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

3.25 of 5 stars 3.25  ·  rating details  ·  458 ratings  ·  64 reviews
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 effic
ebook, 208 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Plume Books
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Frank Stein
This guy won a Pulitzer for his biography on Mark Twain, and obviously he decided to cash in on that prize and write a book just substantial enough to be reviewed by a few friendly authors and then dropped into a bookstore with a minimum of effort and research.

I do, though, finally feel like I understand the impenetrable Astor family dynasty (the genealogy chart at the beginning certainly helped). Though Melville said John Jacob Astor's name "rings like unto bullion," he was born to a butcher i
I’m a historical voyeur. I enjoy looking back and seeing the way that people used to live in all walks of life. And of course a peak into the uber-rich’s lifestyle is always interesting. That is what drew my attention to this book.

If you’re interested in historical New York hotels, why they were built, why they were destroyed, and a very little detail about the goings-ons in them back in the day, this book might almost be for you. If you are interested in ritzy New York generally from about 100-
Kelly (TheWellReadRedhead)
I read this in conjunction with the first two books of The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen, in an effort to read both nonfiction and historical fiction about the same time period. It was very interesting! This book focuses on the lives of John Jacob Astor IV and his cousin, William Waldorf Astor, in the late 1800's to early 1900's. It specifically targeted the grand hotels that they created (Waldorf-Astoria, New Netherland, St. Regis, etc.) but also on their personal and social lives. It's a quick ...more
I was disappionted in the lack of history about the Astors. It was more about their hotels than anything. The last chapter talks about what happened to the hotels/houses the Astors owned and not what happened to the Astors. The sentences are sometimes jumbled or in need of proper punctuation too. If you are looking for a good book about the Astor family, this is not it.
Lauren Albert
Like a 19th-century People Magazine. A bit predictable at times ("see how lonely the super-wealthy man is despite his wealth" kind of predictable). But an enjoyable read and it certainly gives you a feel for the place and time.
Daniel Kukwa
As a snapshot of a particular point in Guilded Age Manhattan, this book functions extremely well at depicting power, wealth, and class snobbery through the mirror of one particular, famous family. However, in covering only a small section of the story of the Astors, you can feel the author straining against the limited page count of this short book. It's clear that a full, deep & developed family biography is desired, but there is simply too much holding back. It's a book that tries for biog ...more
Much to my family's annoyance, I read this on vacation and intermittently shared what I was learning about the Astors. (They politely nodded and resumed applications of sunscreen.) Author Justin Kaplan manages here to provide just enough entertaining details to make the book an engaging read straight through to the end. The Astors created a paradigm shift in innkeeping, leading to today's entire spectrum of hotels---from the Super 8/Motel 6/Red Roof/La Quinta/No Assembly Required genre along the ...more
Short nonfiction about the "idle rich." Found it informative enough to grasp but not be overwhelmed by minutiae or boring details. Want a basic history of the Astors and blue bloods of New York? This'll work just fine.
I loved this book. I always heard the name Astor and knew it was significant to the history of luxury american hotels in New York, but I did not know the whole history of the family. The book is a quick read and gives you some extra knowledge about the history of New York society and its equally fast changing city buildings. It touched on wealth, inheritance, and competition between cousins. It showed a somewhat similar view to any family dynamic, wealthy or not. Great choice if you just want to ...more
Linda Lipko
When The Astors Owned New York by Justin Kaplan

The Astors were the self appointed American aristocracy. There was nothing money could not buy for them. Their hotels, their New Port, RI "cottages", their Fifth Avenue mansions, were all overly ostentatiously over the top.

