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Astor summary

Anderson Cooper & Katherine Howe

The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune

4.3 (203 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

Astor is a captivating biography of Brooke Astor, the iconic American philanthropist. Cooper and Howe paint a vivid portrait of Astor's life, highlighting her social influence and tireless dedication to improving the lives of others.

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    A founding father: John Jacob Astor

    Born in 1763 in Walldorf, a village in the southwest of modern-day Germany, John Jacob Astor immigrated to America just before the Revolutionary War that broke out in 1775. He arrived with little money to his name. But through a combination of grit, ambition, and shrewd business instincts, Astor would go on to become America’s first multi-millionaire and establish one of the country’s greatest family dynasties.

    Astor initially settled in New York and started selling musical instruments, but then quickly pivoted to the much more lucrative fur trade. At the time, European high fashion was all about beaver fur hats. Astor recognized the soaring demand and set his sights on establishing control of the market. 

    Astor embarked on risky trips, venturing deep into frontier territories to trade with Native American trappers. He traveled along the Great Lakes and farther west, using his linguistic skills to learn local languages and communicate in native tongues. While acquiring boatloads of valuable pelts to take back east, Astor developed strong relationships with native tribes across the frontier.

    Astor’s fortunes grew further as his second son, William Backhouse Astor, was born in 1792. Around this time, the international scene was shifting in Astor’s favor, as London imposed tight restrictions on importing and exporting furs. In 1794, the US negotiated a treaty with Great Britain, allowing furs to be exported directly from Canada to New York.

    By his early 40s, Astor had established fur trading posts across the American northwest. His monopoly on the fur trade allowed him to buy furs at low cost, then reap enormous profits selling them to the European fashion industry.

    By 1798, Astor was worth $250,000 – an astronomical sum at the time. But he saw even greater opportunity ahead in real estate. As New York City expanded northward up Manhattan Island, he used his massive fur trade profits to acquire properties cheaply.

    By the 1820s and 30s, Astor came into his own as a New York real estate mogul. He bought up tracts of land, developed neighborhoods, and leased properties commercially. Astor had an almost uncanny ability to anticipate where the value was going to appreciate most.

    By the late 1830s, Astor’s net worth was estimated at over $20 million – a sum that made him richer than the US government at the time. Yet despite this staggering success, he carried himself without pretense, living modestly and focusing on preserving the family fortune for his heirs.

    When he died in 1848 at age 84, he was the richest man in America, having built a multi-million dollar empire. More than just wealth, Astor created a legacy, establishing the family name as a pillar of New York high society and business for generations to come.

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    What is Astor about?

    Astor (2023) chronicles more than two centuries of family lineage, tracking the ambition that built America's first great fortune, as well as the excess and missteps that led to its decline. An intimate portrait of intergenerational wealth, it is both an engrossing family saga, and a broader commentary on shifting class privilege in America. 

    Astor Review

    Astor (2022) by Anderson Cooper & Katherine Howe is an intriguing exploration of the iconic Astor family and their impact on American society. Here's why this book is definitely worth a read:

    • Offering a fascinating look into the lives of the Astors, it reveals their immense wealth, social influence, and dramatic history.
    • With meticulous research and compelling storytelling, the authors bring the characters to life, making the book feel like a captivating historical narrative.
    • Delving into the intriguing dynamics of the family's relationships and their involvement in politics and culture, the book provides a rich and engaging reading experience.

    Who should read Astor?

    • Anyone interested in the history of New York and the Gilded Age
    • Business buffs looking for stories about the great figures of the past
    • Those curious about the rise of an elite family, and the changing times that challenged them

    About the Author

    Anderson Cooper is an American political commentator, broadcast journalist and author of several works of historical non-fiction and memoirs, including Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of An American Dynasty, Dispatches from the Edge and The World of Gloria Vanderbilt.

    Katherine Howe is a New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction and non-fiction who has won numerous awards, including the 2015 Massachusetts Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. She co-authored Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of An American Dynasty and edited The Penguin Book of Witches.

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    Astor FAQs 

    What is the main message of Astor?

    The main message of Astor is a captivating exploration of the life and legacy of one of America's most influential families.

    How long does it take to read Astor?

    The estimated reading time for Astor may vary, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Astor a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Astor is definitely worth reading. It provides fascinating insights into the world of the Astor family and their impact on American history.

    Who is the author of Astor?

    Astor is a collaborative effort by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe.

    What to read after Astor?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Astor, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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