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24 of 24 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 Paul D

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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer brilliance (and scary possibility!), 25 July 2014
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If there's only one thing you need to say about Philip Roth, then it has to be that he is absolutely brilliant. But.. if you have reached "the Plot against America" then you are no doubt familiar with Mr. Roth's work, and this statement is already a well-known fact to you.

"The Plot against America" takes the witty bits from "Portnoy's Complaint", and mixes it with the grim atmosphere of chaos that we encounter in "American Pastoral". the style is again autobiographical, only in "the Plot Against America" we step into an alternate reality, in which Charles Lindberg, the aviator (and Nazi sympathiser) is elected President of the United States instead of FDR (voted to run 'sans' primaries straight from the floor of Republican Party National Assembly and sweeping the country subsequently in the 1940 elections).
Lindberg, who was Philip Roth's - the charecter - brother's secret hero, is sweeping the country into complete anti-Jewish propaganda, which is quite similar to the general atmosphere the Nazis have initiated in Germany prior to the madness that was set loose in and after Kristallnacht.

the story is told from the viewpoint of the young Jewish boy - Philip Roth - whose immature point of view as well as the focus on the little thing in life, makes it so genuine.
The Scary thing about this book is that Roth doesn't exaggerate nor does he fantasizes an implausible scenario. You would not see American-Jews sent to concentration camps, but an initiation of an American governmental program to assimilate Jews in society, ran (and hence given the "Kosher stamp") by Lindberg's Rabbi friend, general anti Jews sentiment, public riots and so on and so on. You will read the Plot against American while holding your breath, thinking this can very much happen tomorrow or the next day.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I don't usually like Philip Roth but..., 11 Aug 2013
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I found this book absolutely gripping. It is a realistic description of what can happen in a civilised country when fear takes over. It's the perfect response to people who say "it couldn't happen here".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alternative Realities, 19 Dec 2010
By 
The Hedgehog "me" (The Hedgerows of England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Plot Against America (Paperback)
If I was being simplistic, I'd say this was a "what if" novel. The author changes a fact of history (in this case FDR loses the 1940 presidential election to Charles Lindhberg) and uses that to explore what life would have been like for a Jewish family in the alternative - antisemitic - US that is created by this change.

What's amazing about this novel is not the big idea, it's the fact that it is so well realised. I worry that sometimes these "what if" stories require something momentous and huge and shocking to be going on all the time, and can sometimes forget about telling truthful human stories. This novel absolutely does not. I really felt the slow creeping terror of the changes to the society that surrounds the family (particularly the son, who is at the centre of the novel), and the attendant paranoia.

