The subtitle of this book is: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery and there is another blurb on the front that says An Inspiration for the Popular Television Series Downton Abbey. Truth: this last bit is why I read the book :)
I love Downton Abbey. I don't care that it's all drama and soap opera happenings. I love the historical period, I love the things I'm learning and the way the show makes me think. As a regular follower of the show, I will say that this book gave me so much insight!! Actual things that I wondered about during different episodes were made clear. BUT, if you do NOT watch Downton, I need to tell you that it doesn't matter - since this was written beforehand and has nothing to actually do with the show itself :)
This book is a social history - a look at a very newly wealthy class of Americans at the end of the 19th century who, unable to find a spot for themselves among the old money in New York, chose to look for social status in England. American Heiresses found titled husbands and those husbands found a crazy pot of money to help with the upkeep of their estates in an age when a title did NOT equal wealth. Soon it wasn't just new money looking abroad either, a love of all things British created a wave of blended American/English families. Winston Churchill himself is the result of one of these unions!
I loved learning about the social codes of the time as well as how challenging it was for these women to make a place for themselves in English society. Really, it is a history of the rich at the time - the authors make no qualms about focusing on that small and specific group of people. We learn a little bit about "downstairs," but only in how they interacted with the upstairs, not their own way of life, per se, which is obviously very different. We become acquainted with the finest dress makers, how one goes about hosting the King at one's home, how to throw a lavish wedding at the turn of the century and how to go about having an affair in a socially acceptable way.
My only qualm is that the layout and formatting sometimes made it hard to enjoy the overall text. There were so many page or two-page small sections on specific topics that stopping to read those (because I was interested in it all!) made me loose the flow of the main narrative. It didn't spoil the book for me, but I did notice it. There are a LOT of names to keep track of but there is a brilliant index in the back to help keep people straight. There is also a ton of photographs, which really helped me to image the lavishness of the time period.
I now have to pass this little treasure along to my fellow Downton lovers :)
note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to http://ratedreads.com