The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home

Written by Denise Kiernan
Review by Bethany Latham

Nestled in the North Carolina landscape near prosperous Asheville sits Biltmore, the largest home in America. (You can tour it. And you should.) The Last Castle is the story of Biltmore’s construction and life-cycle, and those connected with it.

The dream (or folly) of George Washington Vanderbilt, built by the renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt with landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted, Biltmore is a shining example of Gilded Age excess that hosted luminaries including Henry James and Edith Wharton. Yet the massive project was also, as Kiernan calls it, a “financial albatross,” draining even the impressive Vanderbilt riches, buffeted by the changing times, both financial and social. Rather than focus on George, Kiernan saves the lion’s share for his wife, Edith, who was left to protect her husband’s legacy after his death. The informal prose often reads like a gossip column for the 400 combined with the vagaries of forestry, piggery (yep), estate management, etc. The focus on Edith’s philanthropy is enlightening, and overall, this is a quick read with some interesting facts about the largest home in the US.