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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nightmare Vision
I must confess that I've never been much of a fan of Philip Roth's work, often finding him too rambling. This book, however, is nothing short of a masterpiece. The central idea is that Charles A. Lindbergh, the famous aviator and Nazi-sympathiser, wins the presidential election in 1936. Having campaigned against US involvement in the Second World War, he ensures that...
Published on 18 Oct 2004 by Poldy

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars clever
I like the 'what if' historical retrospective novel concept and I enjoyed the whole story, the way it has been written, (through the eyes of a boy), and the style of the author.
The underlying sense of fear stays pertinent throughout, but I was left feeling that the US got itself out of this scrape just a little too easily and without concern for future...
Published on 1 Mar 2005 by neil tunnock


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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nightmare Vision, 18 Oct 2004
By 
Poldy "Paul" (Darwen, Lancashire) - See all my reviews
I must confess that I've never been much of a fan of Philip Roth's work, often finding him too rambling. This book, however, is nothing short of a masterpiece. The central idea is that Charles A. Lindbergh, the famous aviator and Nazi-sympathiser, wins the presidential election in 1936. Having campaigned against US involvement in the Second World War, he ensures that America stays out of what is seen as a European conflict.
The main character is Philip Roth, a young boy whose life revolves around his family: his hard-working father, his devoted mother, and an older brother who takes the side of the anti-semitic Lindbergh. Also in the frame is a cousin who goes off to fight in the war, and returns an amputee, and an aunt who is take in by the glamour of the new regime.
Wisely, Roth the writer steers clear of cataclysmic events. It would have been easy to include internment or concentration camps, but Roth concentrates on small events, the kind that defines our lives. The feeling of fear and paranoia is palpable, but we also see how ordinary, decent people can take a stand and make a difference.
I recommend this book strongly for its human understanding and compassion, as well as for its fine writing.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A counter-life in Lindbergh's America, 29 Sep 2009
This review is from: The Plot Against America (Paperback)
This novel drew a lot of literary praise and a fair amount of political flak when it first appeared in 2004. Philip Roth has done outstanding biographical and autobiographical books before (like 'Patrimony' and 'The Facts') and he's even mixed fiction into seemingly autobiographical books to good effect too, (see the horrifying and hilarious 'Operation Shylock'). Still, 'The Plot Against America' is maybe his most remarkable fusion of fiction and autobiography so far.
This book is mainly the first-person reminiscences of a character called Philip Roth about growing up in early Forties' Newark, but not in the early Forties dominated by F. D. Roosevelt. Instead, in this alternative history, Charles Lindbergh ran as Republican Presidential candidate in 1940 and successfully challenged FDR for the Presidency. Once installed, President Lindbergh reaches an accord with Hitler and passes a series of measures seemingly designed to disperse and isolate America's Jewish community. (In an appendix, Roth reprints some damning remarks from the historical Lindbergh that make the imagined course of the alternative Lindbergh Presidency seem sadly plausible.) The screw tightens very slowly and the escalation of widespread anti-Semitism in a democratic country is made to seem all too convincing.
Some critics leapt on Roth for supposedly offering a short-range satire on the America of George W. Bush and his aides but 'The Plot Against America' isn't really about Bush, or any individual - it's much more about how fragile democracy might be against determined opposition from within. There are a few odd things here - the ending of the book seems rushed and contrived, and sometimes a lot of information gets beamed at the reader in a way more like that of a lecture than a novel. Still, 'The Plot Against America' is an astonishing use of alternative history, even alternative autobiography, and one of Roth's best and most inventive books.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing & Terrifying, 21 Mar 2005
This is a fantastic book. It takes an interesting premise (Charles Lindbergh defeating FDR in the 1940 US presidential election running on an anti-war & only slightly masked anti-Semitic agenda) and extrapolates the consequences.
The book is absolutely captivating from the start; it is beautifully written, the characterisation is amazing and the basic premise is handled consistently all the way through. It is a triumph.
Roth concentrates on a single family mainly through the eyes of youngest son Philip and examines the impact of this alternate history. He focuses on the small things (in a nod to Primo Levi?) rather than the wider political context; this is very effective as the tension and the horror build slowly but inexorably.
Things start small: a cousin goes to Canada and enlists (and returns having lost a leg), a family holiday is disrupted, the aunt and older brother effectively join the pro-Lindbergh movement and there is a Jewish resettlement program before the violence starts to escalate... Throughout, the sense of paranoia and fear is almost tangible, as is the misery and pain of a family being torn apart by conflicting allegiances.
A wonderful book, altogether plausible and all the more chilling for it.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Philip Roth Takes a Trip Down Alternate History Lane, 19 Oct 2004
By 
Leonard Fleisig "Len" (Virginia Beach, Virginia) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
It is an oft-stated cliché that many families in the U.S. are but one or two paychecks away from poverty. Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" suggests that perhaps U.S. society in 1940 (and perhaps again in 2004) one election surprise away from fascism. The Plot Against America also suggests that many families are but one step away from falling into dysfunctionality and despair. Although such a topic is susceptible of trite, formulaic prose, in the hands of Philip Roth it works remarkably well.
The story line is rather simple. Taking on the genre of alternate history (with which he shares with no small amount of irony at least some creative DNA with the conservative former Congressman Newt Gingrich, now an author of alternative history fiction), Roth imagines a United States in which Charles Lindbergh storms the deadlocked 1940 Republican Convention, upsets Wendell Wilkie (the actual non-isolationist Republican candidate) for the nomination, then barnstorms the nation in a novel election campaign that ousts Franklin Roosevelt from the White House. "Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War" serves as the victorious campaign slogan. Slowly, but inexorably, U.S. isolationist policy grows stronger after it signs a non aggression pact with Germany and Japan. Britain grows weaker, and Lindbergh's cabinet and the Republican congress enact a series of laws that cause no small bit of consternation in America's Jewish community.