I can't really recommend this highly enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philip Roth at his fulminating best, 18 Oct 2009
By 
Trevor Coote "Trevor Coote" (Tahiti, French Polynesia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Plot Against America (Paperback)
Historical what ifs provide ideal fodder for exercising the imagination of authors. One of the most popular must surely be `what if the isolationists had won out in America during the Second World War?' In his fulminating alternative historical novel The Plot Against America, heavyweight scribe Philip Roth recreates a pre-war political landscape in which aviation pilot and all-American hero Charles A Lindburgh, a vociferous opponent of intervention into `Europe's war', is elected president, ousting incumbent Franklyn D Roosevelt. Lindbergh, riding on a wave of unprecedented popularity, especially in the Christian heartlands, signs a friendship pact with Adolf Hitler which ensures that America remains at peace while the rest of the world implodes.
However, life for the Roth family of Newark will never be the same again. The Plot is a disturbing and moving account of how politics can tear apart families, communities and individuals. For the Jews of America a cordial agreement with the Nazis is anything but welcome as the brutality and oppression against their folk in Germany unfurls in newspapers across the world. Young Philip Roth is bludgeoned by his father's relentless diatribes against Lindbergh's anti-Semitism and his ominous predictions about the fate of the Jews under the current administration. His adopted son Alvin is equally enraged and heads for Canada to take up arms and fight against the Nazis. However, older son Sandy has been seduced by the new directives advocating and aiding the assimilation of Jews into the American way of life and is sent to a farm in Kentucky. Bit by bit these incentives to Americanise (eventually by means of dispersal) - the latest being the benignly entitled Homestead 42 organised by the Office of American Absorption - become more sinister, a kind of anti-Semitism by stealth. Yet, despite these fears there are still Jews who voluntary collaborate with the regime, ridiculing families like the Roths as `Ghetto Jews' incapable of forward, modern thinking. As the situation deteriorates and Jews begin to flee to Canada the Roth family and their world is torn apart by a series of tragedies.
The jury is still out as to the true depths of Lindbergh's anti-Semitism, whether he was an out and out Nazi sympathiser or just a `dinner-party' anti-Semite. Philip Roth has no doubt. Of course, The Plot Against America is inflammatory - Roth is a combative writer - but it is fiction. It is wrong to accuse the author of being anti-gentile because not only is he too intelligent for that but he has himself been accused of Jewish anti-Semitism in the past. It is, anyway, at heart a novel about growing up in unstable times. A frightened, sensitive solitary individual, Philip watches his family's world disintegrate, barely knowing who to believe as the arguments rage around him and the situation plunges into the abyss. It is a book written with breathless ferocity sprinkled with lacerating Jewish humour, and is so magnificent and epic in its scope, so terrifyingly convincing in its authenticity and so moving in its details that it can be forgiven for almost any of its faults. But you have to be a Philip Roth fan to agree with me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Live in a Nightmare, 10 Feb 2008
This review is from: The Plot Against America (Paperback)
Charles Lindbergh is best known as the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. However, he was also a noted isolationist and, prior to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour, opposed any American involvement in the Second World War. Following the conviction of a German immigrant, Bruno Hauptmann, for the murder of Charles Jr, the Lindbergh family spend some time abroad, and become regular visitors to Germany in the late 1930s. Lindbergh refers to Hitler as "undoubtedly a great man", and receives the Service Cross of the German Eagle in 1938 from Hermann Goring. He continues to defend Nazi Germany after the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland and - in a speech in Des Moines, in September 1941 - identifies "the Jewish race" as one of the most influential groups in pushing America towards war. These groups are looking to enter the war, Lindbergh claims, "for reasons which are not American".

In real life, of course, Lindbergh's views made no real difference. America declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy after the attack on Pearl Harbour and, having once been a revered hero, Lindbergh fell rapidly from grace. He and his wife were widely viewed with distrust and even hostility - Charles was unwelcome in the Air Corps and work, for a time, work proved difficult to come by. However, things work out differently in "The Plot Against America" - which is probably best described as an alternate history book. In it, Roth imagines what his life might have been like if Lindbergh had stood for - and won - the American Presidency. However, rather than following the people in power, it imagines how Lindbergh's policies might have affected the Roth family.

The book covers a period of roughly two and a half years and opens in June 1940 - at a time when Roth was seven years old and a passionate stamp-collector. At this point, Roth was living in New Jersey with his parents and his brother Sandy - twelve years old, and a gifted artist. Up until Lindbergh's nomination for the Presidency, the Roth family led a largely happy life. They lived in a Jewish neighbourhood, something Roth's mother, Elizabeth, particularly appreciated. (Elizabeth had been raised in an Irish Catholic area, and - although she had never mentioned any blatant mistreatment - had grown up feeling something of an outsider). Although a Jewish quarter, it seems to have been typically `American' in appearance. Admittedly, the butcher was kosher - however, the language most commonly used was English rather than Hebrew or Yiddish, no-one wore a skullcap and few sported a beard. Philip, meanwhile, pledged his allegiance to America every morning at school, and couldn't see why Palestine was of any relevance. Life naturally changes dramatically under Lindbergh : an isolationist who had warned against "the infiltration of inferior blood", before negotiating an `understanding' with the Fuhrer. Not surprisingly, his subsequent policies are not designed with the best interests of the Jewish community in mind.

