Jena Henry's Reviews > Palm Beach, Mar-A-Lago, and the Rise of America's Xanadu

Palm Beach, Mar-A-Lago, and the Rise of America's Xanadu by Les Standiford
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it was amazing

I have been bubbling over and entertaining my friends and family with scenes and stories from this wonderful fairytale history of Palm Beach. That’s all I’ve been talking about- so let me share my findings with you, my reading friends. The title of this book spotlights the places in Florida we’ll be learning about in author Les Standiford’s engaging non-fiction history. But in truth, this is a character driven book not a dry book about buildings and cities, and will we meet some characters!

When we think of Mar-a-Lago, we think of…Marjorie Merriweather Post. She built this iconic entertainment palace, but she wasn’t the first wealthy person to be beguiled by Palm Beach as we learn when Author Standiford takes us back to the beginning of what would become Palm Beach. Surprising to me, it hasn’t been that long ago since the playground of Palm Beach emerged from the Palmetto brush and mango trees. It was April of 1893 when Henry Flagler first came to the area. He was an energetic tycoon- he had partnered with John D. Rockefeller and made his fortune with Standard Oil. By 1895, Flagler had built the Royal Poinciana Hotel, and the famous Breakers hotel and with that, Palm Beach became a destination. He also built a railroad line, which before too long went to Biscayne Bay and Key West.

So who came on the railroad? Everyone on the Who’s Who list, every winter for “the season”. We are treated to many entertaining stories of the parties and society events, the food, clothes, entertainment and also the scandals on the beautiful island by the Atlantic Ocean. The book features stories of the rich and famous, but we also get to know entrepreneurs and architects, and even the workers who all helped bring the place to life.

While there are many fascinating people in the book, including Paris Singer the 23rd child of Isaac “sewing machine” Singer, no one can really top Marjorie Merriweather Post and her new husband E.F.Hutton (“when E.F. Hutton speaks, everyone listens.”). She was the heiress to the Post Company fortune, and to her credit, she was active in the company. For example, she pushed the purchase of Clarence Birdseye’s freezing company. MMP and E.F. built and furnished Mar-a-lago at a fantastic level. Again, to her credit in my mind, she believed money was to be used to benefit everyone, and building her enormous property during the Depression helped many workers, as did her years of charity benefits and the pleasure she gave to her family and friends at her welcoming estate. (Henry Flagler, the father of Palm Beach and Miami also was guided to develop the east coast of Florida from a desire to share a world he loved with many others.)

Time and tides always keeps rolling, and as MMP neared the end of her days she tried to find a way to keep Mar-a-lago going. Eventually the place was saved by Donald Trump in 1985. Of course he is now the President, and he gets very fair treatment in the book.

Beautiful Palm Beach lives on and I hope I have convinced you to read this riveting book about the people who created this lovely place. As you plan your next trip in Florida, think about Henry Flagler and what he created! His enormous Palm Beach home Whitehall is now a museum. I can’t wait to visit it and I am also eager to discuss this book with you. Do you have some Palm Beach memories?

Les Standiford is a well-known best-selling author. Like me, you may also have enjoyed his book and also movie, “The Man Who In ended Christmas”.

Thanks to NetGalley, Grove Atlantic and Atlantic Monthly Press for an advanced digital review copy. This is my honest review.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 10, 2019 – Shelved

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