Denise Kiernan, author of The Last Castle
Each year, more than 1 million visitors flock to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, to tour its gorgeous gardens and cavernous halls. The colossal Gilded Age château is the largest home ever to exist in America—occupying 175,000 square feet and larger than three White Houses. Yet even more striking than the property’s staggering dimensions is the wider story of how this extraordinary place came to exist, the luminaries who made it their playground, the setbacks faced by its inhabitants—and why Biltmore still amazes today, a time when few past marvels continue to loom large.
Orphaned at a young age, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser claimed lineage from one of New York’s best-known families. She grew up in Newport and Paris, and her engagement and marriage to George Vanderbilt—grandson of railroad titan Cornelius Vanderbilt and one of the world’s wealthiest, most elusive bachelors—was one of the most watched events of Gilded Age society. But none of this prepared her to be mistress of Biltmore House, George’s spectacular European-style estate.
Encompassing world wars, the Jazz Age, financial crises, scandalous marriages, natural disaster, murder and suicide, the story of Biltmore House takes readers from the wilds of Appalachia to the glamour of New York, Newport, and Paris, and features a captivating cast of characters including Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Henry James, John Singer Sargent, and James Whistler.
As the Gilded Age began to tarnish, the Vanderbilts’ fortunes shifted. When changing times threatened their family, community and estate, it soon fell to Edith to rescue Biltmore from the brink of insolvency. THE LAST CASTLE ultimately is the uniquely American story of a man who realized his impossible dream and the woman who saved it.
Kiernan is also the author of THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY, the unbelievable true story of young women during World War II who worked in a secret city dedicated to making fuel for the first atomic bomb—without knowing it. The book was a New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and NPR bestseller.
DENISE KIERNAN has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice, Ms., Reader’s Digest, Discover, and many more publications. She has been a featured guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition, PBS NewsHour, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. 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 season and producing for media outlets such as ESPN and MSNBC.
“A soaring and gorgeous American story that gripped me from the very first page. With a historian’s keen insight and a poet’s gift for language, Denise Kiernan depicts life at Biltmore with such skill, I felt like I was there through it all: weddings, divorces, elaborate (and slightly bizarre) balls, financial glory, financial ruin, murder, suicide, natural disasters, betrayals, love, loss, despair, and triumph.”
—KAREN ABBOTT, New York Times bestselling author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
“A timely and timeless American story of wealth and the responsibility and opportunity it carries. . . . A stunning and important achievement.”
—NEAL THOMPSON, author of A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It Or Not!" Ripley
“In the pages of The Last Castle, Kiernan serves up a true tale of American excess, generosity, and perseverance.”
—BILL DEDMAN, New York Times bestselling author of Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of
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