The man in charge of some of these policies is, essentially, a collaborator : Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf, of B'Nai Moshe Temple. A well educated and rich man, he had been viewed by the media as the religious leader of the Jewish people in New Jersey. However, he endorses Lindbergh's candidacy early in the book, effectively guarantees his victory and is subsequently `rewarded' with a post in government. As the Director of the "Office of American Absorption", he's responsible for the running of "Just Folks" - a program that takes Jewish teenagers, and sends them to live with Christian families for months at a time. In time, Sandy is selected and sent to a family in Kentucky, who run a tobacco farm - a stint that has a worrying effect on him. The Rabbi casts a long shadow over the Roth household as Elizabeth's sister, Aunt Evelyn, has a very close working relationship with the Rabbi. There are some friends and neighbours who look towards a life in Canada - others join the Canadian army to fight in the war. Among these is Roth's cousin, Alvin - who leaves early in the book - though soon returns home injured.

This is an excellent book - rather frightening, depressing and even a little challenging, but excellent nonetheless. Lindberg's government view their policies as the right and proper approach - they claim what they're doing will increase the American public's security and guarantee their well-being. People like Alvin - who fought in the war - are, on the other hand, somehow viewed unpatriotic. Early in the book the family take a trip to Washington, where his Roth's father highlights a line from the Gettysburg Address : "All Men Are Created Equal". In an instant, I was reminded of "Animal Farm" by George Orwell : "but some are more equal than others". Very highly recommended.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars clever, 1 Mar 2005
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 repercussions.
A wider geographical perspective would have added to the dread of the decent citizen, and the reader, though I accept this story is limited to the view of the New Jersey youth, both literally and his limited view of life and his scope of understanding at that age.
The characters are developed with skill and I gathered a good feel for the NJ landscape and culture of that era.
A good solid read, not ground-breaking or spectacular, but certainly well worth finding time for.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Alternate Look At The 33rd US President - Superb Prose!, 11 Feb 2005
Alternate history, is the exercise of looking at the past and asking "what if?" What if some major historical event had gone differently? How might the world have been changed? Ultimately, alternate history is the road not taken. Philip Roth's novel, "The Plot Against America," is based on the premise that in the 1940 US presidential election, last minute Republican candidate Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Imagine!! Roth, the author, has imagined, and his result is both brilliant and mind boggling - an extraordinary, bone chilling story, beautifully written!! This is, at least partially, an autobiographical novel. The subject is fear - fear and anxiety so sharp the reader can smell it, almost taste it - a boy's fear, and that of the Roth family's of Newark, NJ, their neighbors' and community's. It is also a love story. I have rarely read fiction where the writer pours so much love onto the page - especially for his parents and brother. Herman Roth, Philip's father, is the book's hero, and Bess, his mother shines as the ultimate Jewish heroine - "whose worth is far above rubies."
"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." Thus the book begins, in the words of the now adult Philip, reminiscing about himself as a seven year-old boy. Our narrator for this tale, however, is young Philip, and a very effective guide he is. His voice is authentic and honest and lends much reality to this alternate fiction. It is not very difficult to remember one's childhood fears, and other emotions. But we examine these feelings in retrospect, colored by the years we have lived since that time. The true genius of this narrative lies in the immediacy with which Roth expresses these long-ago feelings. It is as if he has regressed and tapped into the true emotions of his boyhood self.
The Great Depression devastated the American economy in the 1930s. It also gave birth to extreme political movements. Fascism never really caught on in the US, but it did have a following, and anti-Semitism was rampant. Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh were influential voices to the far right, and were extreme isolationists in their views on the European war, better known as the German invasion of Europe. Both received and accepted medals from the Third Reich. In this 1940 election, the one that never happened, Roosevelt runs a campaign based on complex policies, foreign and domestic. Lindbergh, a national hero, handsome and athletic, flies around the USA in his Spirit of St. Louis, promising to keep America out of Europe's war. He greets cheering crowds with the words, "Your choice is simple. It's between Lindbergh and war. To preserve the nation, we must resist the propaganda of 'the Jewish race,' and their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government." In a momentous victory, Lindbergh becomes the 33rd President of the United States, with isolationist Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler as his vice president, and Henry Ford as Secretary of the Interior.
To the Roths, who are second and third generation Americans, this country has always provided a set of constitutional protections which allow them to live, as Jews, in Jewish neighborhoods or anywhere else, should they so wish, without the fear of the violence so prevalent in Europe. They had been relieved from the burden of obvious prejudice when their parents immigrated to the US, never more to be looked upon as outsiders. Herman and Bess Roth are startled by Lindbergh's victory. Herman comments when hearing the jubilant, cheering crowd, "They live in a dream, and we live in a nightmare."
