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

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  4,905 ratings  ·  770 reviews
The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore—the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.

The story of Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published September 26th 2017 by Atria Books
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Average rating 3.66  · 
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 ·  4,905 ratings  ·  770 reviews

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Start your review of The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home
Oct 30, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 Stars

The Last Castle is a book for serious history nerds like myself.
I haven't read Denise Kiernan's other book The Girls of Atomic City, but after reading The Last Castle I'll be pushing it up my TBR list. This book is a meticulously researched look at the building of the largest house of The Gilded Age, The Biltmore.

The Last Castle is a deep dive not only into the history of The Biltmore but also the legendary family behind it, The Vanderbilt's. Part family saga and part history of the
Martha Mason

If one judges a book solely on the basis of the epic amount of research that went into its writing this book might be judged a success. The amount of detail presented is prodigious.
But taken as a whole the book, to me at least, is flat, repetitive and boring. George Vanderbilt is an unknown quantity. His reasons for building a monstrously large and unwieldy house, far beyond his needs, are never explained. The French chateaux upon which Biltmore House was modelled had a raison
Cindy Burnett
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Last Castle is a phenomenal read. When I went to school in North Carolina years ago, I visited Biltmore House several times so as soon I learned about this book, I was dying to read it. I am so glad it lived up to my expectations. Denise Kiernan chronicles the tale of George Vanderbilt, the man who ultimately built the largest residence ever constructed in the United States – 175,000 square feet on 125,000 acres of rugged wilderness. Biltmore House contains 250 rooms in all including: 33 ...more
Oct 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-clubs

I usually love historical nonfiction book. I find the best in the genre manage to weave together a wide variety of subjects to give you a real feel for the time. And while this one was interesting, it was just way too dry. It concentrates too much on the house itself. I really wanted to learn more about the contrast between the haves and the have nots. And yes, there is some of that. But there’s way too much about how many times the Vanderbilts sailed to Europe or who visited the Biltmore. It
Nov 04, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm not exactly sure how a book can be interesting and boring all at the same time, but this one achieved that strange balance.
BAM The Bibliomaniac
"Half the pleasure in life comes from learning to choose between things."-William Osgood Field
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
I first visited The Biltmore Estate as a teenager and was in complete awe trying to imagine that anyone ever had the amount of money it would require not only to build but also maintain a 175,000 square foot home. When I began to look into the history of the estate, I was even more impressed by the careful thought put into the home and the nearby village and the grand plans owner George W. Vanderbilt had for operating a small city.

The Last Castle gives readers a history lesson on the Vanderbilt
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
The author did not appear to have enough material about the Vanderbilt family to write a book, so latched on to everything that happened in North Carolina around this time period. I wouldn’t complain if this had been billed as a history of North Carolina, but a lot of the side stories had no connection to Biltmore or the Vanderbilts other than “it happened nearby.” The first half of the book was pretty good, but the second half (after George Vanderbilt died) was not compelling. She really did ...more
The Last Castle is an epic story about Biltmore House envisioned and built by George Cornelius Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, during the Gilded Age with the history of Biltmore Estate then spanning the Jazz Age, the Depression and two World Wars.

