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When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods…

When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded… (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Justin Kaplan

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Title:When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age
Authors:Justin Kaplan
Info:Plume (2007), Edition: 1ST Plum printing /Education Edition, Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library, American History/Politics, Completed

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When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan (2006)



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I've heard the name Astor, of course, but really, other than hoighty-toighty New York, I knew nothing about them. What an interesting--though not very admirable--bunch. This is a biography of the family's founder, one of his sons, two of that son's three sons, and two sons from the next generation. I word it in that convoluted way because there are a whole bunch of Astors who are ignored here (all the women, plus a bunch of men). This book, written in a journalistic style, is about the power players from the Astor family. And it's a quick read.

The subtitle "blue bloods" is tongue in cheek--the family patriarch, John Jacob Astor (b. 1763) was a poor young immigrant from Waldorf, Germany. Obviously a smart fellow, he went from penniless to major property owner of Manhattan. By the time he died well into his 80s, his family had joined the idle rich of New York City. Most of his wealth came from collecting rents from the slums and other properties of NYC. As is common with generational family money, the subsequent generations lived in a world completely out of touch with the real world. One of his great-grandsons had a family lineage researched/created that erased their humble German beginnings and instead had them fighting crusades in Medieval Jerusalem. He also deserted the United States because of its lack of culture and after decades of shameless self-promotion, was made an English peer. Unlike other wealthy families in New York who in some way gave back to the people of the city (for example, Carnegie), the Astors used their money only to make more money for themselves.

The two branches of the family tree did not get along, yet somehow they coordinated to become the creators of the American luxury hotel, and collaborated on the Waldorf-Astoria (the current hotel in NYC with that name, btw, has no connection to the family). Over the years, they built many high-end hotels in New York City, but today all of them are gone except the St. Regis.

Some reviewers here at LT commented that they were looking for more, or expected it to tie together better, and I see what they mean; however, it's a biography, not fiction. Sometimes the facts will only work themselves together along certain paths, and there isn't much an author can do about it. My complaint about the book is all the left out people--including the current generation of Astors. ( )
1 vote Nickelini | Aug 4, 2012 |
When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan provided enough interesting details about the Astor family dynamics to keep me reading to the end. These multi-billionaires lived in a time of excess and they were the pinnacle of American high society. This book zeros in on the rivalry that existed between two branches of the family. Starting with brothers of one generation and continuing on with their sons, William Waldorf Astor and John Jacob Astor IV. It was this generation that turned them from tenement slum-lords to hotel masterminds.

Building a number of hotels from Astor House, The Knickerbocker Hotel , and the St. Regis, none was more famed or luxurious than the Waldorf-Astoria. Opened in 1897, this hotel reigned supreme as the exclusive headquarters for the rich, beautiful and famous of the world. Renowned for introducing the idea of eating in public restaurants and inventing such dishes as Lobster Newburg, Chicken A La King, and the Waldorf Salad.

William Waldorf battled bad press for most of his life and left America, taking up residence in England, and eventually obtaining a coveted Knighthood. John Jacob Astor IV was returning to America from his honeymoon in Europe and went down with the Titanic. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was demolished in 1929, and the Empire State Building was build on the site.

A fact filled book about a immigrant family that profited from the fur trade and invested in New York real estate to become the richest people in the world. With such an interesting subject, I just wish the author had put a little more spark into his writing. When the Astors Owned New York is a small look at the powerful people that reigned over America during the Gilded Age. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Feb 11, 2012 |
This book is a cursory, and I stress cursory, overview of the Astor dynsaty from its German founder, John Jacob in the 18th century, to the early 20th century inheritors. The book gives some of the foibles, political and/or social spirations, buying, etc.

I disliked this book. It seemed to me that "X" event happened and here's how much the bill was and the social critique of the event. There wasn't any description of smell or hearing to envoke the scene that the author was trying to describe. I would read this only if nothing else were available. ( )
  macart3 | Mar 11, 2011 |
i wanted to like this. something missing.
no info on current astors. surely i'm not the only one who wanted to know.
a lot of info on ww astor. not much on jj astor 4. ( )
  mahallett | Feb 21, 2011 |
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 selfishly kept the wealth in the family.

While this book contains interesting tidbits, it falls as flat as the turn of the century values of the Astors. ( )
3 vote Whisper1 | Aug 21, 2010 |
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At seventeen, John Jacob Astor, founder of an American dynasty, left the German village of Waldorf, where he was born in 1763, and came to New York by way of London.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0452288584, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:27 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Traces the lives of cousins William Waldorf Astor and John Jacob Astor IV, rivals who pursued separate ambitions, built the original Waldorf-Astoria hotel, and influenced social behavior before John Jacob perished aboard the Titanic.

(summary from another edition)

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