Meet Denise Kiernan (author of New York Times bestseller The Girls of Atomic City) as she discusses her newest non-fiction book, The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home (September 26, Touchstone). Presented by Curious Iguana in partnership with Frederick County Public Libraries, this event is free; no registration required. Q&A and book signing will follow author presentation. Books will be available for purchase at event. Questions? Contact Curious Iguana, 301-695-2500, email@example.com.
About the book:
Before the One Percent, there was an upper echelon of American society known as The Four Hundred. Before paparazzi pursued reality TV stars, intrepid gossip columnists stalked the scions and debutantes of the Gilded Age. And as wrecking balls and developers claimed the architectural relics of that era of excess, the grandest of those castles survived: George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House and estate in Asheville, North Carolina, the largest home ever built in America, and one that remains to this day in the hands of George’s descendants.
Each year, more than 1 million visitors flock to the colossal château—which, at 175,000 square feet, is larger than three White Houses—to tour its gorgeous gardens and cavernous halls. Yet very few know how this extraordinary place came to exist, the struggles endured by its inhabitants, the luminaries who made it their playground—and why Biltmore House still amazes today, a time when few past marvels continue to loom large.
In The Last Castle, Denise Kiernan, author of the New York Times bestseller The Girls of Atomic City, reveals a fascinating saga of unimaginable excess, devastating tragedy, inspiring generosity, and unlikely endurance.
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, one of the world’s wealthiest and 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. Packed with priceless art, antiques, and an unrivaled library, this opulent fish out of water was improbably set amid the rugged mountains of southern Appalachia. Designed by celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt, with grounds shaped by the legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Biltmore House was surrounded by countless acres of woods that comprised what is now known as America’s Cradle of Forestry. Almost feudal in nature, George and Edith’s domain included a Hunt and Olmsted-designed village outside the estate gates where workers, their families and other locals planted the seeds of what remains a vibrant community. Despite their drastically different circumstances, the Vanderbilts and locals forged a powerful bond that transformed the region in ways that are still felt today.
As the Gilded Age began to tarnish, George and Edith’s fortunes shifted. Changing times threatened their family, community and estate. It soon fell to Edith to rescue Biltmore from the brink of insolvency and preserve her husband’s legacy.
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.
About the author:
Denise Kiernan’s previous book, The Girls of Atomic City, was a New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and NPR bestseller. Kiernan has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice, Ms. magazine, 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.