Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2 - Gilded: How Newport Became America's Richest Resort; Deborah Davis













Gilded: How Newport Became America's Richest Resort, by Deborah Davis provides a light, but interesting glimpse into how Newport, Rhode Island became the place to vacation. More than a seaside resort, Newport has a mesmerizing history as a Victorian Era getaway for the rich and famous.

The author Deborah Davis is a Rhode Island native who spent three summers conducting research and private interviews for this book. Some of the interesting people and facts covered in the book were:

* The Astors - Mrs Astor began summering in Newport back in 1880. To her Newport was like a gated community (no easy access), so that the undesirables were kept out. It was she who gets the credit for the gala affairs hosted for the rich and famous.

* The 19th century "ladies" of Newport required 280 wardrobe changes for their eight week summer stay. The men worked and showed up basically on weekends for the social functions which were attended by as many as 400 party goers.

* Name dropping and one upmanship was commonplace. The Astors, the Vanderbilts, Edith Wharton, JFK and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, Doris Duke, and Claus and Sunny Von Bulow were just some of the individuals mentioned in this book.

* Then there was Oliver Belmont's 60+ room mansion: a bachelor pad which he shared with his horses.

* Doris Duke the so called "poor little rich girl", at twelve years of age inherited 100 million dollars from her father, a tobacco tycoon, making her the richest girl in the world. Her money, however, did not necessarily bring her happiness, married twice, numerous affairs, and when she died in 1993, she left 5 million to her butler, Bernard Lafferty and named him co-executor of her estate. He also received an annual salary of $500,000 from her 1.2 billion dollar estate.

MY THOUGHTS - I am familiar with Newport and have toured many of the famous mansions (now open to the public): The Breaker, Marble House, The Elms and Rose Cliff. For me I enjoyed this book even though I was looking for something a bit more in depth about the people who made Newport famous. However, the book is only 300 pages, so it only lightly touches on some 200 years of Newport's history. Each chapter of the book held my interest and was written in a way that injected humor where the reader would not expect it. One thing that was disappointing were the photographs -- approximately 30 of them. The photographs were small black and whites printed on the same stock as the text --not at all impressive. Despite this, if you are looking for a light overview of the Gilded Ages of Newport and the people for made it famous, then you might consider giving this book a try. Recommended - 4/5 stars

19 comments:

  1. I had no idea there was this kind of wealth in Newport, RI. Very interesting. Too bad the photos aren't better.

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  2. Sounds interesting. The item about needing 280 changes of clothing made me think of when I toured The Biltmore.

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  3. This one sounds most intriguing- thanks for your review. I'm adding it to my reading list.

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  4. 280 wardrobe changes??? This sounds like a book I'd enjoy. I, too, like Newport and have toured the mansions. What a place! Since one goal is to read more nonfiction this year, I'm adding this one to the list!

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  5. Sounds like this is a subject just waiting for a better book. I think the photos should have been the showpiece of the book. And more info (gossip?!). We went to the Astor house years ago and it was amazing. Have you seen the movie about the Von Bulows with Jeremy Irons?

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  6. This sound like a great introduction to the history of the area. If I ever tour the mansions I think this would be a good background read.

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  7. I loved your bullet points! Such interesting factoids. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Thanks for the review. This sounds like the kind of book I would love. I'm going to add it to my to-read list.

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  9. I learned a lot just by reading your review...that kind of money boggles the mind!

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  10. 280 wardrobe changes for 8 weeks! Yikes!

    And I never really think of Rhode Island as a resort or rich person's paradise.

    And "the butler did it" in Doris Duke's case. HAHA.

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  11. I feel really lame that I didn't really know about Newport at all. Well, other than the Newport that is in Oregon, and although it is a fun coastal town to visit, it is definitely not a resort for the rich and famous. :)

    Touring the mansions sounds like a lot of fun.

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  12. Thanks for the recommendation, I think I'd like this -- a little history, a little gossip!

    Have you read PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW? Similar idea, but the Hamptons in the 1980s.

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  13. I've been to Newport a couple of times. I think I'd enjoy reading about the history.

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  14. Nan...I have not seen the movie about the Von Bulows, but thanks for mentioning it to me.

    Alyce...don't feel bad, I'm sure a lot of people who have not been to RI don't know about the beautiful coast and history.

    Dawn...No, I have never heard of the book about the people of the Hamptons --gotta check if the library has it. Thanks

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  15. Newport's "cottages" are fancinating and a must see if you are in the area. The last time I was there I just went on the cliff walk and that is great too.

    As beautiful as the area is and as impressive as the houses are, I can see how the lack of high quality photographs would be a huge negative to this book.

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  16. Sounds really interesting. I'll have to add it to my list.

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  17. I love how summering has become an action. That is way too many wardrobe changes for me. I have been trying to purge more.

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  18. I don't know much about Newport, but I have always heard that it is where the idle rich go to get away. I am glad you liked this book and it sounds as though it is chock full of interesting facts!

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  19. When can I get the audio version?

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