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The Plot Against America

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Overview

In an astonishing feat of empathy and narrative invention, our most ambitious novelist imagines an alternate version of American history.
In 1940 Charles A. Lindbergh, heroic aviator and rabid isolationist, is elected President. Shortly thereafter, he negotiates a cordial “understanding” with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism.

For one boy growing up in Newark, Lindbergh’s election is the first ...

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Overview

In an astonishing feat of empathy and narrative invention, our most ambitious novelist imagines an alternate version of American history.
In 1940 Charles A. Lindbergh, heroic aviator and rabid isolationist, is elected President. Shortly thereafter, he negotiates a cordial “understanding” with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism.

For one boy growing up in Newark, Lindbergh’s election is the first in a series of ruptures that threaten to destroy his small, safe corner of America–and with it, his mother, his father, and his older brother.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Ever the innovator, Philip Roth enters a new genre at the age of 71. This alternate history novel marks a major, but logical departure for the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. In The Plot Against America, isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeats incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. The victory of the Lone Eagle generates successive waves of anti-Semitism, culminating in nationwide pogroms. From Newark, New Jersey, Roth's recurring character Philip and his Jewish family struggle to chisel out a safe place in this maelstrom of hatred.
From the Publisher
“A terrific political novel. . . . Sinister, vivid, dreamlike . . . creepily plausible. . . . You turn the pages, astonished and frightened.” — The New York Times Book Review

“Huge, inflammatory, painfully moving. . . . Far and away the most outward-looking, expansive . . . book Roth has written.” –The Washington Post Book World

“Roth’s most powerfrul book to date. Confounding and illuminating, enraging and discomfiting, imaginative and utterly–terrifyingly–believable.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Once again, Philip Roth has published a novel that you must read–now . . . . A stunning work.” –The Christian Science Monitor

“It’s not a prophecy; it’s a nightmare, and it becomes more nightmarish–and also funnier and more bizarre–as is goes along. . . . [A] sinuous and brilliant book, with its extreme sweetness, its black pain, and its low, ceaseless cackle.” –The New Yorker

“Ambitious and chilling. . . a breath-taking leap of imagination. . . . The writing is brilliant.” –USA Today

“Intimately observed characters in situations fraught with society’s deepest, most bitter tensions. . . . Too ingeniously excruciating to put down.” –Newsweek

“Never has [Roth’s voice] been more nuanced . . . beautifully particularized. . . . [A] novelist who for 45 years has been continuously reinventing himself, never more notably than in The Plot Against America.” –The Boston Globe

“Ingenious . . . Roth’s gorgeous and forceful prose, which swirls and dances and rages . . . has never seemed more precise and lucid.” –Star-Telegram (Dallas/Fort Worth)

“Raises the stakes as high as a patriotic novel can take them. . . . Effortlessly, it seems, Roth has led us to suspend disbelief; then he makes us believe; then he suspends this belief and finally removes it. . . . A fabulous yarn.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A remarkable act of historical imagination and one of [Roth’s] most moving novels.” –People

“Roth takes readers on a harrowing safari across interdimensional borders into a bizarre version of his hometown. . . . [His] delivery is so matter-of-fact, so documentary deadpan that when we’re 10 pages into the book our own world starts to seem like a flimsy fantasy.” –Time

“The most compelling of living writers. . . . [His] every book is like a dispatch from the deepest recesses of the national mind.” –New York Magazine

“A richly terrifying historical novel. . . . [Roth is] the greatest fiction writer America has ever produced.” –Esquire

“The writing is extraordinary, complex but highly readable, evocative, and colored with a tenderness and affection. . . . This is one of Roth’s finest books.” –O (The Oprah Magazine)

Provocative. . . . At times, deeply affecting. . . . An intimate glimpse of one family's harrowing encounter with history.” –The New York Times

“A harrowing novel of political psychology. . . . It may be the saddest book Roth has written and the most frightening.” –The Village Voice

“An epic built–painstakingly, passionately, nearly perfectly–of the small structures of the particular. . . . Roth is at the peak of his powers, and he may have more for us yet.”
The Times [London]

“The newest triumph in what is surely the most prolific late blossoming in literary history. Roth is writing the best books of his life, chronicling the American century…Today’s artists need to tell us about our world, but maybe they need to do it in camouflage. Philip Roth, an old master, has shown the way.” –The Guardian

“One of the world's most brilliant writers… His words fly off the page, his sentences gathering a momentum that hauls the reader along to a place beyond mere critical appraisal.” –The Observer

“In The Plot against America, Philip Roth has reasserted the supremacy of the novel over all other literary forms. This is the first fictional masterpiece of the 21st century, and it rings entirely true.” Evening Standard

Michael Wells Glueck
A mature novel by a preeminent writer

This perceptive novel by a highly educated man of letters and preeminent American writer is based on what in eighteenth-century England was known as a "conceit" - i.e., a concept, a hypothesis, fully developed and logically pursued - to wit, that the famed and idolized aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, who was also known as a Republican, a pacifist, an appeaser, and an Aryan supremacist, won the U.S. presidency after Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term in office and became a puppet and eventually (it was rumored) a captive of Nazi Germany. The elaboration of this conceit not only caricatures Lindbergh as a reticent stoic who "every few months summoned the gregariousness to address his ten favorite platitudes to the nation" (does this sound familiar?) but extends to such anomalies as a Jewish woman from the slums of New Jersey dancing with Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, at a White House reception; or a learned rabbi running the Office of American Absorption, which - abetted by companies like Metropolitan Life Insurance Company that in the 1930's and 1940's were hardly known as equal opportunity employers - resettled suburban American Jews in rural hamlets where there was neither demand for their skills nor tolerance for their religious beliefs; or the murder of radio newsman Walter Winchell for his diatribes against the Lindbergh administration. In sum, this novel persuasively and memorably depicts what might have occurred had the Henry Fords, Father Coughlins, and other Nazi sympathizers of the era prevailed.

