“Gore Vidal is the master essayist of our age.” –The Washington Post Book World
“Lively, instructive, lucid and amusing. Vidal has a carefree touch and a humorous air. . . . [He] can be a marvelous wit.” –Paul Berman, The New York Times Book Review
“Indispensable. . . . An excellent read. . . . Provocateur, scholar, historian, novelist, scoundrel, whatever you want to call Gore Vidal–make sure you include ‘national treasure.’ . . . [He] is an original mind, who thinks and sees without regard to convention. That alone makes him required reading.” –The Sunday Oregonian
Love him or hate him as a novelist, you have to agree that Gore Vidal is one of our finest and most provocative essayists. His last major collection, United States: Essays 1952-1992, won the National Book Award. This grouping contains some dandies, such as his tributes to Dawn Powell and Mark Twain; his scourging of recent American presidents; and "The Shredding of the Bill of Rights," his much-discussed Vanity Fair piece on the national security state.
Vidal, one of America's most respected dissident, has over the years published many such collections of book reviews and historical and social commentary. Vidal, now in his seventies, occasionally appears to be self-consciously clawing for a place in history, but his themes bear repeating and his essays may be the only place one finds appreciation for authors such as Dawn Powell and C.P. Cavafy. Vidal is from an old political family (Al Gore is a distant cousin) and personally knows many of the political and literary figures he writes about. This unique position inspires pieces full of both original insight and catty gossip.
Beginning with essays about Edmund Wilson, Isabel Potter, Isabel Bolton, and Dawn Powell is a subtle launch, since many listeners haven't thought about these literary luminaries since college, if ever. But soon more familiar names and events from literature and politics ignite sparks of interest: Bill Clinton, FDR, Al Gore, Sinclair Lewis, Charles Lindbergh, Harry Truman, Mark Twain, the Bill of Rights, World War II, and the war on drugs. Whether describing events the public witnesses through the news media lens (one chapter is titled "Birds and Bees and Clinton") or as legend (Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's marriage), Vidal's perspectives are neither ordinary nor vernacular. The result is a satisfying intellectual workout for those who missed his original works in issues of The Nation, New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and the like. This, Vidal's ninth collection, picks up where his 1993 National Book Award for Nonfiction winner, United States: Essays, 1952-1992, left off. Narrator Dan Cashman's neutral and unbiased tone is the perfect trumpet for Vidal's snappy vocabulary and literary allusions. Recommended, but repackaging will be a must the original box is flimsy. Judith Robinson, Univ. at Buffalo, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
More political and literary essays from Vidal (The Golden Age, 2000, etc.). Vidal's style is unmistakable: erudite, contrarian, self-aggrandizing, elegant. Cranky. Never has it been more Vidal-ian than here, in his ninth volume of essays, a collection of pieces written between 1992 and 2000 that occasionally borders on self-parody. By far the strongest works are the literary and historical sketches grouped at the beginning: witty, knowing, insightful, and carefully written, taken together they comprise a prickly tour of the midcentury world of American letters. The last 20 essays are far more problematic, however. In these Vidal rants endlessly about the National Security State and the American Empire, two self-identified postwar political structures that he claims have ruined everything good about America. If one hasn't read Vidal's take on these issues before, perusing one of these essays might be fun-but reading 20 of them is not. Although they have different titles and are nominally written on different subjects, the monotony of analysis is numbing. (Plus, it's hard to take Chicken Little seriously when, after nine volumes, the sky still hasn't fallen.) But no matter, there are plenty of fireworks in the literary and historical sections-most compellingly, in a wonderful riff on Sinclair Lewis that interlocks with a controversial defense of Charles Lindbergh in an attempt to revive an intriguing pre-WWII American icon: the plainspoken, isolationist, independent hero from the Great Plains. Amazingly, Vidal, for all his namedropping and urbanity, can't help but see himself in this role. A similarly palpable identification warms, to fascinating effect, the pieces on writersas diverse as Cavafy, Dawn Powell, and Mark Twain. And a merciless attack on Updike is not only provocative but wickedly funny, a flash of the younger Vidal's dead-on comic sense. Vidal's gossip can feel as stale as his (very dated) political concerns, but few today have what he still displays in abundance: the desire, the intelligence, and the wit to continue living as a true man of letters.