In this marvelous anecdotal history, Justin Kaplan––Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Mark Twain––vividly brings to life a glittering, bygone age.
Endowed with the largest private fortunes of their day, cousins John Jacob Astor IV and William Waldorf Astor vied for primacy in New York society, producing the grandest hotels ever seen in a marriage of ostentation and efficiency that transformed American social behavior.
Kaplan exposes it all in exquisite detail, taking readers from the 1890s to the Roaring Twenties in a combination of biography, history, architectural appreciation, and pure reading pleasure
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Advance praise for WHEN THE ASTORS OWNED NEW YORK, by Justin Kaplan
"The Astors may have owned New York, but Justin Kaplan owns the Astors. This is a grand book on a grand subject-the era of the great hotels and the family that created that 'vision of extravagance, grandeur, amplitude, order, and efficiency.' Kaplan is a superb
writer; his prose shines with clarity and crackles with wicked wit. An immensely satisfying read-impossible to put down. Justin Kaplan has done it again."
-Robert R Richardson, author of Henry Thoreau: A life of the Mind and Emerson: The Mind on Fire
"When the Astors Owned New York is a gem of a book by one of our foremost biographers. Justin Kaplan gives us a slice of Manhattan's history that reaches across three centuries, and offers fascinating glimpses of what Henry James has called the 'perfect human felicity' of 'hotel-civilization.' Indeed, no one since James has written with such ease and grace about the era of excess as Kaplan. He recounts the Astor family's 'ventures in the ideal,' as well as their bitter feuds and brushes with scandal, with the economical style and wry wit that marked his Pulitzer-winning biographies of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. Kaplan's latest achievement is a tour-de-force, brimming with the vitality of its subject."
-Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism
"In velvet prose, Justin Kaplan offers up a family drama that played itself out in the national headlines and the New York skyline. There could be no better guide to that new-fangled l9th century invention: American ostentation. This one is sheer delight.
-Stacy Schiff, author of A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America and Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize
"If you've ever wondered about the real life models for Henry James' American novels or Merchant-Ivory's films, this is the book for you. An irresistible panorama of New York City when "the 400" reigned supreme."
-Howard Gardner, author of Multiple Intelligences and Changing Minds
"Justin Kaplan's reconstruction of the Astors and kindred hoteliers is a very entertaining commentary on the Idle Rich and the lavish caravansaries they constructed in the Gilded Age to service their clientele. His book is at once social history and cultural anthropology. The principal actors-the Astors and their ilk-frequent an Aladdinish world of conspicuous consumers. When the Astors Owned New York is a distillation of a place and of a time by a smiling and sardonic observer."
-David Aaron, Harvard University
'I thought I knew everything worth knowing about the Astors. Then I read Justin Kaplan's new book. Wow. Was I ever wrong..."
-Stephen Birmingham, author of Our Crowd, Life at the Dakota, and The Rest of Us
"Though the story of the Astor family and the excesses of the Gilded Age is familiar, it has never been told better than by Justin Kaplan, whose sharply focused, nuanced, and unsentimental snapshot of American ambition and accomplishment is carefully researched and gracefully written. I could not put it down."
-Rober A. M. Stern, architect
"The remarkable talents of this prize-winning biographer have been happily focused uon the hotel and real-estate dynasty of John Jacob Asto, especially his descendents whose blood was never quite blue enough to satisfy their inherited fantasies. The result is New York cultural history at its finest-a fascinating narrative that sparkles with wit and charm from start to finish."
-Jerome Loving, author of The Last Titan: A life of Theodore Dreiser and Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself
Justin Kaplan was an editor, biographer, and author of Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain and Walt Whitman: A Life, among other books. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He died in 2014.
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