Paul Berman
Philip Roth has written a terrific political novel, though in a style his readers might never have predicted... a fable of an alternative universe, in which America has gone fascist and ordinary life has been flattened under a steamroller of national politics and mass hatreds. Hitler's allies rule the White House. Anti-Semitic mobs roam the streets. The lower-middle-class Jews of Weequahic, in Newark, N.J., cower in a second-floor apartment, trying to figure out how to use a gun to defend themselves. (''You pulla the trig,'' a kindly neighbor explains.) The novel is sinister, vivid, dreamlike, preposterous and, at the same time, creepily plausible.
The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
Philip Roth's huge, inflammatory, painfully moving new novel draws upon a persistent theme in American life: "It can't happen here." … The Plot Against America brings the sum of Roth's books to more than two dozen. It may well be his best, and it may well arouse more controversy than all the rest combined.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
During his long career, Roth has shown himself a master at creating fictional doppelgangers. In this stunning novel, he creates a mesmerizing alternate world as well, in which Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election, and Philip, his parents and his brother weather the storm in Newark, N.J. Incorporating Lindbergh's actual radio address in which he accused the British and the Jews of trying to force America into a foreign war, Roth builds an eerily logical narrative that shows how isolationists in and out of government, emboldened by Lindbergh's blatant anti-Semitism (he invites von Rippentrop to the White House, etc.), enact new laws and create an atmosphere of religious hatred that culminates in nationwide pogroms. Historical figures such as Walter Winchell, Fiorello La Guardia and Henry Ford inhabit this chillingly plausible fiction, which is as suspenseful as the best thrillers and illustrates how easily people can be persuaded by self-interest to abandon morality. The novel is, in addition, a moving family drama, in which Philip's fiercely ethical father, Herman, finds himself unable to protect his loved ones, and a family schism develops between those who understand the eventual outcome of Lindbergh's policies and those who are co-opted into abetting their own potential destruction. Many episodes are touching and hilarious: young Philip experiences the usual fears and misapprehensions of a pre-adolescent; locks himself into a neighbor's bathroom; gets into dangerous mischief with a friend; watches his cousin masturbating with no comprehension of the act. In the balance of personal, domestic and national events, the novel is one of Roth's most deft creations, and if the lollapalooza of an ending is bizarre with its revisionist theory about the motives behind Lindbergh's anti-Semitism, it's the subtext about what can happen when government limits religious liberties in the name of the national interest that gives the novel moral authority. Roth's writing has never been so direct and accessible while retaining its stylistic precision and acute insights into human foibles and follies. (Oct. 5) Forecast: With its intriguing premise and thriller-tense plot, it's likely that this novel will broaden Roth's readership while instigating provocative debate. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
To quote the review of the audiobook in KLIATT, March 2005: Roth goes back to 1940 and creates a chillingly believable novel based on Roosevelt's failure to win a third term; instead, Charles Lindbergh, a known isolationist and anti-Semite, is elected president. Roth describes the events that lead up to Lindbergh's election and the first years of his presidency. Through the young Philip, the reader is transported to life as it was in the early years of WW II, the fictional sequence of events that create irrevocable rifts among family and friends, and the tragedies that result. The tension is relieved by some of Philip's more humorous recollections. The listener is drawn so thoroughly into the story that fact and fiction merge into a seamless "history." KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Random House, Vintage International, 391p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Sue Rosenzweig
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-When Charles Lindbergh, Republican candidate in the 1940 presidential race, defeats popular FDR in a landslide, pollsters scramble for explanations-among them that, to a country weary of crisis and fearful of becoming involved in another European war, the aviator represents "normalcy raised to heroic proportions." For the Roth family, however, the situation is anything but normal, and heroism has a different meaning. As the anti-Semitic new president cozies up to the Third Reich, right-wing activists throughout the nation seize the moment. Most citizens, enamored of isolationism and lost in hero worship, see no evil-but in the Roths' once secure and stable Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey, the world is descending into a nightmare of confusion, fear, and unpredictability. The young narrator, Phil, views the developing crisis through the lens of his family life and his own boyish concerns. His father, clinging tenaciously to his trust in America, loses his confidence painfully and incrementally. His mother tries to shield the children from her own growing fear. An aunt, brother, and cousin respond in different ways, and the family is divided. But though the situation is grim, this is not a despairing tale; suspenseful, poignant, and often humorous, it engages readers in many ways. It prompts them to consider the nature of history, present times, and possible futures, and can lead to good discussions among thoughtful readers and teachers. Bibliographic sources, notes on historical figures, and documentation are included.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
cassette 0-618-50929-1A politically charged alternate history in which Aryan supremacist hero Charles Lindbergh unseats FDR in 1940-with catastrophic consequences for America's Jews. Roth's latest (and one of his most audacious) is narrated by a fictional character named Philip Roth, who describes the impact of Lindbergh's presidency (linked ominously to "Lindy's" cordial relationship with fellow statesman Adolf Hitler) on Newark insurance salesman Herman Roth, his stoical wife Bess, and their sons Philip and Sanford ("Sandy"). Novelist Roth skillfully constructs a thickly detailed panorama of urban Jewish life, featuring such vividly developed characters as Philip's truculent cousin Alvin (wounded in a "Jewish" European war, and permanently damaged), his suggestible maternal aunt Evelyn (who adores Lindbergh), and Evelyn's influential fiance, silver-tongued conservative apologist Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf. The latter two pay dearly for their naively placed allegiances. But so do the passionately skeptical Roths: first, when Sandy's summer on a Kentucky farm imbues him with "American" (in fact anti-Semitic) values; and later, following the 1942 Homestead Act, purportedly conceived to relocate eastern seaboard Jews throughout Middle America, actually an ominous harbinger of how Lindbergh plans to solve "the Jewish problem." The tight focus on the Roths itself shifts when Lindbergh-hating columnist Walter Winchell announces his presidential candidacy, violence escalates alarmingly, martial law is imposed, war with Canada (whence many Jewish families flee) is anticipated, and a savagely ironic turn of events returns FDR to the national spotlight-but doesn't assuage Herman Roth'sall-too-justifiable fears. The story gathers breakneck velocity and intensity, ending perhaps too abruptly (and, perhaps, pointing the way to a sequel). But hilarious and terrifying by turns, it's a sumptuous interweaving of narrative, characterization, speculation, and argument that joins The Ghost Writer (1979) and Operation Shylock (1993) at the summit of Roth's achievement. An almost unbelievably rich book, and another likely major prizewinner. Agent: Andrew Wylie/Wylie Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400079490
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/27/2005
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 137,346
  • Lexile: 1640L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Roth

