THE ASTORS 1763-1992 by Derek Wilson

THE ASTORS 1763-1992

Landscape with Millionaires
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 An absorbing if occasionally exculpatory chronicle of the moneyed Anglo-American clan whose founding father and scions made frequently problematic names for themselves on both sides of the Atlantic. Wilson (Rothschild, 1988, etc.) gained the cooperation of many living family members--and seems to have used his access to burnish the tarnished reputations of Astors from the contemporary era. While the author is at pains to put the best possible face, for example, on the second Viscount's role as host to the so-called Cliveden Set (a motley crew of intellectuals best remembered for supporting appeasement prior to WW II) and on his eldest son's involvement in the Profumo sex/espionage scandal, he's more judicious on the subject of their forebears. At the outset, Wilson traces John Jacob Astor's departure from Germany and his 1783 arrival in the US, where he amassed a fortune in the fur and China trades that he increased with shrewd investments in Manhattan real estate. Although John Jacob's descendants failed to surpass his accomplishments, many made their marks, and Wilson does a generally good job of tracking the dynasty's UK and US heirs as they pursued additional wealth, philanthropy, political causes, social status, or pleasure. Other notable members of the Astor line (by birth or marriage) include the American cousins who built several of Manhattan's landmark hotels (the Waldorf-Astoria, etc.); Caroline (of 400 fame); Nancy (the first woman elected to Parliament); Vincent (a one-time owner of Newsweek whose widow, Brooke, is still going strong); and influential publishers (of The Observer and The Times of London). Today, the house of Astor has by no means fallen, but Wilson leaves little doubt that the family's socioeconomic position isn't what it once was. A first-class version of a saga that bears retelling, though somewhat flawed by the author's transparent efforts to explain away the errancies of latter-day Astors. (Sixteen pages of illustrations, plus family trees dating back to 1620)

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-09744-1
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1993


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