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American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop Hardcover – November 8, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for American Lady by Caroline de Margerie

“Marvelous…Reveals the influence and insight of the American hostess, who lived so elegantly in the public eye, and so passionately when no one was watching.”—The New York Times

“Caroline de Margerie avoids hagiography, instead depicting a fabulously interesting, complicated and influential woman.”—The Chicago Tribune

“The first-ever biography of the Georgetown doyenne, charts her life from Paris—where she charmed Winston Churchill and was a favorite of Christian Dior—to Washington D.C., where she threw some of the best parties of the Camelot era.”—The Wall Street Journal

“[De Margerie] goes behind the façade to reveal a passionate personality torn between her sense of duty and her personal desires…De Margie had access to some 500 previously unseen letters.”—Women’s Wear Daily

“Compact, entertaining…de Margerie colorfully unpacks the details of Alsop’s life.”—The Washingtonian

“Feminine insights into the life of this fascinating woman.”—Printers Row Journal

“The story of a determined, pedigreed woman…A saloniste extraordinaire.”—The Washington Times

“This is not just an exquisitely perceptive portrait of a remarkable woman, it is a beautifully painted conversation piece including many of the great figures from a privileged age of elegance and intelligence.”—Antony Beevor, bestselling author of The Second World War

"Susan Mary Alsop was a cool, beautiful admixture of public discretion and private daring. On two continents and over four decades she invited the world's most powerful people to her homes, facilitating, networking, connecting. Caroline de Margerie's American Lady, is as sharp and stylish as its fascinating subject.”—Stacy A. Cordery, author of Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker

"The history of post war Europe and America told through the prism of power and privilege.   A most enjoyable book about a most elegant lady."—Jane Stanton Hitchcock, author of Mortal Friends

“Like Jackie Kennedy, Susan Mary Alsop was the kind of American aristocrat who survived with her wits and good manners. From her days as a diplomatic wife in Paris after WWII through her unconventional marriage to legendary political columnist Joe Alsop in 1960s Washington, Susan Mary hostessed her way to a place in history and created a political salon that boasted Kennedys, Kissingers and an impressive social roster in Georgetown. Author Caroline de Margerie deftly chronicles the life of a woman who gave little away emotionally but whose range of experience speaks for itself. Susan Mary Alsop was the model of a well-bred survivor who capitalized on life’s social opportunities.”—Cherie Burns, author of Searching for Beauty: The Life of Millicent Rogers

“Once upon a time the coolest people in the world were Americans. From the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald through that of Mad Men, they set the scene for the age of Camelot and not a few of its most consequential confrontations. No one better exemplified this rarefied and influential species than Susan Mary Alsop, whose eventful, thoughtful, complex and passionate life Caroline de Margerie brilliantly chronicles in this exquisitely researched, impossible to put down biography.”—Thomas Caplan, author of The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen

“An engrossing, perceptive, and nuanced portrait of a celebrated socialite who once knew everyone worth knowing.”—Publishers Weekly

“Written with a verve and clarity that her subject would both admire and regret, An American Lady captures the  charms, contradictions and convictions that put Susan Mary Alsop at the crossroads of society, politics, and glamorous love affairs in Paris, Washington, and her other ports of call. Many of the great men---and women---of her time gravitated to Susan Mary's movable salon to take in each other, and their ever resourceful hostess. It's all here.”—Jim Hoagland, Contributing Editor, The Washington Post

“Thin, fashionable, well informed, yet a little wicked, Susan Mary had what it took to be talked about, and the Alsops’ gatherings were the talk of Georgetown’s “glory years.” Paris-based author de Margerie paints in bold, bright outlines the compelling story of this Jamesian heroine. Entertaining story of a dynamic literary woman who sparked a fascinating life from the changing currents of the age.”—Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Caroline de Margerie, a former diplomat, is a member of the Conseil d’Etat, the supreme administrative court in France. She lives in Paris.

Christopher Murray is an American translator and musicologist based in Paris.

Frances FitzGerald is the author of several nonfiction works, including the Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning Fire in the Lake. She lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (November 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670025747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670025749
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Susan Mary Alsop (1918-2004) was a society beauty who morphed into a great saloniste and hostess, but the best reason I found to read this 193-page biography is that it chronicles a low-battery marriage, a torrid romance with a married womanizer and, after the deaths of her husband and lover, a second marriage to a gay man she never slept with.

