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The Golden Age: Number 7 in series (Narratives of empire) [Paperback]

Gore Vidal
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Product Description

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.

Review

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)

Wonderfully compelling. It is serious and entertaining. It rings diamond-true. It is a novel for grown-ups; and that is something very rare in contemporary fiction (SCOTSMAN)

Brilliantly evokes the decade when the US believed it was the undisputed master of the universe ... imperious, well-informed and wickedly accomplished, it brings American politics to life in a way that few other modern novels can match (DAILY MAIL)

Our greatest living historical novelist (ANTHONY BURGESS)

Iconoclastic, yet never mere satirical caricature, this remarkable novel sequence is a melange of historical demystification ... The bold sweep of Vidal's design continues to enthral, and throughout The Golden Age, as throughout the sequence, he delights in giving the read entree to a heady variety of gatherings ... Vidal's touch in handling these set pieces and portraying the famous remains wonderfully assured (LITERARY REVIEW)

There are still few novelists with the ability to so vividly imagine a scene, and even fewer who so completely understand and write about the nature of power. And anyone who wants to learn about the history of the United States will learn as much from this series of novels [Narratives of Empire] as they will from the history books (SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY)

Book Description

* The magnificent concluding volume of Vidal's epic NARRATIVES OF EMPIRE, embodying the passage of American history.

About the Author

Gore Vidal has been at the centre of literary and intellectual life for half a century. He died on 31st July 2012.
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