooms including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 3 kitchens, and 65 fireplaces. Much of it was made from good old Indiana limestone. During its construction, George married Edith Dresser. They had one daughter named Cornelia. Did I enjoy this book? Well, it’s complicated. I always enjoy reading more about places I’ve visited; it’s kind of like revisiting them. I hoped with this book to learn some insights into the Vanderbilts, but I didn’t really do that. Early in the book, I read that George at 13 was devout, writing “I read my Bible this morning and began Isaiah and I think that was what made me feel so happy through the day … I have trusted too much in my own ability and not enough in Jesus.” Then, though, we make a big jump to where George begins building Biltmore — just because he can? There’s very little about who he was as a person, and when he dies at 51, just over halfway through the book, I found myself mentally screaming NO! I DON’T KNOW YOU YET! Likewise with Edith, we’re often told how giving she is, and she does give the servants gifts and send her daughter to school with the village kids, but I don’t know — I feel that such a thing wouldn’t be that uncommon among the wealthy. Frequently while reading this book the thought occurred to me that it would be so … handy? I don’t want to say “nice,” but it would just be convenient to have great wealth. Of course you could build/have great houses, clothes, etc. But also you could do something to help the less fortunate, and while it wouldn’t really set you back any personally, you’d be lauded for it publicly. I kept hoping for personal insights, but they weren’t any more forthcoming with the Vanderbilt’s daughter Cornelia, who truly sounded like a character. She wanted to get away from fame, and it sounds like she pretty much left her two sons when she divorced their father. She married twice more, the final time at age 72 to a 46-year-old waiter she took a shine to. In Last Castle, you’ll read quite a bit about the general Asheville area, as well as tangents into various other members of the Vanderbilt family and famous people associated with Asheville, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and O. Henry. With this book, I felt like I was a drone — flying over Biltmore while never getting too close. As a book, I much preferred the author’s The Girls of Atomic City. As a side note, I am enjoying following Biltmore on Facebook and Biltmore Estate on Instagram. You may enjoy following those accounts too if you like seeing beautiful photography of the house and grounds.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    I was so looking forward to reading this book when I first saw it at Half Price Books. Kiernan's non-fiction was supposed to be about the Biltmore estate, and it is, but it's that and the kitchen sink. There is no structure here, no overriding narrative. I liked the first 100 pages or so, which focused first on George Washington Vanderbilt and his future wife, Edith Dresser. But Denise Kiernan spends most of the book digressing and going off on tangents. This book would more aptly be titled, "Ev I was so looking forward to reading this book when I first saw it at Half Price Books. Kiernan's non-fiction was supposed to be about the Biltmore estate, and it is, but it's that and the kitchen sink. There is no structure here, no overriding narrative. I liked the first 100 pages or so, which focused first on George Washington Vanderbilt and his future wife, Edith Dresser. But Denise Kiernan spends most of the book digressing and going off on tangents. This book would more aptly be titled, "Everyone famous that ever set foot in the Biltmore and a lot of history about Asheville." Kiernan also relied too much on something I despise: lists upon lists. Whether she was listing the amount of money for inheritances or the price of supplies or taxes - or lists of people and relatives, lists of everything that happened during every year of the 20th century until about 1947. The one part I was looking forward to, and reading through all the drivel to get to it, was the Biltmore's role in housing the National Gallery's art during World War II. Following the Louvre and other European museums, the US also started evacuating their art out of city museums and into the countryside. But the Biltmore's role in this was only a scanty page, if that. Ultimately, Kiernan did an immense amount of research, but then she wanted to include everything within this book. Where was the editor to help guide her and pare this down? Why have so many people loved this book? I was looking forward to reading "The Girls of Atomic City," but because it is also written by Denise Kiernan, I will remove it from my TBR.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Disappointing, mostly because it never explains why George Vanderbilt would build it in the first place. I've been there numerous times (I was brought up within a few hours and this house was often part of vacation trips.) It's massive, but relatively pointless other than it's current function: a museum, and a ridiculously expensive one to visit ($65 to $85 as of November 2016). More flaws: here in the book, there is no single picture of an entire room (instead we see fireplaces of rooms in the Disappointing, mostly because it never explains why George Vanderbilt would build it in the first place. I've been there numerous times (I was brought up within a few hours and this house was often part of vacation trips.) It's massive, but relatively pointless other than it's current function: a museum, and a ridiculously expensive one to visit ($65 to $85 as of November 2016). More flaws: here in the book, there is no single picture of an entire room (instead we see fireplaces of rooms in the library and the tapestry room), no blue prints (other than the end papers, which appear to contain blueprints of other