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Lori Skinner

Enjoy trip through Gilded Age with these period titles

“The Gilded Age” on HBO Max has enthralled viewers with its bygone era of lavish indulgence, lush glamour and financial ambition. Coinciding with the Victorian era in the United Kingdom, the phrase “Gilded Age” became a term for the time of rapid wage growth combined with abject poverty as millions of immigrants arrived in the United States.

With larger than life robber barons and gorgeous society darlings, this time period is fertile ground for novelists and historians alike.

For young children, check out “Tin Lizzie” by Peter Spier. This cheerful book follows the life of a 1909 Model T Touring car. Through charming illustrations, the reader will get a sense of how life once was and how drastically it has changed.

Many young readers will also recognize Gilded and Victorian elements in “steampunk” novels.  Characteristically adventurous and imaginative, these books often contain fantastical machinery and inventions. Caldecott Medal award winner “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, follows our hero as he lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station. Surviving the care of his uncle, Hugo’s life takes an interesting turn when he encounters a girl and the owner of a toy station in the train station. Told with words and pictures, this is an intriguing blend of novel and graphic novel.

Young adult readers will enjoy Anna Godbersen’s evocative series “Luxe,” focusing on elite society sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland. Manhattan’s social scene is upended after Elizabeth’s apparent accidental death in the East River. Spanning four novels, this series will have readers swept up in the scandals of the wealthy and privileged.

To uncover the real lives of famous figures of the Gilded Age, be sure to check out “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt” by T. J. Stiles. This award-winning nonfiction work is an absorbing biography of a larger-than-life man who created modern capitalism.

If you are interested in the history of the well-known Biltmore estate, be sure to check out “The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home” by Denise Kiernan.

“When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age” by Pulitzer Prize winner Justin Kaplan is an absorbing look at the Astors and their battle for social prominence.

If you want more of these families but an escape from reality, you might enjoy “The Social Graces” by Renee Rosen. This work of fiction features Alva Vanderbilt and Caroline Astor and a dramatic account of their battle for New York society during the Gilded Age.    

Contributor Lori Skinner is the head librarian for Northwest-Shoals Community College. For more information, she can be contacted at 256-331-6288 or lori.skinner@nwscc.edu. NW-SCC Libraries are open to the public and look forward to serving your library needs. 

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