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Golden Age [Abridged, Audiobook] [Audio Cassette]

Gore Vidal
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sep 2000
THE GOLDEN AGE is Vidal's crowning achievement, a vibrant tapestry of American political and cultural life from 1939 to 1954, when the epochal events of World War II and the Cold War transformed America, once and for all, for good or ill, from a republic into an empire. The sharp-eyed and sympathetic witnesses to these events are Caroline Sanford, Hollywood actress turned Washington D.C., newspaper publisher, and Peter Sanford, her nephew and publisher of the independent intellectual journal The American Idea. They experience at first hand the masterful maneuvers of Franklin Roosevelt to bring a reluctant nation into the Second World War, and, later, the actions of Harry Truman that commit the nation to a decade-long twilight struggle against Communism--developments they regard with a decided skepticism even though it ends in an American global empire. The locus of these events is Washington D.C., yet the Hollywood film industry and the cultural centers of New York also play significant parts. In addition to presidents, the actual characters who appear so vividly in the pagea of THE GOLDEN AGE include Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, Wendell Willkie, William Randolph Hearst, Dean Acheson, Tennessee Williams, Joseph Alsop, Dawn Powell--and Gore Vidal himself.

THE GOLDEN AGE offers up U.S. history as only Gore Vidal can, with unrivaled penetration, wit, and high drama, allied to a classical view of human fate. It is a supreme entertainment that is not only sure to be a major bestseller but that will also change listeners' understanding of American history and power.

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Product details

  • Audio Cassette
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; abridged edition edition (Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553527533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553527537
  • Product Dimensions: 11.5 x 18.2 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,225,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Since 1967, when he published Washington, DC, Gore Vidal has been assembling an artful, acidic history of the United States. The Golden Age represents the seventh and final instalment of this national epic, covering the years from 1939 to 1954 (with a valedictory fast-forward, in its final pages, to the end of the millennium). As Vidal did in the earlier books, the author sticks pretty rigorously to the facts. Real-life figures--in this case, the likes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman and that ardent cold warrior Dean Acheson--do what they are recorded to have done. The author also ushers in a cast of invented characters, who are free to paddle in the historical backwash and comment upon their so-called contemporaries. It's here, of course, that fact and fiction begin to blur. But Vidal himself has often cited Tolstoy's famous jab--"History would be an excellent thing if it only were true"--and his reconstruction of FDR's wartime machinations, and the brief interval of Pax Americana, seem persuasively, even alarmingly plausible.

There's one key difference between this book and its predecessors, however. Vidal was alive and kicking in 1939, and thanks to his role as Senator Thomas Pryor Gore's grandson (and occasional seeing-eye dog), he met, or at least observed, many of the The Golden Age's dramatis personae. This fact turns out to have a double edge. On one hand, it gives his portraits of the high and mighty an extra ounce of verisimilitude. Here (the invented) Caroline Sanford observes her old friend FDR at an informal White House mixer:

She felt for an instant that she should curtsey in the awesome presence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a figure who towered even when seated in his wheelchair. It was the head and neck that did the trick, she decided, with a professional actor's eye. The neck was especially thick while the famous head seemed half again larger than average, its thinning grey hair combed severely back from a high rounded forehead.
Like all of Vidal's politicians, FDR is a more or less gifted illusionist, and The Golden Age is one more chapter in the convergence of theatre and politics, of Hollywood and Washington, DC. But the very vividness of these historical actors (in every sense of the phrase) makes the author's invented cast seem a little pale and lifeless. No matter. Even in its occasional longueurs, Vidal's concluding volume is packed with ironic insight and world-class gossip, much of it undoubtedly true. And in the surprisingly metafictional finale, he signs off with a fine display of Heraclitean fireworks, which no doubt his ancestor Aaron Burr would (and does!) appreciate. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Vidal's combination of learning, wit and disdain gets into your blood. He can change the way you think (OBSERVER)

This entertaining portrait of an imperial elite may well be, as Vidal intends, the version of US history that survives in the coming decades. (IRISH TIMES)

Crackpot theory has seldom been so suavely and entertainingly put across. (NEW STATESMAN)