Vanderbilt knew when he first got off the train in Ashville, North Carolina and gazed at the Pisgah peaks nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and Smokey Mountains of southern Appalachia that this was the perfect location for his
Margaret Sankey
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Emblematic of the Vanderbilt family's cycle "from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" (well, maybe "shirtsleeves to Anderson Cooper in three generations"), the estate at Biltmore was meant to be a semi-feudal estate, with European-style managed forests, dairies and local crafts. Instead, although it made an indelible impact on Asheville and the region, it quickly became a white elephant of expenses, impractical living and changed social mores. Kiernan follows the Vanderbilts and ...more
Touchstone Books
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Denise Kiernan is back and she's better than ever. Can't wait to share this one with you this Fall!
David Eppenstein
I am giving this book a 3 star rating. To me that means it was a good book, nothing special but worth the price paid. I read some of the reviews of other GR members and it appears that some were rather disappointed in this book for a variety of reasons. I guess I can understand that feeling as I too was initially disappointed. I have visited Biltmore a couple of times but my last visit was nearly 20 years ago and curiosity got the better of me so I Googled the site and discovered that things ...more
Dec 31, 2017 rated it liked it
In the mid-1890s George Vanderbilt built America's largest residential home in Western North Carolina. He called it Biltmore. He also purchased land--and lots of it. Much of the land he purchased is now the Pisgah National Forest. The book details how Vanderbilt brought a responsible forest management program to that acreage and how it came to be in the hands of the United States Forestry Service. He also built an Episcopal Church and community he called Biltmore Village. The village provided ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Disappointing, mostly because it never explains why George Vanderbilt would build it in the first place. I've been there numerous times (I was brought up within a few hours and this house was often part of vacation trips.) It's massive, but relatively pointless other than it's current function: a museum, and a ridiculously expensive one to visit ($65 to $85 as of November 2016). More flaws: here in the book, there is no single picture of an entire room (instead we see fireplaces of rooms in the ...more
Suzanne Mitchell
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
What a disappointment!! There is nothing epic about this book and that is the letdown. There is just enough detail to think the book will pick up but it never happens. With the right author this could truly be an epic story but this was a book that was ard to pick up and finish.
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is the biography of a building (or estate) - the Biltmore near Asheville North Carolina. It goes into great detail about how it came to be, the problems and how they were overcome, and how this wonderful example of gilded age architecture came to remain intact for future generations to enjoy. Much of the credit is due to the family that resided in the house (estate). It would have been easy to shut themselves away and ignore the locals, but they felt the need to give back to the ...more
Kim McGee
Jul 15, 2017 rated it liked it
The great Biltmore Estate which many consider an American castle was the vision of George Vanderbilt and continued by his wife, Edith. While the design and grounds changed a bit through the years one thing did not and that was their dream of the area being self sustaining. The village (or later town) that grew up beside it and where Edith created a cottage industry to keep the dream alive.
The history of Biltmore is so closely messed with what was happening in the rest of the country and abroad.
Dalene W.
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I was able to visit Biltmore during the Christmas season two years ago. It was amazing to see, especially with all the Christmas decorations. Reading this book took me right back as though I was there again. We took the audio tour and it was nice to read about many of the things we saw. I highly recommend reading this book and going to see Biltmore for yourself. It truly is America's Castle. P.S. there are packages for hotel, tours, and food. We stayed right on the grounds in ...more
Apr 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
3.5 stars, rounded down.