So far, there is nothing about the story line that is at all unusual in the alternate history genre. However, Roth writes his story through the eyes of one Phil Roth, youngest child of the Roth family of the Wequahic section of Newark. This alone sets The Plot apart from what is typically found in this genre. Roth's examination of the lives of big events through the eyes of a 'little' man creates a subcontext that is rife with meaning for anyone who has experienced the joys and despairs of a family in crisis.
The Roth family, generally enjoying the rising working class/middle class fruits of life in mid-20th century America suddenly sees its internal world ripped asunder by these big events. The Roth family is, as is most of their Jewish neighbors, horrified at Lindbergh's election and justifiably fearful of what lies ahead. Unfortunately, their fears are well founded. Roth's Plot is as much, if not more, the story of the reaction of one family to this alternate history as the story of a nation at war with itself.
If Roth can be faulted for painting his alternate history with a broad and perhaps overly simpistic brush he cannot be faulted for the depth and insight into the life of a family tempest-tossed by a society gone mad. It is nuanced and meaningful. Roth's writing can be, and often is, stunning. As has always been his habit when he is on form, Roth is capable of crafting beautiful sentences and paragraphs. By looking at world-shattering events through the prism of a young man's eyes those events take on additional meaning because they can be understood on a familial rather than on a societal level.
Roth does have some fun with the historical figures that appear throughout the book. Walter Winchell, once the country's most famous radio reporters (and also the voice over narrator of the old Untouchables television series) leads the post-election campaign against Lindbergh and his cronies, most notably the viciously anti-Semitic Henry Ford. FDR and Fiorello LaGuardia also play important roles in Roth's alternate universe.
There are, no doubt, many readers that will resent what seems to be an attack on a person with the heroic stature of Lindbergh. That may be so, yet Roth does not go over the top in my opinion and by book's end does evoke more than a bit of sympathy for Lucky Lindy. Similarly, many have asserted that Roth's approach to the 1940 election, Contains a rather blunt allegory to the 2004 election campaign. To that extent, no one should doubt Roth's probably political point of view. Again, that may be so. However, as if clear from the book's ultimate resolution (which should be left undisclosed in a review) that this society can sustain and repel challenges to the type of authoritarian regime imposed in Roth's alternate history is a far more optimistic world view than some of Roth's critics may credit him with.
Possible allegories aside, this is one of Roth's best efforts in recent years and I think that there is much to be gained by reading the book, no matter where ones current political sensibilities find their home. His prose is more concise than it has been for some time. For the first time in a long time, Roth seems more interested in telling a story in comprehensible declarative sentences than in creating sentences that do little more than establish his credentials as a 'serious' writer. The Plot Against America can be enjoyed on any number of levels. It is not simply a parable of contemporary society and can be enjoyed simply for the quality of the writing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing & Terrifying, 27 Jan 2005
This is a fantastic book. It takes an interesting premise (Charles Lindbergh defeating FDR in the 1940 US presidential election running on an anti-war & only slightly masked anti-Semitic agenda) and extrapolates the consequences.
The book is absolutely captivating from the start; it is beautifully written, the characterisation is amazing and the basic premise is handled consistently all the way through. It is a triumph.
Roth concentrates on a single family mainly through the eyes of youngest son Philip and examines the impact of this alternate history. He focuses on the small things (in a nod to Primo Levi?) rather than the wider political context; this is very effective as the tension and the horror build slowly but inexorably.
Things start small: a cousin goes to Canada and enlists (and returns having lost a leg), a family holiday is disrupted, the aunt and older brother effectively join the pro-Lindbergh movement and there is a Jewish resettlement program before the violence starts to escalate... Throughout, the sense of paranoia and fear is almost tangible, as is the misery and pain of a family being torn apart by conflicting allegiances.
A wonderful book, altogether plausible and all the more chilling for it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Moving Metaphor for the European Jewish Experience, 22 May 2005
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
The Plot Against America is a fictional device that provides American readers with a mental exercise to help understand what it was like to be a Jew during the rise of the Nazis in Europe. It's one of the most powerful novels that I have read in many years.
The story develops brilliantly in the context of one family, Philip Roth's, and their connections to a few friends and neighbors. The Roths are a surrogate for the entire Jewish community. As such, the characters and surroundings have a strong non-fiction resonance that provides an edge over most novels.
To make way for the metaphor, Mr. Roth has to move history around in improbable ways . . . by eliminating FDR as president in 1940 and replacing FDR with a remote and Nazi-cooperating Charles Lindbergh. Those aspects of the novel are so contrived that it's hard to take them seriously . . . except that you will feel the chill of threat into your very bone marrow from this story.
If you are thinking about reading the story to think about "what if", I think you are making a mistake. The "what if" isn't all that intriguing.
If you want to read the story as a horror tale, that's the right reason for this book.
A reader can learn a lot from this novel. Place yourself in the shoes of each of the major characters and ask yourself what you would have done. If you are honest, you'll recognize how easily we are alternatively swayed and cowed by events and people around us. It's an important lesson that Mr. Roth provides very well.
As usual for a Philip Roth book, the sentences and descriptions are powerful and effective. He also keeps you off balance with his plotting. Although some "what nexts" are pretty easy to anticipate, others aren't . . . and that makes you more and more interested in what happens to these fictional Roths.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mature novel by a celebrated American writer, 11 Nov 2004
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.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Counter-factual history, thankfully, 29 April 2006
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Plot Against America (Paperback)
This is a remarkably convincing counter-factual history of the United States between 1940 and 1942 and how it impacted on the seven to nine year old boy who was Philip Roth at the time. In that version of history, the 1940 presidential election was won by the American folk-hero and aviator Charles Lindbergh on a programme of keeping the United States out of the war against Hitler into which Roosevelt was thought to be steering the country. Lindbergh subsequently met Hitler in Iceland to seal American neutrality. That fact made many Jews, including Philip's father, accuse Lindbergh of being an antisemitic fascist, and that in turn made those Americans who wanted to keep out of the war accuse the Jews of wanting to drag America into it, and fanned antisemitic feelings to such an extent that Jews came to feel very insecure.

