The Last Castle

(Touchstone)

 

The life and times of the Biltmore Hotel.

 

Author: Denise Kiernan

Genre: History

Reader Appeal: Adults

 

The Last Castle is a book about much more than the famous Vanderbilt Biltmore Castle, it explores the era, the people, the weather, the news, the guy down the street…. This book is rich with detail, minute detail. I sometimes got lost in all the characters that are introduced but thankfully the author was able to bring me back to the Biltmore and the family that lived there.

The book begins in the gilded age of New York, which was a terrifically gaudy time. And a little freaky. Take for example the story of the costume ball thrown by Alva Vanderbilt; best costume should have been awarded to the woman who dressed in the cat costume, made of real, dead cats, lots of them, tails and all. Yes, the gilded age was weird.

But back to the house, the castle. There are178,926 square feet of floor space, 250 rooms in the house including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces and three kitchens. The original grounds covered 125,000 acres, there are 8 different kinds of gardens, and a forest. The first U.S forestry program was established at the Biltmore.

The Biltmore is still owned by the Vanderbilt family, thanks mostly to Edith Vanderbilt, George’s wife. Edith is really the hero of the book. When she and George were first married she did not hide herself away in the mansion but rather she reached out to the surrounding community, sponsored literacy and education programs, and opened a store that sold crafts made my local women so they could support themselves. After her husband George died she took control of the Biltmore financials and brought it back from the brink of disaster. Girl power indeed.

Although not for everyone, The Last Castle will charm and inspire members of your family who are fans of history and architecture.

Let's Talk About It

Use these questions to spark discussion among family members who are interested in this book:

 

• What would your dream house look like? Where would it be?

• Edith Vanderbilt called the Biltmore her home. What does this mean to you? Where do you call home?

• When George first laid eyes on the land he intended to build on it was over-farmed, miserable and barren. George saw only what it could be, lush and beautiful. Is there a place like that for you? A place where you see beyond what it looks like?

--JH

 

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