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The Last Mrs. Astor
A New York Story
Author: Frances Kiernan
ISBN: 978-0-393-33160-8, Pages: 352, $15.95, Publication Date: May, 2008, Paperback, Memoir/History, Published by W. W. Norton & Company.
Starting from a humble beginning as the daughter of a Marine Corps Lieutenant, Brooke Astor’s life is chronicled by Frances Kiernan in a slow-paced matter-of-fact way, until about the middle of the biography, when the author makes her connection to the main character, the Grande Dame of New York society, and the story takes off. The words then begin to sparkle and true admiration emerges to demonstrative heights as we get into some real meaty insights of this patriarch of Manhattan.
Brooke Astor had married three times and Kiernan tells her story as it was lived for the hundred plus years of Brooke’s life. The great love she had for Vincent Astor and the wealth which was bestowed upon her and the Vincent Astor Foundation is breathtaking. Yet, through all this, Brooke only thought of the people of New York and making their lives culturally better. She endowed art projects, museums, parks, and many charities which needed assistance in the years when she was the chair of the Astor Foundation. Much to the chagrin of previous board and chair members, she imposed her will to those charities which needed special attention. As the years unfold, we are shown the strength of a lady who was indeed gracious, impeccable, and very strong minded in the face of others who had their own agendas to accomplish. She gave away over 200 million dollars!
We are given a glimpse inside her manipulations of those around her and how she was able to accomplish many great projects for the people of New York.
Her biggest disappointment was that of her son Tony Marshall, who allegedly took advantage of this strong lady towards the end of her life by swindling the foundation and her funds out of millions of dollars. He is currently under indictment and trial is set to begin in February 2009. He commenced his activities of taking control of her money when she was in her 90’s and she died in 2007 at age 105. Replete with 24 pages of photographs, I heartily recommend this book, if only to see how the other half live.