In actual history, Lindbergh was indeed something of an admirer of Hitler and had been awarded a decoration by him, and he was a prominent member of the America First Committee, founded to oppose Roosevelt's interventionist polices and to promote American isolationism. Historically also Lindbergh had been disturbed by the influence of Jews in the media, and he did single out the Jews as a pressure group trying to push America into the war.

In the novel, Lindbergh's antisemitic policies are much subtler than Hitler's: he simply sponsors programmes to make them 'more American' by inducing them to move out of the strongly Jewish areas on the East coast into the Mid-West. A prominent Jewish rabbi is a confidant and a regular visitor to the White House, and he defends the President against the charge of being antisemitic; the press carries a letter from Mrs Lindbergh to the rabbi in which the First Lady pays tribute to the great spiritual strength of the Jewish people. Towards the end of the novel we find an ingenious, if rather far-fetched, invention which explains this moderation, and which it would be a spoiler to reveal in this review. In any case, Lindbergh's more strident Jewish opponents, most prominent among them the journalist and broadcaster Walter Winchell, are not convinced. (The novel is full of American public figures who really existed). Nor must I reveal the way in which the author eventually brings the novel to a point where the real history we know can be resumed (which, incidentally, forces Roth to misdate Pearl Harbour).

But before American history is 'back on track', we do see an America in which the sense of menace is growing and in which Jews do indeed come to be in deadly peril, with pogroms, riots, and murders. And one feels it could really have happened like this.

Against this background we have the life of the child Philip, in which he has many other things to think about than the political situation which so involves his parents and the older members of his family. The sense of danger does get through to him, of course, but at times we are as much involved in the importance of his stamp-collection, his relationship with his elder brother and his cousin, the tricks he gets up to with a school friend etc. So although this is primarily a political novel, it is at the same time a novel about childhood preoccupations, and a compelling read on both scores.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mature novel by a celebrated American writer, 6 Nov 2004
This review is from: Plot Against America (Hardcover)
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.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost perfect, but...., 7 Feb 2006
By 
This review is from: The Plot Against America (Paperback)
I'm surprised that some reviewers found this book uninvolving and hard to get through. I found myself identifying strongly with the Roth family (and I'm neither Jewish nor American) and couldn't put the book down.
On the other hand, I'm a history graduate with a particular interest in the 1940s, and I can see that someone not familiar with the history of the period might miss a lot.
I also agree with the comment from Matt Diamond that the plot twist that Roth uses to get history "back on track" is implausible and unsatisfying, for which it gets docked one star.
All that said, the book is superbly written - Roth is brilliant on character, especially the dynamics of families, and can turn a paragraph expertly from wit to tragedy and back again better than virtually anyone else writing today.
Perhaps not quite his best - I recommend "American Pastoral" if you want a real five-star read, but this is excellent nonetheless.
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The Plot Against America
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (Paperback - 6 Oct 2005)
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