Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gilded: How Newport Became America's Richest Resort by Deborah Davis

This book was provided free of charge under the Amazon Vine program which provides free books in return for a review posted on

As someone who has read and re-read the novels of Edith Wharton and has done some research on the Gilded Age in the East as it contrasted to what was going on in many of the western states and territories at the time, I jumped at the chance to read and review Deborah Davis's Gilded. I wasn't disappointed. 

Davis takes us from Newport's colonial beginnings through the Gilded Age, the creation of the Newport Jazz Festival, and up to the present, ending with the death of society doyenne Eileen Slocum in 2008. I'm usually not much on "light" histories, but how else would you present the history of a resort where pedigree and income counted more than accomplishments. Even so, Davis deserves credit for a lengthy bibliography that reflects prodigious research when she could have easily gotten by with a gossipy tell-all instead.

Personally, my interest began to wane after the Kennedys, but that had nothing to do with the author's presentation that, I felt, struck just the right tone between awe-struck and deprecating. It is simply that the late 60s and early 70s is the time I grew into social awareness, and while I remember many names from that period, none, save for Patty Hearst, had much of a connection to the monied classes. Minnie Cushing and her "oh-so-sixties" beach wedding may have been a trendsetter in her own circle, but comes off more like a follower for those of us who lived through the era. And by the time Davis got to the IYRS 2008 fundraiser that raised over $600,000 for an association that restored classic yachts in a year when food pantries and other nonprofits that served the poor went begging, I felt I had eaten one too many courses of a sumptuously rich dinner.

Still this is an eminently readable history with short chapters and fascinating vignettes. I also appreciated the author's reminders, now and again, of who was related to which socialite who had thrown what lavish party back in the early chapters, as so many names were bandied about I would otherwise have lost track . 

All in all I highly recommend this book both for those interested in history, like me, or for those simply interested in a peek behind the iron gates at the lives of the rich and famous.