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The Last Castle

The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home
Narrated by: Denise Kiernan
Length: 10 hrs and 18 mins
Categories: History, American
4 out of 5 stars (369 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Girls of Atomic City comes the fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore - the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.

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 was one of the most watched events of Gilded Age society. But none of this prepared her to be mistress of Biltmore House.

Before their marriage, the wealthy and bookish Vanderbilt had dedicated his life to creating a spectacular European-style estate on 125,000 acres of North Carolina wilderness. He summoned the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to tame the grounds, collaborated with celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a 175,000-square-foot chateau, filled it with priceless art and antiques, and erected a charming village beyond the gates. Newlywed Edith was now mistress of an estate nearly three times the size of Washington, DC and benefactress of the village and surrounding rural area. When fortunes shifted and changing times threatened her family, her home, and her community, it was up to Edith to save Biltmore - and secure the future of the region and her husband's legacy.

The story of Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. The Last Castle is the unique American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.

©2017 Denise Kiernan (P)2017 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved.

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Very factual

I live near the Biltmore Estate and it truly is amazing!!! This book was very informative but I have to say it was painfully obvious the author/narrator is not trained to perform/read audiobooks. Her tone, intonation and “performance” totally hampered this story. This is not nearly the quality we expect from audible. My only thought is the author made it a requirement that she be the narrator. The book is marketed as a story but it was read like a textbook.

19 of 19 people found this review helpful

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So dissappointed. Read The Girls of Atomic City...

...instead. Kiernan wrote that and it was absolutely fascinating. Not this one. It's rare that I give any nonfiction I listen to less than three stars--most gets a 4 with the occasional 5. Really, this felt like one star to me and the only reason I'm giving it 2 is decent writing, a ton of information imparted, and the amount of research Kiernan must have done. And it's probably better in print than in audio.

I downloaded this because Kiernan wrote it. I skimmed the synopsis, which seemed interesting. A month later, I listened. 3 chapters in I wondered who and what the book was about. Hundreds of names had already been mentioned and I couldn't keep track of who they were and if they were important to the story.

Like another book I listened to recently, I slept through a couple hours total of the book, did not rewind and listened to part of it on 1.5 speed, never a good sign.

Bottom line issue: With The Girls of Atomic City, she had first person accounts to draw from, people she interviewed. She didn't with this book. While there are some personal letters quoted, it's not enough to flesh out ANY of the zillion characters so it reads like a stream of hundreds of facts with names attached, few of which I will remember.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Good story. Needs new narrator.

Narration made me wince on so many occassions I was unable to finish listening. American accent with absolutely no ability to pronoune or enunciate French/foreign words. Isnt there an equivalent of a book editor for audio? Did someone not listen to this before releasing??

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Anne
  • Durham, NC
  • 05-06-18

Interesting story, awful prose, terrible narration

The story of the creation of Biltmore and its industries is interesting and worthy of a book. Having no reason to doubt any of the information in this title, I accept that the facts in it are correct. However, the narrator's grating voice, wooden tone and poor pronunciation of French combined with her tortuously mannered prose and frequently unfounded conclusions to elicit several groans an hour from me as I listened. This may sound unkind. I do not mean to be so. But this production is so far below the standard I've come to expect from Audible that it is only fair to note. I know that Audible was not responsible for the style of writing (and perhaps a sense that the story of Biltmore needed to be told overruled any reservations on that point) but some courageous soul in audio production should have been brutally honest with the author that she would do no good to her book by reading it aloud herself.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Lovely writer, stoic narrator

I wish the author hadn’t done the narration because I felt like a cold, formulaic Mother was scolding me through a slice of history that I might have otherwise been whiled away by the fanciful tales of an opulent family in a gilded bygone era. I found her cadence routine and perfunctory so much that the information often just went in one ear and out the other as no nuance or warmth illuminated the passages. I wondered if she was a professor? Or perhaps like a cold news anchor person spouting off a rundown of boring daily news items. I don’t care enough to google it. The story was interesting but again, told so blandly and with often times so much calculated informational detail with not enough soul that it never came to life, the people never felt like flesh and blood, they felt like stone carvings from history. I appreciate the work very much and respect the author very much, I just couldn’t seep myself in this like I’d expected I would. It’s worth a listen, just nowhere near as good as it could have been with a talented voice actor narrator.

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The Entire Background of Biltmore House

This is a history of how the Biltmore House came to be and the people who designed and built her and her acres of surrounding gardens and woods. Your learn about the architects, artists, gardeners, the new age for forestry studies, and of course the very famous occupants. You'll learn what life was like for the precious few in the Gilded Age and also about the lives of more common people. I enjoy history and so I enjoyed this book. But if you are looking for a fast pace and lots of cliffhangers, this isn't the book for you.

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Really enjoyed it.

I thought the author did a fine job reading the book, and I'm normally pretty picky. The content was also very good. I live and work in the area. My first visit to the Biltmore house was in the 6th grade and my family currently holds season passes. It was meaningful to me and I appreciate the work. There were a lot of characters, but that's part of a biography.

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Excellent nuggets of history!

If you are a history aficionado as I am, this is great material. My wife and I love visiting Biltmore and learning about the Vanderbilt family. This read taught us quite a bit, although we had previously read several books on the topic.

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Fascinating History

Fascinating history. I admire Denise but I felt like I was listening to a text book. I really wish she would have had someone else read this book with a more lilting voice. It was definitely a book about Edith. I wish she had talked a little bit about the relationship of Edith and Cornelia and their later lives. I don't know if she needed to throw in all the additional information about all the different authors in Asheville, even though it was fairly interesting. I would have likeded to learned more about modern day Biltmore and how successful it is wrap it all up Denise.

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A grande castle in Asheville NC

So well written and researched. Makes you want to visit again and again. Brings back many memories of touring the castle and the grounds. Amazing palace! Loved learning the history of the Vanderbilt’s and the era they lived in. Good times and not so good times, they sustained. The winery has some fabulous wine also!!