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004.” Recently Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is the only living American novelist to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize.

Biography

Philip Roth's long and celebrated career has been something of a thorn in the side of the writer. As it is for so many, fame has been the proverbial double-edged sword, bringing his trenchant tragic-comedies to a wide audience, but also making him a prisoner of expectations and perceptions. Still, since 1959, Roth has forged along, crafting gorgeous variations of the Great American Novel and producing, in addition, an autobiography (The Facts) and a non-fictional account of his father's death (Patrimony: A True Story).

Roth's novels have been oft characterized as "Jewish literature," a stifling distinction that irks Roth to no end. Having grown up in a Jewish household in a lower-middle-class sub-section of Newark, New Jersey, he is incessantly being asked where his seemingly autobiographical characters end and the author begins, another irritant for Roth. He approaches interviewers with an unsettling combination of stoicism, defensiveness, and black wit, qualities that are reflected in his work. For such a high-profile writer, Roth remains enigmatic, seeming to have laid his life out plainly in his writing, but refusing to specify who the real Philip Roth is.

Roth's debut Goodbye, Columbus instantly established him as a significant writer. This National Book Award winner was a curious compendium of a novella that explored class conflict and romantic relationships and five short stories. Here, fully formed in Roth's first outing, was his signature wit, his unflinching insightfulness, and his uncanny ability to satirize his character's situations while also presenting them with humanity. The only missing element of his early work was the outrageousness he would not begin to cultivate until his third full-length novel Portnoy's Complaint -- an unquestionably daring and funny post-sexual revolution comedy that tipped Roth over the line from critically acclaimed writer to literary celebrity.

Even as Roth's personal relationships and his relationship to writing were severely shaken following the success of Portnoy's Complaint, he continued publishing outrageous novels in the vein of his commercial breakthrough. There was Our Gang, a parodic attack on the Nixon administration, and The Breast, a truly bizarre take on Kafka's Metamorphosis, and My Life as a Man, the pivotal novel that introduced Roth's literary alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman.

Zuckerman would soon be the subject of his very own series, which followed the writer's journey from aspiring young artist with lofty goals to a bestselling author, constantly bombarded by idiotic questions, to a man whose most important relationships have all but crumbled in the wake of his success. The Zuckerman Trilogy (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, and The Counterlife) directly paralls Roth's career and unfolds with aching poignancy and unforgiving humor.

Zuckerman would later reemerge in another trilogy, although this time he would largely be relegated to the role of narrator. Roth's American Trilogy (I Married a Communist, the PEN/Faulkner Award winning The Human Stain, and The Plot Against America), shifts the focus to key moments in the history of late-20th –century American history.

In Everyman (2006) , Roth reaches further back into history. Taking its name from a line of 15th-century English allegorical plays, Everyman is classic Roth -- funny, tragic, and above all else, human. It is also yet another in a seemingly unbreakable line of critical favorites, praised by Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal.

In 2007's highly anticipated Exit Ghost, Roth returned Nathan Zuckerman to his native Manhattan for one final adventure, thus bringing to a rueful, satisfying conclusion one of the most acclaimed literary series of our day. While this may (or may not) be Zuckerman's swan song, it seems unlikely that we have seen the last Philip Roth. Long may he roar.

Good To Know

Before publishing his first novel, Roth wrote an episode of the suspenseful TV classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

A film adaptation of American Pastoral is currently in the works. Australian director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence; Patriot Games) is on board to direct.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Philip Milton Roth
    2. Hometown:
      Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 19, 1933
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

Read an Excerpt

1

June 1940–October 1940

Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War

FEAR PRESIDES over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn't been president or if I hadn't been the offspring of Jews.

