Mrs. Astor's New York : money and social power in a gilded age /

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Main Author: Homberger, Eric. (Author)
Format: Book
Published:New Haven [Conn.] : Yale University Press, c2002.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

New York scholar Homberger (Scenes from the Life of a City: Corruption and Conscience in Old New York) gathers a dog's breakfast of research into his latest exploration of the Big Apple. The result is an intriguing and curious volume that can't seem to decide whether it's a coffee table book or a study of the psychology of late 19th- and early 20th- century American aristocrats. The idea of an aristocracy emerging from a fervently democratic society is oxymoronic, as Homberger points out, but for over half a century New York's upper class was peculiarly concerned with such a hierarchy. Ward McAllister's "Patriarchs," considered to be the elite of New York society, and Mrs. Astor's list of "Four Hundred" were the bread and butter of this era's snobbery; the latter half of Homberger's book delves into McAllister's and Astor's lives, chronicling their cotillions, lunches, amusements and affairs with considerable relish. The slightly whimsical last chapter, "Being Mrs. Astor," which begins with a description of that lady's last years (spent planning parties that her doctors had instructed her servants not to hold, and making purchases merchants knew not to send to her house), may be the best part of Homberger's book. His skill for bringing to life characters of a century ago saves the book from the occasionally tedious specificity of earlier chapters, which seem to have gotten bogged down by admittedly impressive research in newspapers and other contemporary records. Illus. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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