Denise Kiernan has written a book befitting its magnificent subject. The Last Castle takes readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Biltmore Estate and its well-heeled occupants, from the sprawling estate’s construction during the Gilded Age through the present day. It’s a luxurious read. Recommended By Renee P., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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 rich have secrets. In her well-researched and captivating book, Denise Kiernan tells the fascinating story of how a phenomenally wealthy Vanderbilt scion transformed a rural North Carolina town by building the ultimate rich man's folly and reveals the eccentricities, heartaches, and even money problems of these Social Register denizens and their friends and employees." Meryl Gordon, author of Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend
"This is as much a story about the creation of Biltmore House as it is a window into what it was like to be an American at the turn of the 20th century. Kiernan makes Edith and George Vanderbilt, among the wealthiest Americans at the time, feel like living, breathing human beings navigating life's obstacles in this magnificent book. And she tells the story of how one fiercely devoted woman was able to save the home her husband loved." Kate Andersen Brower, author First Women: The Grace & Power of America's Modern First Ladies and The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House
“If you inherited billions, how would you spend it? Don't bother building America's largest and most lavish home. It's already been done in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where more than a million visitors a year stroll the grounds of Biltmore Estate. Yet only in the pages of Denise Kiernan's The Last Castle will they come to know George Vanderbilt, the bookish heir who began Biltmore in his 20s, and his determined widow, Edith, who kept it alive as a working estate and a time capsule of the Gilded Age. In the pages of The Last Castle, Kiernan serves up a true tale of American excess, generosity, and perseverance.” Bill Dedman, New York Times bestselling author of Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
“The Last Castle is a soaring and gorgeous American story that gripped me from the very first page. With a historian’s keen insight and a poet’s gift for language, Denise Kiernan depicts life at Biltmore with such skill, I felt like I was there through it all: weddings, divorces, elaborate (and slightly bizarre) balls, financial glory, financial ruin, murder, suicide, natural disasters, betrayals, love, loss, despair, and triumph. The story of George and Edith Vanderbilts' remarkable lives will stay with me for a long time to come.” Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
About the Author
Denise Kiernan has been working as a writer for more than 20 years. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, Ms. Magazine, Reader's Digest, Discover, and many more publications. She has also worked in television, serving as head writer for ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire during its Emmy Award-winning first season and has produced for media outlets such as ESPN and MSNBC. She has coauthored several popular history titles including Signing Their Lives Away, Signing Their Rights Away, and Stuff Every American Should Know. Her last book, The Girls of Atomic City, is a New York Times, Los Angeles Times and NPR bestseller, and was named as one of Amazon's “Top 100 Best Books of 2013.” It was awarded the 2014 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award for the best book published in the United States on government, politics, or international affairs. Throughout her career, Kiernan has been a featured guest on many national radio and television programs, including NPR's Weekend Edition, PBS NewsHour, MSNBC'S Morning Joe, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The Last Castle is her most recent work.
Denise Kiernan on PowellsBooks.Blog
I am not particularly nostalgic. However, the recent news that The Village Voice
would cease print publication, and the Voice
reunion that coincidentally came on the heels of that announcement, have me musing about the path my career has taken. In the mid-90s, I pestered my way into an internship at the Voice