houses). And the cover, so ridiculously ominous: it reminds me of a cover of a recently-read book that featured Gestapo headquarters in Germany in the 1940s. Yes, that ominous. Perhaps the family refused to allow Kiernan to include more pictures to increase visits. Given that tickets have been sold for a visit since the 1930s, you'd think that after millions of visitors over 80+ years would have allowed for more photos, especially during the construction itself. (I think Aaron Spelling, of TV production fame, built a house in the Hollywood Hills named the largest inhabited house, as the Biltmore is now a museum.) Recommended for hardcore "history-of-homes" readers in which case you've probably already been to the castle itself. And if you're going to take the family to a museum, great! Many are all over the place and free! And speaking of great houses, Winchester in California is NOT to be missed: weird and freaky.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    3.5 stars, rounded down. This is a somewhat interesting book about Biltmore House, the largest privately owned home in the US. Built by George W. Vanderbilt in the mountains of North Carolina in the late 1800s, it became a symbol of the Gilded Age, when ostentatious displays of wealth were popular, dare I say, required by the wealthy class. The book describes in great detail what went into designing, building and realizing George’s vision. He was greatly assisted by noted architect Richard Morris 3.5 stars, rounded down. This is a somewhat interesting book about Biltmore House, the largest privately owned home in the US. Built by George W. Vanderbilt in the mountains of North Carolina in the late 1800s, it became a symbol of the Gilded Age, when ostentatious displays of wealth were popular, dare I say, required by the wealthy class. The book describes in great detail what went into designing, building and realizing George’s vision. He was greatly assisted by noted architect Richard Morris Hunt, and famed landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted. The book also gets into the history of the Vanderbilt family, along with the Dresser family, whose daughter Edith eventually married George. Together George and Edith made their mark on Biltmore House and its environs, and the surrounding Asheville area. Amazingly, Biltmore House was never really completed, in terms of decoration, in their lifetimes, since it became a financial albatross around their necks. Between the building and maintenance of Biltmore House, and the 1929 stock market crash, the Vanderbilts were bleeding money. It wasn’t until their grandsons took over the management of the estate that it finally became profitable. There are a lot of very interesting facts and anecdotes in the book, but the book falls flat in some areas. The author tends to tell, and not show in her writing style, which makes the narration dry at times. You never get a feel for why George, Edith and their daughter Cornelia acted the way they did. Granted, they did not leave behind much if any correspondence to get a peek inside their psyches, but at no time in the book do you ever get any insight into them. It seems that the author was more concerned with researching the physical environs and not the people. This makes them seem one dimensional and flat. Although there are several photos in the book, you never get a sense of that the interior of Biltmore House was like. There are photos of some of the main “characters”, but more photos of the House, with the Vanderbilts inside would have been nice. The book is a good history of the times that the Vanderbilts lived in, and by discussing the world events along with the history of Biltmore House, the author gives the book much needed context. Unfortunately where she fails is in giving the reader emotional context for the people involved. If you are interested in reading about a fabulous house that you can still experience and visit, and don’t mind the lack of “human interest” in the telling of the Vanderbilt family, then you probably will enjoy this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    Fascinating, and a much-welcome addition to Gilded Age history taking place outside of the usual haunts of Manhattan and Newport. Kiernan handles the people better than the house itself, which has its pluses and minuses, though her approach is largely successful. I would have liked more in the way of descriptions of the house, which were shockingly lacking in this book, but greatly appreciated the wonderful handling of the family saga. The book is a touch too long and the forestry segments drag ba Fascinating, and a much-welcome addition to Gilded Age history taking place outside of the usual haunts of Manhattan and Newport. Kiernan handles the people better than the house itself, which has its pluses and minuses, though her approach is largely successful. I would have liked more in the way of descriptions of the house, which were shockingly lacking in this book, but greatly appreciated the wonderful handling of the family saga. The book is a touch too long and the forestry segments drag badly, but the portrayal of the principal people involved is outstanding. George Vanderbilt, a bibliophile after my own heart, is easy to like. But it is his wife, the amazing and inspiring Edith Dresser Vanderbilt, who really steals the spotlight. A tremendous woman who effortlessly straddles different worlds, be they urban vs. rural or moneyed elite vs. working class, Edith managed to be responsibly of her era while also groundbreakingly ahead of it as a woman. From now on, I shall seek to channel my inner Edith whenever a situation requires both poise and grace as well as bravery and innovation. Note: Does anyone know of a good biography of Edith Dresser Vanderbilt? If so, please leave the author and title in the comments section. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Emesskay