When the first shock came in June of 1940—the nomination for the presidency of Charles A. Lindbergh, America's international aviation hero, by the Republican Convention at Philadelphia—my father was thirty-nine, an insurance agent with a grade school education, earning a little under fifty dollars a week, enough for the basic bills to be paid on time but for little more. My mother—who'd wanted to go to teachers' college but couldn't because of the expense, who'd lived at home working as an office secretary after finishing high school, who'd kept us from feeling poor during the worst of the Depression by budgeting the earnings my father turned over to her each Friday as efficiently as she ran the household—was thirty-six. My brother, Sandy, a seventh-grader with a prodigy's talent for drawing, was twelve, and I, a third-grader a term ahead of himself—and an embryonic stamp collector inspired like millions of kids by the country's foremost philatelist, President Roosevelt—was seven.

We lived in the second-floor flat of a small two-and-a-half-family house on a tree-lined street of frame wooden houses with red-brick stoops, each stoop topped with a gable roof and fronted by a tiny yard boxed in with a low-cut hedge. The Weequahic neighborhood had been built on farm lots at the undeveloped southwest edge of Newark just after World War One, some half dozen of the streets named, imperially, for victorious naval commanders in the Spanish-American War and the local movie house called, after FDR's fifth cousin—and the country's twenty-sixth president—the Roosevelt. Our street, Summit Avenue, sat at the crest of the neighborhood hill, an elevation as high as any in a port city that rarely rises a hundred feet above the level of the tidal salt marsh to the city's north and east and the deep bay due east of the airport that bends around the oil tanks of the Bayonne peninsula and merges there with New York Bay to flow past the Statue of Liberty and into the Atlantic. Looking west from our bedroom's rear window we could sometimes see inland as far as the dark treeline of the Watchungs, a low-lying mountain range fringed by great estates and affluent, sparsely populated suburbs, the extreme edge of the known world—and about eight miles from our house. A block to the south was the working-class town of Hillside, whose population was predominantly Gentile. The boundary with Hillside marked the beginning of Union County, another New Jersey entirely.

We were a happy family in 1940. My parents were outgoing, hospitable people, their friends culled from among my father's associates at the office and from the women who along with my mother had helped to organize the Parent-Teacher Association at newly built Chancellor Avenue School, where my brother and I were pupils. All were Jews. The neighborhood men either were in business for themselves—the owners of the local candy store, grocery store, jewelry store, dress shop, furniture shop, service station, and delicatessen, or the proprietors of tiny industrial job shops over by the Newark-Irvington line, or self-employed plumbers, electricians, housepainters, and boilermen—or were foot-soldier salesmen like my father, out every day in the city streets and in people's houses, peddling their wares on commission. The Jewish doctors and lawyers and the successful merchants who owned big stores downtown lived in one-family houses on streets branching off the eastern slope of the Chancellor Avenue hill, closer to grassy, wooded Weequahic Park, a landscaped three hundred acres whose boating lake, golf course, and harness-racing track separated the Weequahic section from the industrial plants and shipping terminals lining Route 27 and the Pennsylvania Railroad viaduct east of that and the burgeoning airport east of that and the very edge of America east of that—the depots and docks of Newark Bay, where they unloaded cargo from around the world. At the western end of the neighborhood, the parkless end where we lived, there resided an occasional schoolteacher or pharmacist but otherwise few professionals were among our immediate neighbors and certainly none of the prosperous entrepreneurial or manufacturing families. The men worked fifty, sixty, even seventy or more hours a week; the women worked all the time, with little assistance from labor-saving devices, washing laundry, ironing shirts, mending socks, turning collars, sewing on buttons, mothproofing woolens, polishing furniture, sweeping and washing floors, washing windows, cleaning sinks, tubs, toilets, and stoves, vacuuming rugs, nursing the sick, shopping for food, cooking meals, feeding relatives, tidying closets and drawers, overseeing paint jobs and household repairs, arranging for religious observances, paying bills and keeping the family's books while simultaneously attending to their children's health, clothing, cleanliness, schooling, nutrition, conduct, birthdays, discipline, and morale. A few women labored alongside their husbands in the family-owned stores on the nearby shopping streets, assisted after school and on Saturdays by their older children, who delivered orders and tended stock and did the cleaning up.

It was work that identified and distinguished our neighbors for me far more than religion. Nobody in the neighborhood had a beard or dressed in the antiquated Old World style or wore a skullcap either outdoors or in the houses I routinely floated through with my boyhood friends. The adults were no longer observant in the outward, recognizable ways, if they were seriously observant at all, and aside from older shopkeepers like the tailor and the kosher butcher—and the ailing or decrepit grandparents living of necessity with their adult offspring—hardly anyone in the vicinity spoke with an accent. By 1940 Jewish parents and their children at the southwestern corner of New Jersey's largest city talked to one another in an American English that sounded more like the language spoken in Altoona or Binghamton than like the dialects famously spoken across the Hudson by our Jewish counterparts in the five boroughs. Hebrew lettering was stenciled on the butcher shop window and engraved on the lintels of the small neighborhood synagogues, but nowhere else (other than at the cemetery) did one's eye chance to land on the alphabet of the prayer book rather than on the familiar letters of the native tongue employed all the time by practically everyone for every conceivable purpose, high or low. At the newsstand out front of the corner candy store, ten times more customers bought the Racing Form than the Yiddish daily, the Forvertz.

