17 Indulgent Gilded Age Books for Fans of the HBO Show
When I heard that Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, was creating a show about the Gilded Age, I squealed with delight. Gilded Age books have long been a favorite Historical Fiction sub-genre of mine.
The fantastical dresses, the unbelievable architecture, The Vanderbilts, The Astors, the 400, societies rules, the nouveau riche… there are so many parts of this time period worth exploring.
The gilded age books below included both fiction and non-fiction books. There are romances, murder mysteries, and stories about the staffs of the big houses for you to enjoy. Let us know if we missed any of your favorites!
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When was the Gilded Age?
The Gilded Age took place between the 1870s and 1900s and was a time of great prosperity in American History. It was a time when fortunes were made and social classes were in flux with the “Old Money” set against the “New Money.”
We’ve seen many Gilded Age book lists with stories from the 1920s on them, but that is a separate time period.
Gilded Age Books Set in New York City
Our Kind of People by Carol Wallace
This is a family drama set in gilded age NYC. The family loses and then regains their fortune in transit speculation when their girls are becoming debutantes.
There are love stories but it’s really about how society was changing at the time with the old money vs. the newly rich. The author wrote a non-fiction book that was used for reference with Downton so she knows her stuff. I loved it! This Gilded Age book made me remember how much I love to read historical fiction books set in this era.
The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino
Easily one of the most unique historical fiction Gilded Age books I’ve read in a while. The Parting Glass takes us from the mansions of park avenue to the streets of Irish New York during the Gilded Age.
As the story unfolds Maire, a lady’s maid, hides her love for her employer, the debutant Charlotte, as Charlotte has an illicit affair with Maire’s brother who serves as the stableboy.
Class, religion, sexual orientation, and more were all explored. And can I just say thank goodness I didn’t have to wear one of those crazy gowns?
The Engineer’s Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood
I had no idea that a woman was so instrumental in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Emily Warren Roebling is the focus of this historical fiction novel.
I loved learning about New York at the time of the bridge building and just how hard Emily had to fight for her right to be part of the building. It’s also humbling to understand the dangers of building back in the 1860s and 70s.
Men risked their lives for the betterment of society. On the lighter side, all the scenes with P.T. Barnum made me smile. I used to work for the circus after all!
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murphy
This fictionalized version of Belle de Costa Greene was wonderful, I’m so glad it was a GMA pick and a Gilded Age book to boot!
Greene was J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian and later the librarian for his heir. She was also a black woman passing as white. She had to keep her roots hidden in order to hold her job, but I’m glad her real truth is being told now.
For more books set in libraries, check out this list.
The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis
I’ve been big on Gilded Age books recently, so I knew I would love reading about the Frick family and their gorgeous mansion built in that time frame. The bonus was that this dual-timeline story also featured a missing pink diamond!
The story of Helen Frick and her assistant at a formative time in Helen’s life that coincides with Magnolia Diamond’s disappearance is riveting. As is the later timeline, told 50 years later, when a model and a Frick Museum intern are locked in the mansion overnight and on the hunt for the missing diamond.
I couldn’t put this jewelry novel down. It might be my first Fiona Davis, but it won’t be my last!
Gilded Age Books with Heiresses in England
The Heiress Gets a Duke by Harper St. George
Like most of the rest of the world, I binged Netflix’s Bridgertons on Christmas Day. The regency romantic drama ended and I needed more! I immediately turned to this Gilded Age book to fill my need for a historical fiction romance. It’s about a Duke who needs to marry an American heiress to get her dowry to help restore his estates to their former glory.
American Duchess by Karen Harper
This particular novel spans the same time period at Downton Abbey. It too features an American Heiress wed in London society to infuse a ducal estate with much-needed funds.
Unlike Lady Cora, the heroine of this story is a real historical figure. Consuelo Vanderbilt’s wedding to the Duke of Marlborough was considered the wedding of the century at the time, but their marriage left something to be desired.
Consuelo is forced to take up the mantle of duty for her estate and title, and in doing so, she finds her inner strength.
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
Goodwin’s debut novel about Cora Cash, an American Heiress on the hunt for a titled husband and a big estate. But once she gets everything she wished for, she needs to decide if it’s what she wants after all.
When I first saw Downton Abbey, I had to look to see if this was the same Cora from the show. I thought for a brief moment that this book must have been a sort of prequel to the show. It’s really a great one for fans of Gilded Age books.
