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I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics: Interviews with Jon Wiener

Overview


“I exist to say, ‘No, that isn’t the way it is,’ or ‘What you believe to be true is not true for the following reasons.’ I am a master of the obvious. I mean, if there’s a hole in the road, I will, viciously, outrageously, say there’s a hole in the road and if you don’t fill it in you’ll break the axle of your car. One is not loved for being helpful.”

Gore Vidal, one of America’s foremost essayists, screenwriters, and novelists, died July 31, 2012. He was, in addition, a terrific conversationalist. Dick Cavett ...

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I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics: Interviews with Jon Wiener

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Overview


“I exist to say, ‘No, that isn’t the way it is,’ or ‘What you believe to be true is not true for the following reasons.’ I am a master of the obvious. I mean, if there’s a hole in the road, I will, viciously, outrageously, say there’s a hole in the road and if you don’t fill it in you’ll break the axle of your car. One is not loved for being helpful.”

Gore Vidal, one of America’s foremost essayists, screenwriters, and novelists, died July 31, 2012. He was, in addition, a terrific conversationalist. Dick Cavett once described him as “the best talker since Oscar Wilde.” And Vidal was never more eloquent, or caustic, than when let loose on his favorite topic, the history and politics of the United States.

This book is made up from four interviews conducted with his long-time interlocutor, the writer and radio host Jon Wiener, in which Vidal grapples with matters evidently close to his heart: the history of the American Empire, the rise of the National Security State, and his own life in politics, both as a commentator and candidate.

The interviews cover a twenty-year span, from 1988 to 2008, when Vidal was at the height of his powers. His extraordinary facility for developing an argument, tracing connections between past and present, and drawing on an encyclopedic knowledge of America’s place in the world, are all on full display. And, of course, it being Gore Vidal, an ample sprinkling of gloriously acerbic one-liners is also provided.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Vidal, who died in 2012, never lacked for a pointed bon mot; his prolific output included novels, plays, essays, and memoirs. In this enjoyable but slight volume, Wiener (How We Forgot the Cold War), a contributing editor to the Nation and a radio host, presents four extended interviews he conducted with Vidal between 1988 and 2007. The conversations focus on politics, both in the context of Vidal’s historical fiction and in real life, including his campaigns for Congress in 1960 and 1982. Among other topics, Vidal discusses his Washington, D.C., upbringing and his grandfather, a senator from Oklahoma; theories about Lincoln and F.D.R.; his take on populism and party politics; and his assessment of the Bushes and the Gores. Though Vidal remains piquantly opinionated, the book serves more as an aperitif than a meal. For the uninitiated, it will surely whet the appetite to read Vidal’s novels, or to find essays that more fully explicate his political positions. Wiener also frustratingly repeats questions, with the intent of providing us with different answers from Vidal at different times and to different audiences, but a more expansive approach might have served the volume better. And, as Wiener himself notes wistfully, one also does yearn for the distinctive sound and cadence of Vidal’s mesmerizing voice. Agent: John Oakes. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

Praise for I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics

"One need not share Vidal’s often contentious political preoccupations to welcome this return of Vidal’s inimitably confident, never remotely tentative “voice.” Essential for libraries where Vidal’s novels and nonfiction are popular." —Booklist

Kirkus Reviews
These transcripts of four interviews with the late man of letters offer some provocative volleys but cover the same ground too often and don't show Vidal fully amplifying his ideas. Nation contributor Wiener (History/Univ. of California, Irvine; How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America, 2012, etc.) promises that the book "offers Vidal in a more sustained mode of conversation: developing arguments, tracing connections between past and present, citing evidence. Of course he provides plenty of one-liners and zingers along the way." The zingers have more staying power, whether he's identifying John F. Kennedy ("a friend of mine,") as "a flippant figure of no depth" and "a mistake as a president" or dismissing generations of the Bush clan as "the most negligible family in the country." The two shorter and more recent (2007 and 2006) interviews that begin the book were public performances in Los Angeles, with questions from the audience as well. The earlier and more substantial ones are from a radio interview in 2000 and a 1988 print piece in Radical History Review. Much is made throughout of Vidal's historical fiction, particularly Empire (1987), his once scandalous Myra Breckinridge (1968) and his best-known play, The Best Man (1960). His sympathetic interviewer never questions his subject's assertions, whether he's claiming that this country has "the worst educational system for the average citizen, for the non-rich, in the world" or charging that the culture in general and the New York Times in particular had it out for him following an early novel about gay life. He also believed that Franklin Roosevelt had advance warning of Pearl Harbor and that Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks and could have stopped them. Missing the voice and presence of a man who could be an outrageously entertaining speaker, these transcripts fail to match the depth of his writing, as well.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781619021747
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 3/26/2013
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 529,088
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal (1925–2012) was the author of numerous novels, short stories, plays, screenplays and essays. A winner of the National Book Award, he was also a tireless political activist and, running as Democratic candidate for Congress in upstate New York, received more votes for that district than any Democrat in a half-century.

Jon Wiener is a contributing editor to The Nation and a professor of history at the University of California at Irvine. He is the author of How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files, and Professors, Politics and Pop, and the editor (with Tom Hayden) of Conspiracy in the Streets.

Biography

As a prominent post-WWII novelist, socialite and public figure, Gore Vidal has lived a life of incredible variety. Throughout his career, he has rubbed shoulders and crossed swords with many of the foremost cultural and political figures of our century: from Jack Kennedy to Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote to William F. Buckley.

From his early arrival on the literary scene, Vidal's fascinations with politics, power and public figures have informed his writing. He takes his first name from his maternal grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, a populist Senator from Oklahoma for whom neither blindness nor feuds with FDR could prevent a long, distinguished career (Incidentally, T.P. Gore belonged to the same political dynasty into which Al Gore was born). Vidal's best-received historical fictions, like Julian, Burr, and Lincoln, re-imagine the personal and political lives of powerful figures in history. In his essays, he frequently chooses political subjects, as he did with his damaging assessment of Robert Kennedy-for-President in an Esquire article in 1963.

At the same time, Vidal's assets as a writer have made him a dangerous public figure in his own right. His sharp wit has discomposed the unrufflable (William F. Buckley) and the frequently ruffled (Norman Mailer) alike, and did so terrify his congressional campaign opponent J. Ernest Wharton that the latter refused to engage Vidal in debate. Even since he's left his aspirations as a politician behind, Vidal's attraction to controversial political issues continues in his provocative essays and public appearances.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Edgar Box (mysteries), Eugene Luther Gore Vidal (full name)
      Gore Vidal
    2. Hometown:
      La Rondinaia, a villa in Ravello, Italy; and Los Angeles, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 3, 1925
    2. Place of Birth:
      West Point, New York
    1. Education:
      Attended St. Albans. Graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, 1943. No college.

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