Israel didn't yet exist, six million European Jews hadn't yet ceased to exist, and the local relevance of distant Palestine (under British mandate since the 1918 dissolution by the victorious Allies of the last far-flung provinces of the defunct Ottoman Empire) was a mystery to me. When a stranger who did wear a beard and who never once was seen hatless appeared every few months after dark to ask in broken English for a contribution toward the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, I, who wasn't an ignorant child, didn't quite know what he was doing on our landing. My parents would give me or Sandy a couple of coins to drop into his collection box, largess, I always thought, dispensed out of kindness so as not to hurt the feelings of a poor old man who, from one year to the next, seemed unable to get it through his head that we'd already had a homeland for three generations. I pledged allegiance to the flag of our homeland every morning at school. I sang of its marvels with my classmates at assembly programs. I eagerly observed its national holidays, and without giving a second thought to my affinity for the Fourth of July fireworks or the Thanksgiving turkey or the Decoration Day double-header. Our homeland was America.

Then the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything changed.

For nearly a decade Lindbergh was as great a hero in our neighborhood as he was everywhere else. The completion of his thirty-three-and-a-half-hour nonstop solo flight from Long Island to Paris in the tiny monoplane the Spirit of St. Louis even happened to coincide with the day in the spring of 1927 that my mother discovered herself to be pregnant with my older brother. As a consequence, the young aviator whose daring had thrilled America and the world and whose achievement bespoke a future of unimaginable aeronautical progress came to occupy a special niche in the gallery of family anecdotes that generate a child's first cohesive mythology. The mystery of pregnancy and the heroism of Lindbergh combined to give a distinction bordering on the divine to my very own mother, for whom nothing less than a global annunciation had accompanied the incarnation of her first child. Sandy would later record this moment with a drawing illustrating the juxtaposition of those two splendid events. In the drawing—completed at the age of nine and smacking inadvertently of Soviet poster art—Sandy envisioned her miles from our house, amid a joyous crowd on the corner of Broad and Market. A slender young woman of twenty-three with dark hair and a smile that is all robust delight, she is surprisingly on her own and wearing her floral-patterned kitchen apron at the intersection of the city's two busiest thoroughfares, one hand spread wide across the front of the apron, where the span of her hips is still deceptively girlish, while with the other she alone in the crowd is pointing skyward to the Spirit of St. Louis, passing visibly above downtown Newark at precisely the moment she comes to realize that, in a feat no less triumphant for a mortal than Lindbergh's, she has conceived Sanford Roth.

Sandy was four and I, Philip, wasn't yet born when in March 1932, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh's own first child, a boy whose arrival twenty months earlier had been an occasion for national rejoicing, was kidnapped from his family's secluded new house in rural Hopewell, New Jersey. Some ten weeks later the decomposing body of the baby was discovered by chance in woods a few miles away. The baby had been either murdered or killed accidentally after being snatched from his crib and, in the dark, still in bedclothes, carried out a window of the second-story nursery and down a makeshift ladder to the ground while the nurse and mother were occupied in their ordinary evening activities in another part of the house. By the time the kidnapping and murder trial in Flemington, New Jersey, concluded in February 1935 with the conviction of Bruno Hauptmann—a German ex-con of thirty-five living in the Bronx with his German wife—the boldness of the world's first transatlantic solo pilot had been permeated with a pathos that transformed him into a martyred titan comparable to Lincoln.

Following the trial, the Lindberghs left America, hoping through a temporary expatriation to protect a new Lindbergh infant from harm and to recover some measure of the privacy they coveted. The family moved to a small village in England, and from there, as a private citizen, Lindbergh began taking the trips to Nazi Germany that would transform him into a villain for most American Jews. In the course of five visits, during which he was able to familiarize himself at first hand with the magnitude of the German war machine, he was ostentatiously entertained by Air Marshal Göring, he was ceremoniously decorated in the name of the Führer, and he expressed quite openly his high regard for Hitler, calling Germany the world's "most interesting nation" and its leader "a great man." And all this interest and admiration after Hitler's 1935 racial laws had denied Germany's Jews their civil, social, and property rights, nullified their citizenship, and forbidden intermarriage with Aryans.

By the time I began school in 1938, Lindbergh's was a name that provoked the same sort of indignation in our house as did the weekly Sunday radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin, the Detroit-area priest who edited a right-wing weekly called Social Justice and whose anti-Semitic virulence aroused the passions of a sizable audience during the country's hard times. It was in November 1938—the darkest, most ominous year for the Jews of Europe in eighteen centuries—that the worst pogrom in modern history, Kristallnacht, was instigated by the Nazis all across Germany: synagogues incinerated, the residences and businesses of Jews destroyed, and, throughout a night presaging the monstrous future, Jews by the thousands forcibly taken from their homes and transported to concentration camps. When it was suggested to Lindbergh that in response to this unprecedented savagery, perpetrated by a state on its own native-born, he might consider returning the gold cross decorated with four swastikas bestowed on him in behalf of the Führer by Air Marshal Göring, he declined on the grounds that for him to publicly surrender the Service Cross of the German Eagle would constitute "an unnecessary insult" to the Nazi leadership.

