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An Exuberant Catalogue of Dreams: The Americans who Revived the Country House in Britain [Hardcover]

Clive Aslet
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
RRP: 35.00
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Book Description

17 Oct 2013

To a modern visitor nothing will seem more British than a classic country house like Cliveden or Leeds Castle. But the truth is actually very different. That such fabulous places exist in their present form – or in the case of, say, Blenheim, survive in the ownership of the family – is as much as anything down to American money and taste. Now, for the first time, Clive Aslet’s magnificent book reveals the extent of this remarkable phenomenon.

Covering eighteen Americans and their houses – from the captivating May Goelet and Floors Castle in Scotland to the big game hunter Willie James and West Dean Park on the south coast – he illustrates the varied destinies by which stupendously wealthy Americans ended up owning great stately piles, and the variety of transformations they wrought upon them.

Some of the marriages between aristocrats and heiresses were happy, others distinctly less so. Dowries went on new roofs to keep the rain out and electric lighting and central heating to modernise dwellings that could be as wintry as the hearts of their ancestral owners. For self-made magnates like William Randolph Hearst or Gordon Selfridge a country house was a rich man’s folly – Hearst filled St Donat’s castle in Wales with untold fittings and trophies but hardly ever visited it, Selfridge’s pharaonic vision for Hengistbury Head never escaped the drawing board. For others, like Andrew Carnegie at Skibo or Sir Paul Getty at Wormsley, it was the chance to out-do the natives by creating idylls of baronial splendour or arcadian cricket fields.

But the American influence, as Clive Aslet shows, was lasting, and profound beyond architecture and design. What became known as the ‘country house look’ was codified by an American – Nancy Lancaster. The greatest of early twentieth-century gardens, Hidcote, was created by an American, Lawrence Johnston. It was an American romance – with Wallis Simpson at Fort Belvedere – that caused Edward VIII to abdicate. Illustrated throughout with magnificent photographs, An Exuberant Catalogue of Dreams is a fascinating chronicle of how it happened that, as Gladstone’s Chancellor of the Exchequer remarked in 1898, ‘We are all Americans now’.

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An Exuberant Catalogue of Dreams: The Americans who Revived the Country House in Britain + The English Country House + An English Room
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd (17 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781310947
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781310946
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 23.5 x 29.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 105,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘From cover to cover, we are met with a magnificent array of images, both period and contemporary, that prove just how greatly we, as a nation, are indebted to those men and women who embraced our landscapes and our culture so generously. Combine this with a narrative distinguished as much by its effortless style as by its intelligent insights, and we have a truly exceptional work, every bit as entertaining as it is informative.’

(Country Life)

‘Magnificent book with stunning photographs and glorious anecdotage.’


About the Author

CLIVE ASLET is a former editor of Country Life and an eminent architectural historian and author whose previous books include (for Aurum) The Arts & Crafts House, (for Frances Lincoln) The Edwardian Country House and, most recently, War Memorial: The Story of One Village's Sacrifice from 1914 to 2003. He lives in London and Ramsgate.

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Customer Reviews

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4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Americans and the British Country House 21 Nov 2013
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Aurum Press has published many books on country houses and gardens based on a certain perspective, such as region, period, architect or having been demolished. This time the selection has been based on country houses which were revived by Americans with their money and taste. As stated in the introduction: "If an Englishman's home is his castle, it might be because he married an American". Clive Aslet has selected 18 Americans and their influence on 24 country houses. Famous examples are the Astors at Clivenden and Hever Castle, Consuelo Vanderbilt at Blenheim Palace and Crowhurst Place, Lawrence Johnston at Hidcote Manor, Nancy Lancaster at Kelmarsh Hall, Ditchley Park and Haseley Court, J Paul Getty at Sutton Place. Each chapter describes a person or family and their background and achievements in this field. There are so many persons and names involved, that sometimes you wish to have a family tree available. Most of the accompanying pictures are in black and white, with a few colour photographs. Unfortunately a few, mainly family pictures, are of poor quality. Recommended for those interested in this subject, it is crammed with information and certainly not a coffee table book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Visual splendour literary disappointment 10 Mar 2014
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Wonderfully illustrated, so poorly written. Some of the English is so poor that I found myself checking again and again to see if these were essays compiled by Clive Aslet, were some of them by a different hand? Perhaps we are not expected to read the text, what a pity as the stories are so interesting. Many of the people portrayed changed the social structures , the interior decorating styles and even the landscape saving some of Britains' heritage for future generations. The use of their extraordinary financial resources makes for fascinating reading.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming coffee table book 13 Dec 2013
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A pleasant book containing many houses I have seen. Would have liked more info on life in these houses with their American chateleines
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what new found wealth can buy 3 Jan 2014
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how rich people can buy into the wealth of the country
recommend to people who are interested in the landed gentry
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great images, mediocre text 29 Dec 2013
By Callas - Published on Amazon.com
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Great black and white and color images of some important interiors and gardens. Sadly, the text feels quickly assembled and poorly researched. This book could have been so much stronger with a more exacting attention to the text.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully illustrated book 30 Jan 2014
By anthony - Published on Amazon.com
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I was pleasantly surprised when I received this book, as it has very readable essays that are wonderfully illustrated. It seemed that some of the Americans featured in the book were the same ones that are written about in other books, but there were a few that I was unaware of, and enjyed learning more about them. It's a good book, good weekend afternoon reading with interesting photographs.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative! 9 Jan 2014
By Lynn M. Irvine - Published on Amazon.com
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I really loved the history of the people that influenced these great houses. It gives one a better appreciation of the architecture. I enjoy English architectural history, and this book gives a new "spin" on the history of these homes.
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