Ultimate List of Historical Fiction
Love Historical Fiction? We do too! That’s why we created the Ultimate List of Historical Fiction carefully divided by time period.
Historical Fiction Gilded Age Books
The Davenports by Krystal Marquis
What a fun read! I was eager to start a new Historical fiction romance series and the cover of this one drew me right to it.
The Davenports is a Gilded Age story about a successful Chicago Black family who made a name for themselves after slavery was abolished. Now the talk of the season, the three Davenport children are all looking for their spouses and trying to buck societal norms in the process!
Be warned! This YA historical romance book ends on a cliffhanger and the book is perfect for our list of beach reads 2023.
The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
Chanel Cleeton is back with a prequel to the Perez family story. This time, she examines their ancestor, Marina during the 1896 war between Spain and the US on Cuban soil. This is one of our favorite Gilded Age books set internationally.
Evangelina Cisneros, dubbed The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by the New York newspapers, and journalist Grace Harrington’s stories are also the focus of this tale.
Cleeton’s vivid imagery and captivating stories make learning about Cuba’s tragic history compelling and help give context to Cuba we know today.
The English Wife by Lauren Willig
I found this story so engaging. Annabelle is rumored to be having an affair. On the night of the ball, her husband is found dead and she goes missing.
Told across 2 timelines, both set only a few years apart, this Gilded Age book had everything I look for in a novel. It had interesting characters and an engrossing mystery. It was a wonderfully done historical fiction novel.
The Lady Tempts an Heir by Harper St. George
This third book in the series of gilded age books has been great for filling my craving since watching the new HBO series.
Max, the heir to the Crenshaw fortune, is being forced to marry or risk his sister’s newest project. He decided to enter into a fake engagement with Lady Helena that turns into a lust-fueled relationship.
I loved the push-and-pull of their hearts and heads. We know where this story is ending, but the journey was oh-so-good.
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Some YA historial fiction books are incredibly appealing to adult readers, and other YA stories fall flat.
Unfortunately, the latest Reese’s Book Club pick falls into
I cared about what happened to Jo but I found myself bored throughout this Gilded Age book.
Non-Fiction Gilded Age Books
The Women of Rothschild by Natalie Livingstone
Natalie Livingstone laid out the rise of the Rothschild family through the lens of the women in the family. Each of the women profiled left an indelible mark on their legacy and success.
Meticulously researched, and spanning two centuries, this non-fiction book had me yearning to watch Downton Abbey or another period drama to immerse myself in the various eras.
Skirts: Fashioning Modern Femininity in the Twentieth Century by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell
I often find myself drawn to non-fiction histories about women’s fashion and careers. I found this history of modern feminism through the changing of hemlines to be quite interesting!
From the ankles being shown post-WWI, Dior’s new look in WWII, the shoulder pads donned by career ladies in the 80s, and more, it was inspiring to see how fashion tells the story of female empowerment.
Maiden Voyages by Sian Evans
Maiden Voyages looks at the ladies who worked Ocean Liners like the Titanic and the unbelievable challenges they faced. I was in awe as I listened to this story of ships being sunk by icebergs and wartime submarines.
The stories of unruly passengers, hurricanes, and the sacrifices of leaving their families to help others were unbelievable. I was so engrossed that I kept forgetting the book was non-fiction.
If you love women’s history, the history of travel, or stories about the Titanic, this is one of the Gilded Age books for you!
The Season: A Social History of the Debutante by Kristen Richardson
I was looking for non-fiction Gilded Age books when I stumbled across the gorgeous cover of this book. I’m a huge fan of the period romance and have read my fair share of coming-out parties, debutante balls, and other aristocratic functions.
I thought this book would help me understand more about the customs of the monied elite. Books like Bridgerton and others on this are filled with references to the rules of society that his book explains.
I learned all I would ever need to know on the topic. I found it to be interesting but at times a bit dry, still it gave me a better understanding of the crazy rules.
Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman
Empty Mansions reads like a novel for sure. Huguette Clark’s life was one of opulence and riches, but she died a recluse with a $300 million dollar estate and a vast number of decrepit homes in her portfolio.
The book outlines her life, her struggles, and the people who took advantage of her good nature. I couldn’t put it down! The splendor of her life reads like a soap opera and the photos of her homes included in the book are jawdropping.
Ultimate List of Non-Fiction Books
If you love non-fiction books, this is the list we created especially for you.