The characters throughout the novel are lifelike, superbly constructed and three-dimensional - but then I have a feeling that such consistently powerful figures must be largely autobiographical. And the historical figures are absolutely believable. As a matter of fact, Roth has placed a detailed reference at the back of the book, "A True Chronology of the Major Figures," from Roosevelt, Lindbergh, Walter Winchell, (who becomes a presidential candidate), and Henry Ford to Joseph Goebbels and Joachim von Ribbentrop, (who is given a state dinner at the White House). Additional documentation is included in this reference also.
Mr. Roth succeeds with his vision of an alternate pre-WW II history. This is an extremely difficult genre in which to write a believable narrative. Historical accuracy is necessary, in terms of what has occurred before the author's point of divergence. The historical projection must make complete sense. The devil is in the details - and the details are where the real difficulty lies. The writer has to be part economist, sociologist, historian, military strategist, political scientist, etc.. Most readers are certainly capable of suspending belief, but asking them to stretch their imagination too far is a formula for disaster. Roth's novel is a coherent blend of autobiography, history, and speculation which makes sense of fiction.
The plot is fascinating, fast paced and riveting. The writing is fluid. The author's vivid descriptions bring sights, smells, entire neighborhoods and events to life, and make a variety of intense feelings palpable. I could not put this book down. The use of irony and dark humor are fantastic. I don't remember whether I laughed more than I cried. I believe that Philip Roth confronts the possibility of an anti-Semitic, fascist America from an American point of view, rather than from a Jewish perspective. For Herman Roth, Jewishness is, "neither a mishap or a misfortune or an achievement to be 'proud' of." It is rather "in the nature of things, as fundamental as having arteries and veins." He insists on a place in this country, his country, as an American, no matter what "the nature of things" might be. This is what Herman Roth believes and this is what makes "The Plot Against America" an American novel. My highest recommendation!
JANA
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No Nobel just yet, 23 Jun 2005
By 
It's taken me a long time to sit down and write this review. Opinions are quite divided on this book and I wanted to think through how I really felt. I think there are exceptional aspects of this book in terms of coming of age story within a specifically Jewish family. I enjoyed much of the family dynamics and the drama of a child watching his parents inability to control larger forces in the world. Touching and poignant.
But my problems with the book thematically outweigh my positive feelings. I have two main concerns. First, this novel isn't really a "it could happen here" story. It's a "it could happen to us" story - and the "us" is Jewish Americans, primarily urban or from the Northeast. It deals with a horrible situation (a fictional horrible situation) for one segment of our society. This is not a novel with a large canvas of characters across the American spectrum. The truth is that all the bad things and worse DID happen to many Americans. Native Americans WERE exterminated and marginalized on to reservations. Black Americans WERE enslaved, discriminated against, barred from hotels, lynched. There WERE race riots in America. None of the truths of our recent past need to be fictionalized, because these things actually happened. In this novel, however, Roth isn't talking about America as a whole. He's appealing to the book reading segment of America to which he belongs, and to people who would rather be horrified by things that MIGHT have happened, while ignoring the unpleasant things that DID happen to many minorities. The novelist also clearly has prejudices against th American South. Toward the end of this book the horrific scenario involves a trip to rescue a young man from the South, the heart, apparently, of American darkness and bigotry and hatred. Sorry, but please take this point of view into consideration. Large portions of the American populace have reason to feel slighted by all the attention, accolades and shocked admiration this novel has received. There is a bias inherent in it that should be addressed more than it has been so far.
Also, the ending of this book is surprisingly weak. I won't give it away. We all deserve to be disappointed in our way. But the way he explains the whole premise of the book is really bizarre. It feels like suddenly at the end he has the whole country wake up from a bad dream, everything explained, everything mended. Very strange. The novel would've been much more powerful if the menace that he develops was left lingering after the reader turned the last page. Roth must have calculated that his improbable ending would appeal to a larger audience. He was right, I guess, but it doesn't make for a great book. I'm not a fanatic, and I'm definitely not a right-winger, but I don't think this is a very strong book. It's flaws, I believe, will be even clearer over time.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AS THE WORLD TURNS..., 11 Nov 2008
By 
Lawyeraau (Balmoral Castle) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Plot Against America (Paperback)
I loved this book, as it was a wonderful melding of two genres, that of alternate history to that of family drama. Understandably, this book was touted as a New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year. It is as gripping as it is moving, and the best book that I have read by this author, no doubt influenced by his own experiences growing up. The narrator, through whose eyes we see events in the book unfold, even bears the author's name.