Lindbergh was the first famous living American whom I learned to hate—just as President Roosevelt was the first famous living American whom I was taught to love—and so his nomination by the Republicans to run against Roosevelt in 1940 assaulted, as nothing ever had before, that huge endowment of personal security that I had taken for granted as an American child of American parents in an American school in an American city in an America at peace with the world.

The only comparable threat had come some thirteen months earlier when, on the basis of consistently high sales through the worst of the Depression as an agent with the Newark office of Metropolitan Life, my father had been offered a promotion to assistant manager in charge of agents at the company's office six miles west of our house in Union, a town whose only distinction I knew of was a drive-in theater where movies were shown even when it rained, and where the company expected my father and his family to live if he took the job. As an assistant manager, my father could soon be making seventy-five dollars a week and over the coming years as much as a hundred a week, a fortune in 1939 to people with our expectations. And since there were one-family houses selling in Union for a Depression low of a few thousand dollars, he would be able to realize an ambition he had nurtured growing up penniless in a Newark tenement flat: to become an American homeowner. "Pride of ownership" was a favorite phrase of my father's, embodying an idea real as bread to a man of his background, one having to do not with social competitiveness or conspicuous consumption but with his standing as a manly provider.

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Table of Contents

1 June 1940-October 1940: Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War 1
2 November 1940-June 1941: Loudmouth Jew 44
3 June 1941-December 1941: Following Christians 83
4 January 1942-February 1942: The Stump 122
5 March 1942-June 1942: Never Before 153
6 May 1942-June 1942: Their Country 204
7 June 1942-October 1942: The Winchell Riots 237
8 October 1942: Bad Days 287
9 October 1942: Perpetual Fear 328
Postscript
Note to the Reader 364
A True Chronology of the Major Figures 365
Other Historical Figures in the Work 380
Some Documentation 385
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Reading Group Guide

1. In what ways does The Plot Against America differ from conventional historical fiction? What effects does Roth achieve by blending personal history, historical fact, and an alternative history?

2. The novel begins “Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear” [p. 1]. With this sentence Roth establishes that his story is being told from an adult point of view by an adult narrator who is remembering what befell his family, over sixty years earlier, when he was a boy between the ages of seven and nine. Why else does Roth open the novel this way? What role does fear play throughout the book?

3. How plausible is the alternative history that Roth imagines? How would the world be different if America had not entered the war, or entered it on the side of Germany?

4. When the Roth family plans to go to Washington, young Philip wants to take his stamp collection with him because he fears that, since he did not remove the ten-cent Lindbergh stamp, “a malignant transformation would occur in my absence, causing my unguarded Washingtons to turn into Hitlers, and swastikas to be imprinted on my National Parks” [p. 57]. What does this passage suggest about how the Lindbergh election has affected the boy? Where else does this kind of magical thinking occur in the novel?

5. Herman Roth asserts, “History is everything that happens everywhere. Even here in Newark. Even here on Summit Avenue. Even what happens in this house to an ordinary man—that’ll be history too someday” [p. 180]. How does this conception of history differ from traditional definitions? In what ways does the novel support this claim? How is the history of the Roth family relevant to the history of America?

6. After Mrs. Wishnow is murdered, young Philip thinks, “And now she was inside a casket, and I was the one who put her there” [p. 336]. Is he to some degree responsible for her death? How did his desire to save his own family endanger hers?

7. Observing his mother’s anguished confusion, Philip discovers that “one could do nothing right without also doing something wrong” [p. 340]. Where in the novel does the attempt to do something right also result in doing something wrong? What is Roth suggesting here about the moral complexities of actions and their consequences?

8. When Herman Roth is explaining the deals Hitler has made with Lindbergh, Roth comments, “The pressure of what was happening was accelerating everyone’s education, my own included” [p. 101]. What is Philip learning? In what ways is history robbing him of a normal childhood? Why does he want to run away?

9. What motivates Rabbi Bengelsdorf, Aunt Evelyn, and Sandy to embrace Lindbergh and dismiss Herman Roth’s fears as paranoia? Are they right to do so? In what ways do their personal aspirations affect their perceptions of what is happening?

10. In what ways are Bess and Herman Roth heroic? How do they respond to the crises that befall them? How are they able to hold their family together?

11. Roth observes that violence, when it’s in a house, is heartbreaking: “like seeing the clothes in a tree after an explosion. You may be prepared to see death but not the clothes in a tree” [p. 296]. What causes Herman Roth and Alvin to fight each other so viciously? What is it that brings the violence swirling around them off the streets and into the house? Why is violence in a home so much more disturbing than on the street or the battlefield?

12. Much is at stake in The Plot Against America—the fate of America’s Jews, the larger fate of Europe and indeed of Western civilization, but also how America will define itself. What does the novel suggest about what it means to be an American, and to be a Jewish American? How are the Roths a thoroughly American family?

13. What does the postscript, particularly “A True Chronology of the Major Figures,” add to the novel?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 88 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(26)

4 Star

(26)

3 Star

(17)

2 Star

(12)

1 Star

(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 88 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2006

    It Could have happened!