    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.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kim McGee

    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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dalene W.

    I loved this book. I was able to visit Biltmore during the Christmas season two years ago. It was amazing to see, especially with all the Christmas decorations. Reading this book took me right back as though I was there again. We took the audio tour and it was nice to read about many of the things we saw. I highly recommend reading this book and going to see Biltmore for yourself. It truly is America's Castle. P.S. there are packages for hotel, tours, and food. We stayed right on the grounds in I loved this book. I was able to visit Biltmore during the Christmas season two years ago. It was amazing to see, especially with all the Christmas decorations. Reading this book took me right back as though I was there again. We took the audio tour and it was nice to read about many of the things we saw. I highly recommend reading this book and going to see Biltmore for yourself. It truly is America's Castle. P.S. there are packages for hotel, tours, and food. We stayed right on the grounds in a brand new hotel. Make sure you eat at the Stables. (Yes, the original stable.) We took a daytime and nighttime tour.

  24. 5 out of 5

    John

    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.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Huether

    Biltmore House is said to be the largest home in America 175,000 square feet of living space on 125,ooo acres in the North Carolina wilderness. George Vanderbilt had it built with the help of Frederick Law Olmstead to landscape the grounds . He married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. They had one daughter Cornelia. The home was a show place with beautiful paintings and every attention to detail. It was Edith that saved Biltmore during hard times. She charged $2.00 per person to visit the house and gardens Biltmore House is said to be the largest home in America 175,000 square feet of living space on 125,ooo acres in the North Carolina wilderness. George Vanderbilt had it built with the help of Frederick Law Olmstead to landscape the grounds . He married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. They had one daughter Cornelia. The home was a show place with beautiful paintings and every attention to detail. It was Edith that saved Biltmore during hard times. She charged $2.00 per person to visit the house and gardens. She also started cottage industries in the area. Clothing of homespun fabric and wood carved items were for sale. There was also a dairy on the property and a school of forestry. Edith was a very chairtable person. Her daughter Cornelia followed in her footsteps. They entertained all the notable persons in the 1920's and 30's. They were never pretentious . This was a great book of American History.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nan Williams

    “Epic story of love, loss, and American Royalty”? Not by a long shot. Kiernan had obviously done a lot of research of the period and wanted to woo us with her research. She included tons and tons of insignificant details and insignificant people. If you want to know absolutely everything about every one in that time period, INCLUDING details such as what was on menus in Paris restaurants, by all means read this. If you want to know about the Vanderbilts or about building Biltmore, read something “Epic story of love, loss, and American Royalty”? Not by a long shot. Kiernan had obviously done a lot of research of the period and wanted to woo us with her research. She included tons and tons of insignificant details and insignificant people. If you want to know absolutely everything about every one in that time period, INCLUDING details such as what was on menus in Paris restaurants, by all means read this. If you want to know about the Vanderbilts or about building Biltmore, read something else. Also, if you want a nice historical novel based on the building of Biltmore, read something else. This was boring, boring, boring with a lot of boring details and wooden characters. It was a real disappointment after “The Girls of Atomic City.”

  27. 5 out of 5

    Linda Smatzny

    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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pepper Basham

    4.5 What an excellent blending of research and fiction-style! Kiernan brings the almost 'fairytale'-like story of George and Edith Vanderbilt to life by delving into the history that brought them together and the legacy they left behind. Her prose, detail, and pacing took information that could be lifeless and breathed a story to life. I loved envisioning the romance of George and Edith Vanderbilt, and the way that Edith and the Cecil family continued his legacy all the way to present day. 4.5 What an excellent blending of research and fiction-style! Kiernan brings the almost 'fairytale'-like story of George and Edith Vanderbilt to life by delving into the history that brought them together and the legacy they left behind. Her prose, detail, and pacing took information that could be lifeless and breathed a story to life. I loved envisioning the romance of George and Edith Vanderbilt, and the way that Edith and the Cecil family continued his legacy all the way to present day.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    So much more than a book about the largest private home in America. The Last Castle is a journey through American history from the late 1800’s to the present. Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore is the last castle. A dream of wealthy George Vanderbilt who fell in love with the clear air and beauty of the area. Wisely employing, Central Park designer, Frederick Law Olmstead, and architect, Richard Morris Hunt, to build his dream residence and mold the surrounding landscape, Vanderbilt created a So much more than a book about the largest private home in America. The Last Castle is a journey through American history from the late 1800’s to the present. Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore is the last castle. A dream of wealthy George Vanderbilt who fell in love with the clear air and beauty of the area. Wisely employing, Central Park designer, Frederick Law Olmstead, and architect, Richard Morris Hunt, to build his dream residence and mold the surrounding landscape, Vanderbilt created a vast and magnificent home that has stood the test of time. Although the exorbitant costs of operation saw the home evolve into an interesting and important location for the public to tour for a fee. George’s wife, Edith nee’ Dresser is s large part of the story as well. When she came to reside there, she and George also adopted the community by building a church, hospital, and most importantly establishing schools to teach trades to locals and their children. With stock market reversals and George’s early death, Edith’s struggle to hold on to the home is the fascinating part of the book. I would have enjoyed reading about more architectural and landscape details of the house rather than reading about George and Edith’s daughter’s pink hair, marriage breakup, future name changes and future relationships. The daughter Cornelia, seems to abandon both the magnificent home and her two sons. Although the author does not comment on this fact.

  30. 5 out of 5

    KateWerners

    so boring and tedious. Mostly a list of facts and name dropping from the time period. Only got to page 70.

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