Reviews for Astor

by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Lives of the rich and infamous. Broadcast journalist Cooper and historical novelist Howe, co-authors of the family biography Vanderbilt, team up again to create a brisk, entertaining history of the Astors, a storied dynasty that left an indelible mark on New York’s streets, parks, museums, libraries, hotels, and a famous gay bar. The story begins with John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant who arrived in America in 1783, selling cakes and cookies in the streets of Manhattan while he kept his eye out for anyone trading in furs, a lucrative commodity. By 1798, the authors write, the fur trade had paid off handsomely; at the age of 35, John Jacob was “worth $250,000. By way of comparison, a family in Manhattan could live comfortably for a year on about $750.” With his newly amassed wealth, he shifted from fur to real estate, buying up cheap parcels near New York’s waterfront. Soon, he owned a large portion of the city. Besides properties on which he and his heirs built mansions, the Astors became ruthless landlords. The authors profile colorful family members, some of whom devoted themselves to the Astor business, others who preferred horse racing and yachts. Some were philanthropists; one, the disgruntled William Waldorf Astor, moved to England and renounced his citizenship. John Astor IV, known as Jack, perished on the Titanic. For a time, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel—created when rival family members erected independent hotels joined by corridors—stood as the pinnacle of elegance, and the Astor Hotel became a favorite hangout for the theater crowd in Times Square. If men dominated the Astor business, their wives focused on status, from the inflexible Caroline Astor, wife of playboy William Backhouse Astor, “who defined and dominated New York society during the Gilded Age,” to major donor Brooke Astor, widow of the vastly wealthy Vincent, whose son Anthony was convicted of defrauding her. A spirited saga of glitz and greed. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.