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The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune

By Anderson Cooper, Katherine Howe

An Intriguing And Sad Family Saga



John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant, made the Astor fortune by purchasing beaver pelts from trappers and selling them for a hefty profit. He arrived in America in 1783, and by 1798, the fur trade had made him worth $250,000, equivalent to six million today. He further increased the Astor's wealth by investing in Manhattan real estate, particularly waterfront parcels and low-income rental housing for immigrants. He became the wealthiest man in America at his death in 1848 with over twenty million dollars.

He and his wife Sarah had eight children, three of whom died at birth or shortly thereafter. Upon his death, most of Astor’s fortune was inherited by his second son, William Astor, who worked in the fur export and real estate family business.

Astors: The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune chronicles the generations of the Astor family as they both defined and dominated American society. While some family members inherited, others did not. Some took part in the family business and increased their fortune, while others spent it on yachts and horses. Ultimately, the Astor fortune diminished through the generations. Jack Astor went down on the Titanic in 1912, leaving his entire fortune to his son Vincent. Vincent Astor died in 1959, leaving his entire fortune to his wife, Brooke. Brooke then spent the next 48 years giving away most of the fortune, only to be swindled by her own son later in life.


Journalist Anderson Cooper and historical novelist Katherine Howe teamed up once again to write Astors: The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune. They previously authored a book about the Vanderbilts together. Their writing is good and profiles many of the dominant members of the Astor family. The saga of this family is intriguing and somewhat sad.

While much has been written about the Astor's dominance in society during the Guided Age, this book seems different. It is perhaps more rounded in that it tells both the good and the not-so-good things the Astor’s did.

I liked the book and even appreciated some of the repetition across chapters. A couple of chapters had me questioning the book's focus by bringing in Astors who were not descendants of John Jacob Astor, while another chapter highlights the gay scene at the Astor Bar in the Astor Hotel in the early twentieth century. Nice to know, but how is it relevant to the rice and fall of the Astor fortune?

Thanks to Netgalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher HarperCollins Publishers

Published September 19, 2023

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