What Would Mrs. Astor Do?

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

I am a fan of  historical fiction so this was a fun book talking about characters in that time  in history. It was far from being a gripping story but I stuck with it.
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Thoroughly entertaining portrait of New York in the Gilded Age with Caroline Astor as our guide. Facts, anecdotes, tall stories, scandals – it’s all here, and the book provides a useful reference tome for anyone wishing to know more about daily life in this most glamorous if often shallow and wasteful era.
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An Everything but the Kitchen Sink-style primer on the basic history of the Gilded Age.

The information presented is accurate and well organized, though none of it will be anything new if you're reasonably well educated about the era. 

Unfortunately the book takes far too broad a stroke for enthusiasts of Gilded Age history, who will find most of the information to be unoriginal. 

The ARC I received also had a lot of major formatting issues. All photo plates were either missing or weirdly fragmented in such a way that renders them unusable. Huge swaths of the book were completely unreadable due to paragraph symbols being inserted every 2-3 words. And every instance of the letter combinations "fr" and "ft" in a word were omitted. So "often" was always printed as "oen" and "rooftop" became "rooop." 

One expects some typographical errors and minor formatting issues in an ARC, but this kind of printing negligence is inexcusable. It's near impossible to decipher and it's lazy and disrespectful to your advance readers to ask them to attempt to parse it. 

For the record I expect all of the formatting problems to of course be corrected in the published copy, but this breed of sloppiness from the publisher still colors my opinion on whether to recommend the book. I don't take minor or frequent errors of this nature into account when I rate a book, but this was far too egregious to ignore, and the content and quality of the book is far too average for it to overcome these transgressions.
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Wow! Was it The Gilded Age or more like The Age of Sorrows? Ladies, wouldn't you hate living this way? To be ruled by a self proclaimed dictator of,well, everything had to be a nightmare. The book is fascinating and informative as well as thorough. I learned so much from reading this. It's like a guide book for every rule of that time period. My overriding feeling, however, is anger. I just keep thinking what in holy hell gave this woman the right to be judge, juror and executioner? These poor lost souls had all the money in the world, but they couldn't buy what they actually needed, spines and brains. Like sheep they were! So, if you want to learn every ridiculous rule of The Gilded Age, read this book. It's excellent and might make you angry, too. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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I am a huge fan of New York in the Gilded Age so I was really excited when I saw this book, but I did wonder if it was going to tell me anything I didn't already know. I am not averse to having books that share information, but I didn't want to rehash everything.

The book absolutely did no disappoint. While there is a lot of information here that can be found in other places, a lot of it was new to me. More important, however, was the variety of information included. I won't call this the definitive book of it's kind, but it is certainly thorough.

The author uses Mrs. Astor as an axis for telling the story of society during the Gilded Age, but doesn't limit the information to the years when Mrs. Astor was at the peak of her reign nor to high society.  The book covers every aspect of life from servants and household management to entertainment and political concerns.

I received ab electronic copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. But I loved it so much that I ordered it in hard copy.
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Reading this book made me SO glad that l am not, or ever WILL be, a member of the Upper 400.  Trying to keep up with not just the Joneses, but the Astors, the Vanderbilts, and so on, would be so tiresome!  This book was a real eye-opener into how the extremely rich lived in the Gilded Age, and the opulence described herein was mind-boggling.  Not only that, but there seriously WERE rules and regulations for how to spend every minute of the day, how to dress, eat, travel, marry....the list of to do's and not to do's was endless for these people.  Being so rich had to be extremely hard work, and this was detailed extensively in this book.  It gives an insight into how these people thought, why they acted as they did, and how they influenced the world around them.  The Gilded Age is over with, but extremely rich people are still around today.  I wonder if their lives are as circumscribed as their earlier counterparts' lives were?  This was a very interesting read,  and the title was a real hoot as well!   Don't miss reading this one!
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I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

What Would Mrs. Astor Do? The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age by Cecelia Tichi is an interesting look at the social history of New York City high society during the Gilded Age. The title led me to think it would be more nitty-gritty details of daily life using Caroline Astor, the queen of New York society, as a focal point, but it was a more generalized picture of life and times of the age. The personality of Caroline Astor is used as introduction and conclusion but it’s not really a book that informs the reader about Mrs. Astor in particular.