This is a look at an America from 1940 to 1942 through the memories of young Philip Roth who lives with his working class family in a Jewish enclave in Newark, New Jersey. All is well with the world, and his childhood seems to be otherwise unremarkable until Charles A. Lindbergh, `aviator extraordinaire and suspected Nazi sympathizer, decides to run for President against a bellicose Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). Promising to keep the nation out of war, while FDR sees war as an eventuality, Lindbergh seizes the moment. His platform is simply that one has two choices. Vote for Lindbergh or vote for war. Given that choice, Americans vote overwhelmingly for Lindbergh. Once he becomes president, Lindbergh keeps his promise and keeps America out of war, reaching a detente with Hitler that allows Hitler to continue his world wide conquest without fear of reprisal from America.

For Philip Roth, however, the election of Lindbergh irrevocably changes his world, as there are signs that Lindbergh thinks that Jews are not quite American enough, and nation wide programs are established to begin a sort of resettlement of Jews in order to help integrate them into mainstream America. The Lindbergh presidency would have a great affect on Philip and his family, with collaboration and resistance taking place all around him. What happened in America under Lindbergh would parallel in small part what was going on with the Jews of Europe. In this alternate history, Walter Winchell would rise up on behalf of the Jews as a voice that would be heard and would not be silenced. Moreover, as to why Lindbergh would take America in this direction is explained in a surprising and astonishing ending

This is an interesting and though provoking cautionary tale that will keep the reader turning the pages. Well-written with memorable, well drawn characters and a plot that is riveting, it is a bold, brash book that simply demands to be read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great fiction that could so easily have become reality, 11 July 2014
By 
Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Plot Against America (Paperback)
I was hooked by this novel’s ‘alternative history’ of America in the early 1940s, which opens with Charles Lindbergh, the isolationist and anti-Semitic America First candidate, defeating incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in the 1940 presidential race. The tale unfolds from the perspective of eight year old Philip Roth, as a nightmare future for America’s Jews beckons. As much about the fears, mysteries and obsessions (like stamp-collecting) of growing up as it is about wider political events, Roth’s work captures well the complex range of Jewish responses to the existential threat, and the confusion this lack of unity sows in young Philip’s mind. With a cast that includes many historical figures from the period, Roth’s novel also has a postscript and chronology of the time that show just how close to becoming reality the events depicted were. Though some have criticised the ‘deus ex machina’ nature of the ending, the boy’s breathless account of the gathering storm, with its riots and lynchings, had me turning the pages heedless of the plot mechanics. A rattling good read, and a thought-provoking meditation on what might have been.
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The Plot Against America
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (Paperback - 6 Oct 2005)
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