    This novel was disturbing, frightening, and all to realistic. When I read what unfolded in American life under Lindburgh's presidency, it was like being slammed in the head by a two by four. How could this happen here? The book is a blueprint for disassembling our democracy. A great read!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2010

    Brilliant re-imagining of World War II-era America

    Roth's conception of Lindbergh's rise to power in a frightened pre-World War II America is inventive, compelling and provocative, and brilliant in its exploration of the power of political positioning to stir up native passions. It is also potently evocative of an America we know all too well -- one scared by political machinations into action against its better long-term interests, where fear rules the day. Bushism, anyone? Most powerfully of all, in the details through which Roth tells his story, is how convincing his tale is, and how insightfully he traces the nuances of political relationships and mass messaging to show us how the powers that be manipulate crowds. From the Jewish Newark, NJ community that is the locus of his vivid and disturbing American isolationism to the echelons of power out of which the plans to defend this country against engagement in foreign affairs -- nevermind the Fascists, nevermind the Communists -- Roth has woven a tale whose experiences resonate far after the book is closed. Thanks to Roth's skill, it's also somehow fun in its own perverse way to see so completely, in the safety of knowing it didn't happen, how an alternative America might have emerged.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2008

    Thought provoking

    A must read for all fans of 'alternative history!' Mr. Roth places himself within the 'what if?' story line to great effect. Excellent notes provide a great historical backdrop for any reader. Thrilling, frightening, and captivating!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2009

    Great "What If" Story

    Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" is a fantastic book. The parallel world that he creates in the difficult World War II era is exhilerating and eerily realistic. Warping major historical events to fit his terrifying yet possible timeline.

    Apart from the horrific war that is twisting the country out of shape, the characters in Philip's house are dynamic and colorful. His paranoid, stereotypically Jewish mother reigns in her lower middle class house, warning and worrying. Philip's father is equally stereotypical, the simple American man working hard to get ahead, optimistic in the face of new diversity, jaded after being the victim of ancient prejudice.

    Roth's personal account of our could be-history is equally heartbreaking and terrifying. The idea of the bursting of prejudices in America causing all-out war within the country is frightening, and disturbs the image we have of America as an imperturbable fortress.

    Roth's book is a quiet collection of events that may have happened- in an America that was in the eleventh hour of order.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2006

    Outstanding concept, adequately done

    This is the first Philip Roth novel I've read and I must say I wasn't that impressed. His other novels like 'Portnoy's Complaint' are on my list but with this first one, I'm not running to it very quickly. The entire concept is a great one an alternate America for only a short period of time, dominated by one of the most hateful groups of all-time. But Roth didn't make the story, I don't know how to put it into words, jump out enough. As one person said before, the book lagged and although the plot was there, it sluggishly proceeded. When there was action, I was deeply intrigued but then it stopped and nothing happened for awhile. Maybe I have to give it another read, maybe I missed something but for now, I am somewhat disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2007

    Creepy but Wonderful

    Not like any Roth I have read before -- I dreaded reading more but at the same time could not stop myself. Takes the 'it could never happen here' attitudes head on and in all too vivid and realistic ways makes it clear that it simply could and often almost does. Should be required reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2006

    Narrow perspective of American history

    'Plot Against America' is a richly engrossing story with some minor, sequentially-annoying jumps and retracing in the storytelling. However, this story only really works as historical horror fiction if we ignore the countless racially-based government actions against specific groups of Americans: 1) forced migration and concentration of Native Americans 2) forced labor, segregation and discriminatory policies against African-Americans 3) forced deportation of 1.2 million Americans of Mexican descent during the Hoover years of the Great Depression 4) forced concentration of both Americans and Canadians of Japanese descent during WWII and 5) suspension of civil liberties for some non-white Americans during the War on Terror. In other words, the novel only works if one buys the premise that the significance of Roth's story is that the fascist horror in the White House is directed at a white minority of European-descent.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2006

    Excellent Storyline and Prose

    I was recommended this novel by my English teacher, and having finally got around to reading it, find it extremely perceptive and insightful writing. The entire premise, the mythical election of Charles Lindbergh as president may seem like a farfetched and unbelievable fantasy, but I found myself reading along as if the events were historically accurate and truly happened. The book subtley portrays both social and familial strains that Lindbergh's new anti-Semitic administration cause. The story very well conveys the sentiments of a culture still wrestling with the fallout and depravation of a previous world war, its reticence to welcome further international aggression, and its willingness to harbor isolationist feelings if it means bloodshed, slaughter, and betrayal will be avoided. Also, Philip Roth depicts the American Jewish family with incredible poignancy, and we see a father struggling with the elusive principles that once structured his life, but now are powerless against bureaucratic conniving and pointed anti-Jewish retribution...a mother whose logical, systematic, and omnipresent approach to childrearing is now challenged by the breakdown of her own family and the undoing of former achievements which gave an otherwise subservient household wife purpose...and two boys whose erudition, on one hand, enforces principles promoting the homogenization of Americans and the diluting of Jewish bonds, and on the other, paternal dictates directly opposite society's lessons which render their father both impassioned and powerless. All of these factors internal and external contribute to the debilitation of their family and many others alike. However, the end hints at an American populous which, despite seemingly irreversible fascist influences, will not yield to anything other than freedom.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2006

    a tragedy to America

    I would best describe this as the book that never happened about events that never happened. Do we not have enough going on in the world? We now have to play 'what if' scenarios that destroy the image of an American hero. More than a Plot against this is a tradegy to American.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2005

    Unfortunately I am Disappointed!