The copious consumption left the underlings of America throwing stones at their barbarias upper class values. Unlike Andrew Carneige who generously funded libraries throughout small-town America, The Astors and The Vanderbilts sel
I never knew they owned all those hotels. I didn't even know that the Waldorfs were Astors. I did, however, know the ingredients in the salad.
Shannon Flynn
A disappointment. You'd think money, in-fighting and the obsessive putting on of airs would make for a more entertaining book.
Great history of the Astors. This book was full of interesting and well researched information. I would have preferred more gossip and glamour and less hotel information.
The Astors were a family that significantly influences New York. Their power is flaunted through the naming of the neighborhood in, Astoria. The name was given to the area in hopes for John Astor to donate money which he eventually did nyc however never even setting foot in his investment. However the guided age was something w learned about in US history and the Astors were one of the richest families at the time. I thought his book was extremely informative and learned a lot. whoever i did not ...more
Interesting subject, interesting read. Unfortunately, I felt that depth of subject was a bit lacking by this author. I felt that the roles of the women; wives mothers, sisters, were entirely dismissed, even where they would add to the understanding and appreciation of the subject generation. Also, it was sometimes hard to discern if the subject was the men or the hotels. In any event, i enjoyed learning what i did, but caution that this is not truly a book about the lives of the Astors, merely a ...more
I enjoyed the history of New York and the Astors that was spread throughout this book - but I was not thrilled with the writing. I think it might be something that could be chalked up to poor editing -- you hear about a term or nickname without any context, and then learn about it in more detail in a following chapter. And while I enjoyed how the book jumped back-and-forth in telling the stories of two different Astor heirs, it was at times difficult to follow, or confusing as it told about them ...more
I picked up a copy of this book while visiting New York. It is a fast read. It is a quick history of 5 generations of the Astor family (most famous for the Waldorf-Astoria hotel), one of the wealthiest families in America and one of the biggest land owners in New York. The narrative is fairly high level lacking some of the detail that one might expect regarding the famed social gatherings. Nevertheless, the book was an interesting glimpse into New York's golden age and into the history of Americ ...more
Kalendra Dee
The Astor dynasty began in Waldorf, Germany, in the late 1700s. John Jacob Astor traded furs with the Indians of North America and began to build his wealth and his empire. By the mid 1800s, his descendants ate off the finest china and controlled the social scene in New York City. Their greatest achievements were the magnificent hotels they built to go along with their lavish lifestyle. The hotels, the family, friends and foes are examined in this informative and compelling nonfiction work of a ...more
A quick non-fiction read that was mostly about the two cousins of the Waldorf Astoria fame and their hotels. Not a real meaty non-fiction, but perfect for a subway read while in NYC.
Ana Rusness-petersen
Really interesting book, but could have been better if it was chronological, more in-depth, and a little more focused. I couldn't quite figure out if the focus was blue-blood built hotels of the period, or the Astor's family line. Either one would have been interesting, but a loose combination of both, along with the bouncing forward and backward in time kind of made it harder to put the new information in context, even within itself. But I still recommend it.
Jul 10, 2008 Alison rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: NYC history buffs
Recommended to Alison by: saw it in Barnes & noble window
The Astors were not one of those fabulously wealthy families dedicated to philanthropy. By and large, one was stingier than the next. I loved the book because I learned a lot not only about the Astors but NYC history, hotel history (that's how the made their money) and even some European history. And parts of the book were quite hilarious given the heights of ridiculousness that some of the Astors would go to keep their money to themselves.
Another light easy non-fic read. Since I read this after reading To Marry an English Lord, I think I liked it more than I would have all by itself. A lot of names were the same and it gave a slightly different look at a very interesting time period. I did wonder why the author stopped at three generations of Asters and their hotels. Did the fourth generation just entirely crap out? All in all, definitely worth reading.
The oldest hotel in NYC is the St. Regis. It would be the Waldorf-Astoria except that the W-A is not actually the W-A. The current Waldorf-Astoria bought the name from the Astor family for $1, after the Astors closed the original hotel, which was actually 2 hotels put together. The Astors were opulence built on poverty; millioniares whose money came from owning New York City tenements and slums. It's interesting stuff.
Courtney Stirrat
I am at page 75 and bored out of my mind. . . who knew someone could make the Astors boring. Thus far, the book lacks a point of view and is merely a dry recitation of facts and quotes about the Astors. I am giving it another 25 or 30 pages before I throw in the towel!

Well, I made it through it, but am left with a couple of factoids and very little information or perspective. SUCH a disappointment!
Nathan Carlisle
Sep 04, 2008 Nathan Carlisle rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know how the other lives
I thought it would be difficult reading a book on blue blood snobs, but it turned out rather interesting which I credit the author's story-telling style of writing. Although these were extremely shallow people, it was interesting to read about the attitudes of New Yorkers back in that area and rather remarkable to understand just how much money this family had for that time.
A great overview of the Astors' years in New York, though I wanted more depth from a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. Did the family die with William Waldorf and Jack? I wanted more information on the Astors' presence in NYC today, and what happened to the Astor name. A very quick and interesting read, though read more like a real estate history than a family story.
This books tells how Astor went from being a successful fur trapper to building one of the most luxurious hotels in NYC, the Astoria Hotel. (One of his descendants, John Jacob Astor, happens to die on the Titanic) The writing is a bit dry but it's fun to learn about one of the most powerful families in American History.
This book is great if you like history. It is a pretty general overview and mostly focuses on John Jacob Astor IV (the one who died on the Titanic) and his cousin, William Waldorf Astor. A very quick read that gives fun insight to the ridiculously rich society in New York in the second half of the 19th century.
Book club book

A very wandering book. Never really seemed to focus--rather it was "check out this Astor story, now this one, and check out how much money they spent on parties"

Very, very disappointing. Kept thinking of the better books of the genre, like Alva and Consuelo.

Astoria was named for one of the Astors, with the community residents hoping such an honor would encourage him to send his money to Queens. Alas, the wager didn't pay off, though the neighborhood's name stuck. Interesting NYC history--the flip side of Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives.
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