The text covers things like clothing, food, leisure activities, and the adoption of new inventions such as electric lights and the telephone. It is a fairly short book and easy to read, but by no means encyclopedic. It reinforced names and impressions of the Gilded Age that I’ve been collecting from other sources. However, even though details jumped out from the pages from time to time (like wow, these guys drank a lot), not much stuck with me after the read was done. It may be the type of book that should be read twice to make an impact.
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What Would Mrs Astor Do? by Cecelia Tichi is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late October.

Manners used between the 1870s-1910s for household amenities, social activities, accessorizing, eating, and transportation in tandem with then-modern scandals, popular personalities, industrial advancements, and pop culture occurrences. With this in mind, Tichi switches topics very quickly, like interior and architectural design (usually mimicking European estates), taking cues from other opulent households and etiquette guidebooks, some families refusing to use phones due to them ‘not being human,’ wearing the correct hat or clothing for an occasion, vocal and written eloquence, raising children, as well as eating dinner and drinks inside and outside of one’s home. The scandals and money management info at the end feel kind of like an afterthought with the overall structure of the book otherwise following etiquette.
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The Gilded Age was a time of massive changes in the U.S.  The population was exploding and many foreigners came to the U.S. for a chance to work hard and have a better life.  Technology was growing and many people became very wealthy.  With that wealth, they wanted to join the ranks of the old families known as the Knickerbockers.  But their wealth did not aways open doors for them.  Thus, they worked hard to obtain the manners and polish of their “uppers.”  One woman, Caroline Astor, was the unofficial but widely recognized authority of manners.  As such, her edicts were closely followed and adhered to by those wanting to join the ranks of the elite.  The homes of the ultra rich people were filled with European furnishings, antiques, and other items they were able to purchase.  Some Europeans visiting these homes were appalled at the excessive opulence.

During this time, there were many inventions that changed people’s lives greatly.  The invention of the lightbulb by Thomas Edison was widely welcomed.  Of course, they were those few who still preferred soft light for dining.  The elevator was invented by Otis and while it was also welcome, people couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous when riding for fear it would fall.  The inventor of the telephone is A. G. Bell.  People were a bit slow to get a telephone, but that quickly changed with the convenience of it.  But even with their accomplishments with their inventions, these  inventors were not allowed into Society.

Certain stores catered to some who “charged” their purchases to their accounts and the bills were later sent to their husbands, father, etc.  But men were slow to adapt to ready to wear.  Certain items were purchased at the well-known best shops for them.

Proper etiquette involved writing and responding to invitations and having the proper calling card.  

Wall street is discussed briefly as are some of the leading newspapers and how they influenced what people though, even politically, which is still true today.

We see how the elite lived, dined, dressed, played, and spent their time.  If you are a fan of the Gilded Age as I am, you will learn so much about the incredible changes in our country during that time.  The opulence of the lives of the privileged few is just the icing on the cake. Enjoy!

Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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This book is kind of an etiquette guide with some history of the places they gathered and the activities in which these oligarchs participated. While decently sourced, to an experienced reader, there's little that's new. It's a little dull.
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Thank you to NetGalley for providing an advanced copy of this book for me to provide an honest and fair review! 

For anyone interested in the late Victoria/Edwardian era on this side of the Atlantic, What Would Mrs. Astor Do is a fantastic look at social norms and expectations for the upper classes. It is a great balance between smaller tidbits and bigger stories, and is perfect for the reader that only has a few minutes to read at a time. I do have a solid background in etiquette and social expectations of the period, but I did still learn more. It is a pop history of the time, so I would say that anyone could pick this up and read it without issue (aside from the number of Astors being rather confusing). 

