Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, and the Rise of America’s Xanadu

by Les Standiford

The full and colorful history of the American resort town that redefined class, wealth, and celebrity, by Florida’s preeminent historian and bestselling author

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date November 17, 2020
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5738-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date November 05, 2019
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2849-2
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date November 05, 2019
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4645-8
  • US List Price $27.00

About the Book

Looking at the island of Palm Beach today, with its unmatched mansions, tony shops, and pristine beaches, one is hard pressed to visualize the dense tangle of Palmetto brush and mangroves that it was when visionary entrepreneur and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler first arrived there in April 1893. Trusting his remarkable instincts, within less than a year he had built the Royal Poinciana Hotel, and two years later what was to become the legendary Breakers—instantly establishing the island as the preferred destination for those who could afford it. Over the next 125 years, Palm Beach has become synonymous with exclusivity—especially its most famous residence, “Mar-a-Lago.” As Les Standiford relates, “the high walls of Mar-a-Lago and other manses like it were seemingly designed to contain scandal within as much as keep intruders out.”

With the authority and narrative prose style that has gained Standiford’s work widespread acclaim, Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, and the Rise of America’s Xanadu tells the history of this fabled landscape intertwined with the colorful lives of its famous protagonists. Flagler’s own marriages to Ida Alice Shourds and Mary Lily Kenan perhaps initiated the dramas to come. While sewing machine heir Paris Singer and architect Addison Mizner created the “Mediterranean look” of Palm Beach in the 1910s, inspiring the building of such modern day palaces as Eva and Ed Stotesbury’s “El Mirasol,” the centerpiece of Palm Beach became the fever dream of Marjorie Merriweather Post and her equally wealthy husband E. F. Hutton, for whom Ziegfeld Follies designer Joseph Urban built “Mar-a-Lago” in 1927. Marjorie “ruled” social Palm Beach through two other marriages and for years on her own until her death in 1973. The fate of her mansion threatened to tear apart the very fabric of the town until Donald Trump acquired it in 1985.

Les Standiford brings alive a fabled place and the characters—the rich, famous and infamous alike—who have been drawn inexorably to it.


“A once-over-brightly jog through the history of Palm Beach . . . Once the enfeebled Flagler meets his maker by falling down marble steps at his Palm Beach mansion, the book takes off. Its richest portion centers on Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress and magnate who began planning Mar-a-Lago in 1924 while married to financier E.F. Hutton.”—Scott Eyman, Wall Street Journal

“Les Standiford tells the fascinating story of how the mansion-turned-club, and the unusual community that surrounds it, came to be in his latest book . . . [He] does a fine job of telling its story.”—Tampa Bay Times

“In this charming, zippy history of Palm Beach, Les Standiford charts the destination’s fortune from its founding in the 1800s to the modern day. All of the familiar Palm Beach characters, from Henry Flagler to Addison Mizner and Marjorie Merriweather Post, are on hand for a rollicking, informative lesson in real estate, American history, and current events.”—Town & Country

“A book that will appeal to nose-pressed-against-the-glass readers.”—Economist 

“The author of Last Train to Paradise tackles a topic that Palm Beachers know all too well: Mar-a-Lago. Standiford chronicles how the cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband E.F. Hutton built the Gilded Age mansion that is now dubbed ‘The Winter White House.’”—Palm Beach Post

“Delightful . . . Mr. Standiford details every significant residence, club, and hotel; every significant marriage and divorce (first, second, or beyond); and every significant architect and designer. He describes the social calendar, the fads that came and went, the inheritances that kept family names afloat . . . Edifying, energetic, and captivating.”—Florida Weekly

“When there is a good story to tell, Les Standiford knows how to tell it great.”—FIU News

“Standiford returns to the Floridian territory of the rich and famous that he chronicled in his biography of Henry Flagler, but this time the author will likely attract even more readers with the newly relevant Mar-a-Lago . . . Recounts the epic struggle of the ultrawealthy to transform what are now known as Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Key West into a previously unimaginable enclave for conspicuous consumption.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Mar-a-Lago immediately conjures references to Donald Trump. However, this detailed social history of Palm Beach, Florida, reveals that Mr. Trump is only one of the many celebrities, political figures, and mega-rich entrepreneurs associated with this exclusive enclave . . . This is enjoyable social voyeurism for those who hanker after tales of the rich and famous, past and present.”—Booklist

“A readable history of the wealthy Americans who developed Florida for their vacationing pleasure . . . This chronicle focuses less on the personalities of the rich and famous and more on land acquisition and building, about which Standiford writes effortlessly . . . Will appeal to those interested in business history.”—Publishers Weekly

“A Florida tale always has unpredictable turns, and Les Standiford has the craftsmanship to guide us through in an utterly engaging way.”—Mark Kurlansky

Praise for Les Standiford

“Hubris and gilded dreams are good subjects for Standiford, who has previously written about Henry Frick and Andrew Carnegie, among others; he artfully captures small moments while maintaining the historian’s broader view . . . Like Mulholland’s aqueduct, the book covers a lot of ground while moving along in episodic but dramatic fashion.”New York Times Book Review, on Water to the Angels

“[An] incredibly timely book . . . A powerful—and beautifully told—story of hubris, ingenuity, and, ultimately, deepest tragedy.”—Erik Larson, author of Dead Wake, on Water to the Angels

“A refreshingly engaging tale.”Los Angeles Review of Books, on Water to the Angels

“Oozes with tales of back-room corruption and opportunism . . . Unearths some new archival nuggets along the way.”Miami Herald, on Water to the Angels

“Masterful . . . Standiford has a way of making the 1890s resonate with a twenty-first-century audience.”USA Today, on Meet You in Hell

“Standiford tells the story with the skills of a novelist . . . A colloquial style that is mindful of William Manchester’s great The Glory and the Dream.”Pittsburgh Tribune, on Meet You in Hell

“A dramatic story . . . Les Standiford has a good deal of fun with it all.”Washington Post Book World, on Last Train to Paradise

“A definitive account of the engineering feat that became known as ‘Flagler’s Folly’. . . A rousing adventure.”Atlanta Journal-Constitution, on Last Train to Paradise

“This is a wonderfully told tale, a strange and compelling story about a strange and compelling part of the world. With sharp, evocative reporting, the book captures an era, the Florida landscape, and the very human dream of doing the impossible.”—Susan Orlean, author of The Library Book, on Last Train to Paradise