Vidal's satiric thrusts are enormous fun. (DAILY TELEGRAPH) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peerless 8 Jan 2005
By A Customer
Although I am an avid enthusiast for Vidal, I had held back from reading this, as I had been put off by his bizarre link with the Mcveigh family. The contention regarding Pearl harbor seemd to be a simialr wonky turn. I was wrong.
This is a convincing and literate triumph. It neatly ties up the complete "Empire" chronicles both historically and as works of fiction. Th matching of his own experience with his fictional counterpart (and parallel self) is convincingly done.
As to the Pearl Harbor claim, I , as a Briton, accept the consequences of Pearl Harbor But, it is likely that part of FDR's incredible demands on Japan were to push it into a first strike against the US. Accepting this, the contention, now supported by FOIA papers, that he held back information is not too wild. Vidal rightly states that "FDR did not know pearl harbor would be attacked", but he did know the Japanaese fleet were going to attack somewhere -probably Guam.
So, I think the other reviewer makes a big mistake - Vidal is not being disrespectful of the people who died at Pearl Harbor. He is, rather, raising presidential invovlement in such a slaughter of American citizens. Is he right? Possibly? Is he entitled to raise the evidence and assumptions? Yes.
So, I remain in awe of Vidal, both as artist and commentator.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mock on, Vidal, for it is NOT in Vain! 5 Feb 2002
By A Customer
You do not have to agree with every last thing Vidal says in order to find this a highly entertaining literary read. The author is a master of satire. And once again I found myself, as with Lincoln, Burr, Julian and Creation (etc), rushing out to gather an armful of history books to help me read up on the era. Few writers make history so compelling a read, or have the talent to infuse their readers with a desire to know the particular era under consideration, to know more (even if, by the end, you don't quite agree with all Vidal's takes on a subject). He is like an intelligent Cheshire Cat, grinning at all the falderol and pompous nonsense of the world. He will always be a pleasure to the detached reader.
Truth grinning in a canting world.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By James
This is a book about American politics. It covers the period 1939-1950 and features a mix of fictional characters and real historical figures. The latter include presidents Roosevelt and Truman, Roosevelt's key wartime advisor Harry Hopkins, and Truman's undersecretary, later secretary, of state Dean Acheson. The fictional characters are not interesting in themselves and there is little serious effort to develop them. Their only purpose is to illuminate the real-life characters and, especially, to provide a vehicle for Vidal to offer an extended commentary on the decade of the 1940s, which he labels the `Golden Age' to reflect his perception that it was during this decade that America became unambiguously the world's leading nation, and a major imperial power.

The title is meant ironically: Vidal sees the imperial role as a matter of regret and indeed, a betrayal of the original ideals of the American republic. This is the main message not only of this book but also of Vidal's entire 7-volume sequence Narratives Of Empire, spanning the period 1776-1950, of which this book is chronologically the final volume. The central theme both of this book and of the larger sequence of books is put into the mouth of a fictional character, Senator Day, in chapter 12:

"The real political struggle in the United States, since the Civil War, has been between the peaceful inhabitants of the nation with their generally representative Congresses and a small professional elite totally cut off from the nation, pursuing wealth through wars that they invent and justify and resonate for others to die in."

Vidal seeks to justify this broad claim in two ways, roughly corresponding to the two halves of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Golden 16 Oct 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is quite superb, full of rich detail and deft literary skill that never bores or lectures. It covers a most vital time in US history when the presidency used great lies to accomplish its ends. And as for the previous reviewer saying it is a slur on the memory on FDR, one thing Vidal does for his work is research. There are members of the establishment of that era who wrote biographies and histories that run counter to the widely accepted version of history; Vidal did not rely on conjecture or fantasy. Check out his 'The Last Empire' for details. Pearl Harbour was not out of the blue. But best read this eloguent and rich book to learn more and gain greater understand about the transformation of the US presidency into the world shaping and cause for concern to the world that it has become.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Looking down on America 16 Aug 2013
Gore Vidal looked down from his hilltop villa on the Amalfi as he looked down on the idiotic Americans and their inferior, uncultured history. He was too good for them, what with his blue blood and high gay culture, so he spent his life pissing on his fellow countrymen from a great height up in Ravello. He spews bile over the whole silly lot of them and all of their history - from the origins of the country, to the centenary and now into his own lifetime. Beneath the bile and the silly bitchiness, there are large chunks of truth, clever analysis and a clearer understanding of the country. His books are unique - as a member of the elite in self imposed exile, his novels - usually better than this one - have become an alternative history of the US and well worth reading.

This is his very last foray into history, and in parts, is fascinating and excellent. His 'characters' in this - the people he puts into the real life situations- take away, rather than add to, the history of the 1930's to the present day. The focus of the story is how the US became a proper empire, inheriting the British mantle after WW1 and finally, full bloodedly after WWII. The good stuff is all about Roosevelt - that sly aristocrat so hated by all the rich (you think Obama is the first to get it from these idiots?)who drew the US into the Second World War by stealth. This is very well written and probably accurate. But his real venom is saved for the widely admired Harry S. Truman, who essentially scraps the Constitution to turn the US into a police state and global empire. Some of the passages are chilling, clear and will blow you away.

But this novel fails to excite as a novel.
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