I do wish that there had been slightly more information on the middle and lower classes. Yes, it does focus on Mrs. Astor and her like, but it wold have been quite interesting to read more on their servants and the people that they interacted with (for example at the new department stores that they shopped in).
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This was quite an enjoyable read! “What Would Mrs. Astor Do?” covers an eclectic group of topics on the etiquette and norms of the wealthiest New Yorkers during Gilded Age. It gives the reader an inside view of how one achieved social status during this period and what the consequences of such status could be.  The book makes it clear that acceptance into the elite group of monied New Yorkers  (Mrs. Astor’s list of 400) required much more than simply money and wealth. While certainly, money was a prerequisite for the list, that was only one of the requirements! Even if one had money, it had to be the right type of money. That, of course, would be “old money”.  And once again, that alone would not be enough if one did not then subscribe to the absolute rules, etiquette, and acceptable norms of behavior. Mrs. Astor was considered the ultimate authority and arbitrator on the rules, so when in doubt simply think, “What Would Mrs. Astor Do?” And mind you, we are not talking simply table manners here! The rules cover almost every aspect of life from the proper way for a gentleman to walk down the street, to how to approach your box seat at the opera, to the final test of good taste, one’s funeral! “What Would Mrs. Astor Do” is an entertaining as well as an insightful book. I could not read the book without thinking where we have come from and where we are. And while the world has so changed and Mrs. Astor is clearly gone, I am not sure her rules or at least the spirit of those rule are! I was honored to receive a copy of this book from NetGalley and the Publisher New York University Press in exchange for an honest review.
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The Gilded Age has fascinated me for years. It’s a contradictory mix of outer beauty and inner ugliness. The homes that survive (for many have not) are examples of opulence. The “cottages” that were built as summer homes in Rhode Island and Georgia are more like miniature palaces. But the women could be petty, spiteful, and downright nasty. One need only hear the story of the rivalry between THE Mrs. Astor and Alva Vanderbilt for proof of that. Today, we tend to look at the era in disgust, even as we complain the divide between rich and poor has never been greater. The men who gave us steel, electricity, and trains are described in negative terms by people who now take these innovations for granted. They are the “robber barons” who took advantage of the poor, despite their philanthropic efforts. Where would many of us be without a Carnegie library? 

But these men, who often came up from nothing (see Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace in Scotland), would not have been favorites of Caroline “Lina” Astor. Although, just like the Astors, they had their New York mansions and Rhode Island cottages they were considered the nouveau riche. They didn’t have the impeccable manners and lineage on which Mrs. Astor insisted. She was definitely one of the biggest snobs that ever existed, and yet she was the one the women emulated if they wanted even the slightest chance of getting on the exclusive social calendar.

What Would Mrs. Astor Do? is not wholly about this magnificent lady. It’s about the customs and unwritten rules of polite society, while describing some of the indulgences and excesses of which members of that said society partook. We read of the fancy yachts and the appearances at social events. Homes were built, extended, and redecorated on a whim when a matron determined that her rival’s home was better than hers. Whoever thought only men were cutthroat never met a Gilded Age housewife. And yet, despite the fact that these women were legally the property of their husbands and that they often had to turn a blind eye to their spouse’s infidelities, the wives of the Gilded Age ruled everything that was not connected to business. They’d plan the balls and the nights at the opera, and spent their husband’s riches freely. They used credit long before we carried little rectangles of plastic in our wallets. 

While some of the desired rules now seem pedantic and tedious (a woman had to change clothes several times a day depending on her activities, for example), I often found myself wishing that some forms of Gilded Age etiquette were still observed. Oh to receive a prompt reply to an event invitation. And it would be quite nice for a gentleman to take the section of the sidewalk closest to the road. With the exception of the horrendous tale of Evelyn Nesbit, most society women were treated with the utmost respect and propriety. A husband and wife might not love each other – that often wasn’t the reason for marriage – but, by and large, they knew where they stood with each other. Apparently, Mrs. Astor never had a bad word to say about her husband and he never brought embarrassment to her by flaunting his mistress. 

