Astor, the Rise and Fall of an American Fortune by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe
What’s it About?
Astor is a wild ride. The authors beautifully evoke the times and places that the Astors inhabited, and how it all went to pieces.
For more than 200 years, the descendants of John Jacob Astor dominated American society, style, and commerce. Yet the name Astor signifies little to recent generations.
Astor, the Rise and Fall of an American Fortune by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe will certainly make readers sit up and pay attention. Far from a dry family biography, the book brings to life a cast of characters who endured tragedy and conflict even as they wielded social influence and danced the night away.
The Rise and Fall of the Astors
The original Astor, an ambitious German immigrant who arrived in New York City in 1784, soon cast his eyes west of the Mississippi River and envisioned an empire based on the flourishing fur trade.
He planned to call it Astoria. Of course, that never happened. But within two decades of his arrival, Astor’s trade in beaver, otter, and muskrat pelts, which began in the Hudson River Valley and Canada with Indigenous peoples, had expanded to China and included whisky, silk, spices, tea and sandalwood.
In 1834 Astor, worth about $2 million, left the fur business and went into real estate where he would make another fortune. Manhattan’s population, which hovered around 200,000 (including freed slaves), was shifting from the original European settlements clustered near New York Harbor and heading north. The Astors gobbled up land and built luxurious hotels and theaters as well as tenement buildings where renters lived in squalor.
When John Jacob Astor died in 1848, the disagreeable gentleman left behind seven children and such valuable tracts as the half-block where the Empire State Building arose in the late thirties.
Elegance and Extravagance in the Gilded Age
In an engaging introduction to Astor, Anderson Cooper explains that he decided to write about the Astors while working on a biography of the Vanderbilt family, of which he is a member.
“In researching the Gilded Age society the Vanderbilts spent tens of millions of dollars to break into,” he confides, “I became fascinated with the family who had codified and defined that world: the Astors.”
Indeed, the Astor family reached the pinnacle of power during the late-nineteenth-century Gilded Age when Caroline Schermerhorn Astor reigned over New York society from her Renaissance Revival mansion. The ballroom, it was said, could fit 400 guests. They were the chosen; aristocrats worthy of invitation because they descended from old families with old money.
By the time Caroline Astor died in 1908, the Vanderbilts and other wealthy latecomers had crashed the party, so to speak.
Across the years, Astor descendants epitomized elegance and extravagance, acquiring yachts, royal jewels, and mansions. They also were orphaned and alienated, sparred over their inheritances, went down with the Titanic (that was John Jacob Astor IV), and spent millions on lawsuits. Astor is a wild ride. The authors beautifully evoke the times and places that the Astors inhabited, and how it all went to pieces.
About the Authors:
Anderson Cooper joined CNN in 2001 and has anchored his own program, Anderson Cooper 360°, since March 2003. Cooper has won 18 Emmys and numerous other major journalism awards. He lives in New York with his sons. (Photo Credit: John Nowak)
Katherine Howe is a New York Times bestselling and award-winning historian and novelist. She is the co-author with Anderson Cooper of the #1 New York Times bestselling Vanderbilt: the Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty. Their latest collaboration is Astor: the Rise and Fall of an American Fortune, and her newest novel is A True Account: Hannah Masury’s Sojourn Amongst the Pyrates, Written by Herself. Her fiction has been translated into over twenty languages. She lives and sails in New England with her family, where she is at work on her next novel. She also puts hot sauce on everything.
Publish Date: 9/19/2023
Genre: Historical, Nonfiction
Author: Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe
Page Count: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins