Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Last Mrs. Astor

I've just finished reading Frances Kiernan's new book The Last Mrs. Astor, a combination memoir and biography of the late Brooke Astor.
Kiernan originally thought she might be working with Mrs. Astor on an autobiography but that never came to be. Instead, Kiernan wrote this generally positive look at the life of Brooke Astor, the New York philanthropist, author and socialite. The book is subtitled "a New York story" and that it certainly is. We journey through the world of New York high society but we also travel along with Mrs. Astor as she visits the city's poorest neighborhoods and neediest institutions to check on the work of the Vincent Astor Foundation. With the funding of the Foundation and through contributions of her own Brooke Astor helped to save some of New York's grandest treasures including the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But she also provided seed money and other funding for small neighborhood initiatives that improved the quality of life throughout the city.
Brooke Astor had this advice for how to live your life: "Be nice to everybody. Don't hold grudges. Stay away from people you don't get on with. If they cross your path, greet them civilly, but move on."
Sounds simple, doesn't it?
But just remember what songwriter Stephen Sondheim wrote: "What's hard is simple. What's natural comes hard."

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