In short, "American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop" is a tale of life in the Upper Class before women threw off the shackles.

She knew everyone. She had tea with Edith Wharton. Her frequent dinner partner was Winston Churchill ("He has decided I am . . . French . . . and nothing will deter him from speaking French to me."). The gratin of Paris, Noel Coward, the Duke of Windsor. In Washington, John Kennedy came to her house after the Inaugural parties for a midnight bowl of turtle soup. Lyndon Johnson "pinched her behind and exclaimed, `Why does such a thin girl wear a garter belt?'"

She was, in a word, the best --- and last --- of her breed. And she knew it. "All these stories will be in the history books," she wrote, "but it does send a chill down one's spine to hear them told by the actors in the drama."

So come for a peek behind the curtain of International Society. But stay for the sex. And then the cost of sex in Susan Mary's world: no shame, but great secrecy. And hypocrisy. And the kind of deprivation caused by the absence of flesh on flash. And, finally, the reckoning.

This is surely not the book that Caroline de Margerie, a family friend, believes she has written. As she tells it, this is the story of a prominent young woman --- a descendant of founding father John Jay --- who was born in a time of low vocational and high social expectations for upper crust women.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By G.I Gurdjieff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book chronicles the life and times of Susan Mary Alsop. A society beauty with elegance and grace, she was well born to American nobility as she was directly descended from founding father John Jay. From an early age Susan Mary would experience life with a world view. Her father was stationed in foreign locales while serving in the diplomatic service. When stationed in South America her oldest and only sister who was seven years her senior died after appendicitis surgery. Thus began a confusing period of her young life as her parents sunk into a prolonged period of grief where they ignored their now only living child. Like most children of wealth, Susan Mary was raised in a world of nannies, private schools, holidays in Bar Harbor, and the general flurry of parties and social engagements. There would be no college. Presumably, in her social stratus, young women were raised to be social creatures and marry well.
A chance meeting through a friend brought William Patten into her life. Harvard educated, Patten was asthmatic and sickly and a decade older than Susan Mary. While socially placed, Patten ideally should have been looking for an heiress to fund a grand lifestyle because he was not robust enough to make his own fortune. Knowing this, Susan Mary decided to throw caution to the wind. If Bill Patten wanted her, she'd have him. There was no great passion in their relationship but theirs was a strong friendship and a love of sorts.
Patten went on to be a diplomat stationed in Paris. Susan Mary went on to learn French, socialize with important political and society figures, and become a hostess known for her unerring style and grace. The Patten marriage had endured for several years and was childless despite a miscarriage.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Author/Reviewer Geri Ahearn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I was always interested in reading about the life of Susan Mary Alsop, and this incredible book delivers a Brilliant and fascinating portrait of an American aristocrat, who I always compared to Jackie Kennedy, and both women marked their place in history. Caroline de Margerie and Frances Fitzgerald chronicle an elegant and compelling story that is not only exquisite and powerfully moving, but reads like an historical epic. The authors present an entertaining, informative history of postwar Europe and America as they portray a dynamic woman, who sparked an amazing life through power and politics. "American Lady" is not only about the life of Susan Mary Alsop, but also about the era in which it all began, society, socialism and love affairs. In addition, the reader is taken behind the scenes as we witness how this aristocrat became the second lady of Camelot, why her home was the 'gathering place' for JFK and others, and what politics meant in her living room as well as The White House. We learn about the important events that took place in 1918-2004, the significance of this woman bringing together those who helped to shape the U.S., and the benefits achieved as she hosted dinners for FDR and others. Her notable reputation became widespread as she reigned over Georgetown four decades, married Bill Pattern,her life with Joe Alsop, and her political and social influence in an age of elegance. Susan Mary Alsop survived in the same manner that Jackie Kennedy did, with wisdom, wits, and intelligence. The authors created a historical Masterpiece that inspires throughout with extensive research. This engrossing and engaging book captures your attention in the beginning. Enjoyable, educational, and Highly Recommended!
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