Book Review: The Last Castle

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Less epic, more heavy.

The Last Castle is the story of Bitmore, the largest house in the United States, bigger than the entirety of Washington DC. Built as a pipe dream by George Vanderbilt, wealthy beyond belief, it defined luxury and opulence for many. George builds Vanderbilt without much thought, wanting it to be a beautiful European inspired castle in the mountains. Because of his lack of forethought, he manages to drain money into the project and, when he succumbs to a relatively young death, his wife, Edith, must take up the helm and somehow keep Bitmore running to cement his legacy.

The best way I can describe this book is that I was appreciative for the information I retained while reading it, but I cannot claim reading it was a pleasant experience. This book is so bogged down by names and numbers, it was hard for me to follow along and pay attention to who I should be following. There are people in the Vanderbilt’s lives who come and go in 4 pages, never to be seen again, and others who work for them for sixty years. Trying to keep the relevant characters in my mind was nearly impossible, and I felt as though the book suffered by giving us too much information.

Often, this book would tangent into side stories about famous people who had stayed at Bitmore and while amusing, most of them didn’t really have an effect on the story or the people involved in it. They just were guests like any other, and so their inclusion confused me. I also felt that the author did a lot of telling in terms of our main characters, George, Edith and their daughter, Cornelia. They built and lived in this gigantic house for so much of their lives, yet I felt like we never really learned anything about the personalities or interpersonal relationships, only about their charity work and things that could be turned into numbers and statistics. We get most of our information about Cornelia in the last twenty pages of the book, but it entirely concerns her life post wedding and her rejection of Bitmore. More information regarding her upbringing or relationship with her parents might have made this more compelling.

The big struggle here is that the book makes it difficult to relate to or latch on to a character and follow them through the book. Instead it gives us anecdote after anecdote about the building and people who lived there, but none of it feels grounded enough to relate to. It’s so dense it’s a book I had to keep picking up and putting down because after thirty pages or so, I was wiped out. That being said, I did enjoy the facts I learned and the book did convince me that visiting the house would be an amazing sight. I just wish it was presented in a more accessible way.

Title: The Last Castle
Author: Denise Kiernan
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 400
ISBN:  9781476794044

Three Descriptors: Complex, detailed, leisurely-paced

Read Alikes:
Lady on the Hill by Howard E. Covington Jr
The Hidden White House by Robert Klara
The First Tycoon by TJ Stiles
Eiffel’s tower and the World’s Fair by Jill Jonnes
Bunny Melon by Meryl Gordon

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