When The Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age

Written by Justin Kaplan
Review by Dana Cohlmeyer

Telling the tale of New York’s famed Astor family, this book takes readers from the family’s humble beginnings in the German village of Waldorf through its meteoric rise to the heights of American wealth and prestige and looks at how its heirs battled (each other, mostly) to create their legendary hotels in Manhattan. Kaplan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Mark Twain, keeps readers interested with a story that’s one part serious biographical history and two parts juicy gossip and scandal-ridden glamour. The pages almost can’t be turned fast enough to soak up the scandals and in-fighting as John Jacob and William Waldorf rule New York, roam Italy, and create uproar among British aristocracy. Descriptions of the sumptuousness of their various New York landmark mansions and hotels are interesting. Insights into the development of the hotel industry in America are intriguing. This book, however, glories in its almost-beach-read feel when the author delves into the personal lives of these two men. It’s an ideal read for gossip/reality-TV fans searching for fresh blood!