Each year, more than a million visitors tour the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, to visit the largest home ever to exist in America. It was built between 1889 and 1895 by George and Edith Vanderbilt. The home brimmed with priceless art and antiques and its library held over 10,000 volumes. The architect was Richard Morris Hunt, and the landscape architect was Frederick Law Olmsted. The Vanderbilts owned a surrounding estate of over 125,000 acres commanding the view from their hilltop mansion on all sides. This forest is considered the “Cradle of American Forestry” because its first forester, Gifford Pinchot, was also the first Chief of the United States Forest Service, and his successor , Dr. Carl A. Schenck, established America’s first school of forestry. Part of the home and grounds have been open to the public since 1930, though family members still live there. Presently the great-grandson of Edith and George and his family live there, but other parts of the ample building - covering over three acres under roof - have restaurants and lodging places for the tourists. The author, Denise Kiernan, well-suited for this task, having demonstrated her ability in her first book, The Girls of Atomic City, to celebrate the role of women in a setting that appears to be ruled by men. In this book Kiernan provides unity to the story as well as much new information by foregrounding the role of Edith Vanderbilt in not only the construction, and the amazing social life of this home, but also the very economic survival of the estate. Kiernan received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New York University and has been a journalist, a writer and a producer for television. This book was named an October 2017 Indie Next List selection and a Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2017. “The Last Castle 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: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2017. 388 pages with an Index, Notes, Sources, and photos. Hardback in dust jacket