The Last Mrs. Astor : A New York Story

Written by Frances Kiernan
Review by Helene Williams

A who’s who of 20th-century politics and society, Kiernan’s biography provides a glimpse into a world most readers can only imagine. Born in 1902, Brooke Russell Astor had a privileged, if lonely, upbringing, living in places as far-flung as China and Panama before settling in Washington, DC, while her military father continued to travel. A disastrous first marriage at the age of seventeen to Dryden Kuser added to her already extensive skills in diplomacy, and a second marriage, this time for love, ended with the sudden death of Charles “Buddie” Marshall in 1952. Less than a year later, Brooke married Vincent Astor, a man known for his money as well as his cantankerous personality. After his death in 1959, Brooke came into her own, fighting to run the Astor Foundation, and changing the rules about philanthropy in New York. Many people will remember the 2006 controversy about Brooke’s son, Anthony Marshall, not fulfilling his obligations as caretaker, and that, too, is covered. Kiernan’s prose is rambling at times, and it can be difficult keeping people, places, and timelines straight; for the voyeur wanting a look at a glamorous world, however, this is worth a quick read.