This is a somewhat interesting book about Biltmore House, the largest privately owned home in the US. Built by George W. Vanderbilt in the mountains of North Carolina in the late 1800s, it became a symbol of the Gilded Age, when ostentatious displays of wealth were popular, dare I say, required by the wealthy class. The book describes in great detail what went into designing, building and realizing George’s vision. He was greatly assisted by noted architect Richard Morris
Aug 28, 2017 rated it liked it
The 175,000 square foot Biltmore was constructed in the waning years of America's Gilded Age by the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt, couched within his beloved mountains surrounding Asheville, N.C. Although the focus of this historical work is scheduled to be published at the end of September 2017 is the Biltmore Estate, the book also explores the mistress of the Biltmore Estate, George's wife who he married after its construction, who I believe had a larger presence in ...more
Nan Williams
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: quit
“Epic story of love, loss, and American Royalty”? Not by a long shot. Kiernan had obviously done a lot of research of the period and wanted to woo us with her research. She included tons and tons of insignificant details and insignificant people. If you want to know absolutely everything about every one in that time period, INCLUDING details such as what was on menus in Paris restaurants, by all means read this. If you want to know about the Vanderbilts or about building Biltmore, read something ...more
Linda Smatzny
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book via First Reads on Goodreads. This is a fascinating story of the the Biltmore House near Asheville, North Carolina. It starts with a brief history of the Vanderbilt family up to George Vanderbilt. The book continues up to the present time and the grandsons who continue to share in the management of the house. It is full of detail of the various time periods involved in the building of the house. Then when George marries Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and her contributions to the ...more
Pepper Basham
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
What an excellent blending of research and fiction-style!
Kiernan brings the almost 'fairytale'-like story of George and Edith Vanderbilt to life by delving into the history that brought them together and the legacy they left behind. Her prose, detail, and pacing took information that could be lifeless and breathed a story to life. I loved envisioning the romance of George and Edith Vanderbilt, and the way that Edith and the Cecil family continued his legacy all the way to present day.
Sharon Huether
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Biltmore House is said to be the largest home in America 175,000 square feet of living space on 125,ooo acres in the North Carolina wilderness.
George Vanderbilt had it built with the help of Frederick Law Olmstead to landscape the grounds .
He married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. They had one daughter Cornelia.
The home was a show place with beautiful paintings and every attention to detail.
It was Edith that saved Biltmore during hard times. She charged $2.00 per person to visit the house and
Aug 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
I was so looking forward to reading this book when I first saw it at Half Price Books. Kiernan's non-fiction was supposed to be about the Biltmore estate, and it is, but it's that and the kitchen sink. There is no structure here, no overriding narrative. I liked the first 100 pages or so, which focused first on George Washington Vanderbilt and his future wife, Edith Dresser. But Denise Kiernan spends most of the book digressing and going off on tangents. This book would more aptly be titled, ...more
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
So much more than a book about the largest private home in America. The Last Castle is a journey through American history from the late 1800’s to the present.

Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore is the last castle. A dream of wealthy George Vanderbilt who fell in love with the clear air and beauty of the area. Wisely employing, Central Park designer, Frederick Law Olmstead, and architect, Richard Morris Hunt, to build his dream residence and mold the surrounding landscape, Vanderbilt created a
Jamie Jones Hullinger
Think I am actually going to give this a 2.5. I was actually pretty disappointed by the end of this one. The bits on the construction of Biltmore and marriage of George and Edith were very interesting but most of the other bits included were confusing to me. For instance at the end there was a section of F. Scott Fitzgerald staying at a local in in Asheville. I am still wondering why that was included. I discovered that I am not a fan of Cornelia Vanderbilt. I hate to say that by reading this ...more
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I’ve always been interested in the Biltmore so I was excited when I saw this book. There were parts where I felt I wanted more information especially at the beginning but overall it was a good read. I enjoyed learning some of the facts behind the building of the estate. The architects, artists, builders, and foresters were all innovative in their own way. I liked how the author brought in mini stories of some other famous contemporaries and interesting tidbits from the era. I would have liked ...more
Laura Hoffman Brauman
The elements about the house, the planning and maintaining of it, the industry that developed in conjunction with it and the impact on the area were all very interesting to me. The elements about society, who people knew, how the families were interconnected --- not so much. That however, is probably more about what interests me as a reader than it is about the book itself. We've been to the Biltmore a couple of times and I enjoyed hearing more about it's history.
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Denise Kiernan's "The Last Castle" was well-researched, but I was hoping for more. In high school, we used to take class trips out to the Biltmore House and I was really excited to win this book from Goodreads. The problem is, even though it is well-researched, it can be a tad bit repetitive and boring at times. Much of the material presented in the book is not relevant to the house or family itself. With that being said, there is still a lot of interesting material presented in the book and ...more
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Denise Kiernan is an author, journalist and producer and has been working as a writer for more than 20 years. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, Ms. Magazine, Reader's Digest, Discover and many more publications. She has also worked in television, serving as head writer for ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" during its Emmy award-winning first ...more
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