    Professional reviews praise this book as an incredible read. Unfortunately I do not agree, it was simply to boring for me, nothing really ever happened, throughout the whole book we expect to get a feeling of how America would be under a Nazi regime, how hard core anti-Semitism would feel in America, it was too slow and too full of unnecessary detail. But worst of all the writer did not leave very much room for suspense, sense most of the chapters began with describing what had happened and then how it happened, we always knew what was coming¿.or in better words, what was not coming because for me nothing ever happened. Sorry to disagree with other readers but it was painfully slow and boring to me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2004

    Difficult to read

    I bought this book with great expectations. The synopsis was great, the reviews were great so I was hopeful that I would be glued to this book until it was done. What I found upon opening the pages, was a very poorly written or poorly edited book. Chapter one was filled with long run on sentences. I tried to get past this but was unable to. I scanned the other chapters and found the same. I tried 3 different times to read this book and just couldn't do it. It is good to see that others were able to overlook the long and rambling run-ons.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    The Plot Against Amer­ica by Philip Roth is a fic­tional book se

    The Plot Against Amer­ica by Philip Roth is a fic­tional book set in Amer­ica 1940s. This is the first Philip Roth book I have read, and I am look­ing for­ward to read much more.

    Philip Roth, a Jew­ish child in Newark NJ, observes the world around him as Charles Lind­bergh, known anti-Semite, avi­a­tion super­star and sup­porter of a cer­tain Aus­trian mad­man, is elected Pres­i­dent of the United States. Lind­bergh is pop­u­lar in the Amer­i­can south and Mid­west, as well as endorsed by pop­u­lar con­ser­v­a­tive Rabbi Ben­gels­dorf and wins eas­ily over Roo­sevelt who is run­ning for an unprece­dented third term.

    The Roth fam­ily starts to feel like out­siders, anti-Semities no longer feel they need to hide, Lind­bergh signs a treaty with Hitler to stay out of the war and relo­cates whole Jew­ish fam­i­lies to the Mid­west. Mean­while, famed reporter and radio per­son­al­ity, Wal­ter Winchell, runs against Lind­bergh for the high­est office in the country.

    The Plot Against Amer­ica by Philip Roth is an alter­na­tive his­tory novel which asks an ques­tion: what if Amer­ica had elected a fas­cist gov­ern­ment before World War II?

    The novel is told from the point of view of a young Philip Roth from Newark, NJ and his Jew­ish fam­ily who refuse to believe that such a thing could hap­pen in Amer­ica and see their lives fall apart. The ques­tions raised by this novel are excel­lent, and I would highly rec­om­mend it to any book club in need of an inter­est­ing book to discuss.

    What makes this book great is that the per­spec­tive is told from that of a lit­tle kid. Mr. Roth exam­ines a world gone mad through the eyes of a young boy and… he nails it! I don’t know if part of the book is a mem­oir or not, it cer­tainly seems like it, but the author does look back at 1940s Newark with nos­tal­gia and love.

    This book came to me at a most oppor­tune time, I just fin­ished read­ing the excel­lent Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund by Arnie Bern­stein which exam­ines the Amer­i­can Nazi move­ment at the time that Roth’s novel tak­ing place. Those two books which com­ple­ment one another tremen­dously (the same char­ac­ters make appear­ances in both) have really opened my eyes to the real­iza­tion of how many peo­ple were on the wrong side of history.

    While I enjoyed the major­ity of the book, which I thought was bril­liant, the last 50 pages lost me. Some­how it seems that Mr. Roth was rush­ing to fin­ish this excel­lent book, when I would have gladly read another 800 pages in the same vain.

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  • Posted December 21, 2011

    Good book

    Written like an autobiography, this novel portrays an interesting alternative history. Like any normal autobiography, there are periods where life is dull and the story becomes a little slow, but overall the book is quite readable. One thing I particularly liked about this, is the fact that the author included a section at the end relaying the actual history. It saved me lots of googling time!

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  • Posted November 29, 2011

    Ridiculous story -- don't waste your time.

    I expected more from Philip Roth. Historical fiction was not intended to take a real person (and a hero to many people) and put him in a completely fictional story. Had Roth used another name this could have been a much better book but I kept thinking "How did Lindgerg get in this book?" It's like when someone tells you not to think about the elephant on the sofa. It's absurd but you can't stop thinking about it.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    Great, suspenseful read!

    Highly recommended

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    Great what if story

    A book to keep a read again

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2011

    Great potential Bad delivery

    This book and the plot had so much potential, but it fell flat big time. The notes in the back made the book some what bearable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2009

    Rudimentary formatting errors

    This ebook suffers from lax quality control. Nearly all of the text from the first chapter title to the very end of the book is in boldface, and many paragraphs are inexplicably center- or right-aligned. And thanks to eReader DRM I can't legally fix it myself. FAIL.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2006

    Unrealistic

    It is impossble for a person lose all but two states. FDR had all the qualities the people wanted for that time. When you research the time period, there is no way Lindebergh would have won and if he did, it would have been closer. The failure to get to the point was another weak point of this story. I was very dissapointed in reading this book by Philip Roth. I expected better from him, but becuase of the originality of the story, I chose to give this book two stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2005

    Average story.

    A few day's ago I got this book for Christmas, and I was really looking forward to an outstanding story, but as I was reading going on page 80 or so I was saying to myself 'Come on when is this story going to really take off'....Well all I can say is that this book was flat line all the way, the auther it seems to me had a good idea for the book but never got the story over the hump of run of the mill story telling. What this story needed was a little excitement, and sorry to say to me this book din't have it. Well that's my view of the book anyway kind readers, and let me tell you I read a lot of books.

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