Cecelia Tichi utilizes plenty of sources for her work. We have excerpts from that known doyenne of manners, Emily Post. Newspapers of the time described the extravagances of the midnight balls. The novelist, Edith Wharton, was related through her father to Mrs. Astor, and Tichi quotes her works – particularly The House of Mirth – since she wrote from experience. Other social commentators and diarists are also quoted such as May King Rensselaer, Elizabeth Lehr, and Daisy Hurst Harriman. Finally, there is an extensive bibliography and also a list of photography credits.

The last section is on death and, in particular, the death of Lina Astor. Even then, certain etiquette had to be observed. Who knew, for example, that you couldn’t even attend a funeral unless you were invited? I’m willing to bet that ol’ Mrs. Astor even had her social list ready for the eventuality and members of the nouveau riche were definitely persona non grata to that event.

Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a review, and the words above are my own.
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This book takes a different sided view on Mrs Astor wife of William Astor. Mrs Astor was known by many as the ultimate woman of social circles and grace.  A well researched and thoroughly compelling look inside the lives of women of the gilded age.
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This book talked about upper class society in New York during the 1870 to 1900 period. The author provided brief biographies of the people who set the trends (like Mrs. Astor), quoted people who lived during that period talking about what it was like, quoted etiquette manuals as to proper behavior (for dining, funerals, etc.), and quoted magazine or newspaper articles talking about what the fashionable set wore or did. She also talked about how people reacted to new inventions, like electricity and telephones, or new trends, like eating lobsters or department stores.

Some of the topics covered were: fashionable house furnishing, lady's department stores, where men got their clothing, gentlemen's clubs, lady's clubs, dining out, hat styles, walking canes, cars, horseback riding, sports, bicycles, fashionable color combinations for clothing, what to wear for many different occasions, street etiquette, letter writing, calling cards, what the fashionable ate and drank, theaters, restaurants, Central Park, Newport, the Bowery, sailing, train travel, ocean liners, Wall Street, schools, views on divorce, and funerals.
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A really wonderful and charming read. A fascinating period to read about. Whilst you can't help but look at the elite and feel some disgust at their behaviour, you can't help but be completely sucked into their world.
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Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, wife of William Backhouse Astor, was the self appointed queen of the gilded age in America (approximately from 1870s to 1910).  All of the new moneyed social climbers asked themselves "What would Mrs. Astor do?" to navigate the waters of "proper" behavior.  Caroline, in order to maintain her status, freely gave her opinions on what to do and how to be.  Shrinking violet, she was not. 

The author, Cecelia Tichi, immerses the reader into the world of these newly rich New Yorkers and casts an amusing eye on the manners and peculiarities of their social realm.  I have been hooked on the Titanic and Lusitania (yes, they sank in 1912 and 1916 but remnants of the Gilded Age remained) so this book has added more color to the world of the 19th century New York upper crust.  It is amazing to read all of the ways people could succeed or really fall out of favor over 120 years ago.  It is more amazing that some of the dos and don'ts survive to this day among the well shod classes.

Some of my friends who read this book were dismayed by the display of pettiness and shallow behaviour.  I found this book to be delightful and an example of "making your own lot in life" which was and is the American way.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for providing the ARC of this book in return for my honest review. 

#WhatWouldMrs.astorDo? #NetGalley
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Wow. What waste, what arrogance. Such bores! It's so pathetic that the world's wealthy never can think of better things to do with their money but promote their own silly interests and expect everyone else to aspire to be them! Money just wrecks the world. Read this for a good laugh. The absurdity and wastefulness is appalling. The ignorance and callousness sickens. Yeah, the Four Hundred were a sorry lot. it's a well researched book and contains lots in insight into the upper upper crust.
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