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Empire: A Novel Paperback – August 1, 2000

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Fictional creation Caroline Sanford, owner of the Washington Tribune, is the central character in this historical novel that focuses on late 19th/early 20th century America's emergence as a global power. A well-written tale in the tradition of the author's Burr and 1876, it encompasses the Spanish-American War of 1898, U.S. takeover of the Philippines, President McKinley's assassination, and the stormy presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Interesting and well-developed real-life characters abound, including, most memorably, Secretary of State and Lincoln's old friend John Hay. Intermixed with the well-researched backdrop of historical characters and events is Caroline's personal story. The fifth novel in Vidal's "American Chronicle" series, this is yet another winner. Highly recommended. BOMC main selection.James B. Hemesath, Adams State Coll. Lib., Alamosa, Col.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Mr Vidal has surpassed himself in EMPIRE and written what now stands as the best in the series ... by turns caustic, witty and outrageous fun NEW YORK TIMES Magnificent Gabriel Garcia Marquez --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International ed edition (August 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037570874X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375708749
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gore Vidal has received the National Book Award, written numerous novels, short stories, plays and essays. He has been a political activist and as Democratic candidate for Congress from upstate New York, he received the most votes of any Democrat in a half-century.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 20, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Because the theme of historical writing as myth sits at the center of this, Vidal's meditation on turn-of-the-century American politics, it may be the most interesting of his now six-volume historical novel. Pondering the power of the press is Vidal's core mission, with wonderfully imaginative detours into the lives of prominent figures whose absurd personal impulses often carry global ramifications.
At center stage is the aristocratic (and fictitious) Caroline Sanford, the product of a Parisian finishing school. Arriving in America, she is driven by both the need to reclaim her share of the family fortune from her feckless brother and an idolization of William Randolph Hearst. Intermittently she sips tea with Henry Adams and Henry James, becomes engaged to the son of John Hay (Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt and once Lincoln's secretary) and publishes a D.C.-based newspaper that succeeds through the adoption of yellow journalism.
The carnyesque Hearst and bullying Roosevelt--brought together in the book's final confrontation--are vividly fleshed out and are among Vidal's most provocative recreations. And few authors write about the rich as well as Vidal. When he briefly takes on the characters such as the Astors and the Vanderbilts, his brilliant observations further levitate.
A master of language, Vidal's mellifluous, direct style can nonetheless repel those seeking a more modernistic voice; Hemingway is the last writer he would ever be compared with (mercifully, Vidal would surely say). But few 20th century novelists wade into the confluence of the country's political and social affairs with his assured step. It's difficult to imagine history impressing itself upon readers more vividly than in the best of this novelist's work.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on September 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a splendidly obtuse look into one of the pivotal periods of American history, when the US was becoming the Empire of the title, in effect attempting to take over the role of the fading British Empire and essentially ending its policy of isolationism. I say obtuse because the formal political action takes place for the most part off-stage. Instead, we are treated to an hilarious novel of the manners of the ruling class, as defined by wealth and pedigree. The protagonists discuss the great decisions being made - which led directly to American involvement in the World Wars and later Vietnam - almost inadvertently, as when they are cutting a wedding cake, and purely in reference to their own careers and selfish aspirations.
The main characters are extremely good. There is McKinley (a political master about whom I knew virtually nothing and hence learned a good deal), Teddy Roosevelt (a buffoon in Vidal's hands who is also a political juggernaut), WR Hearst (a devourer of anything he desires and self-appointed "creator" of history), and John Hay (Lincoln's secretary, TR's secretary of state, and an imperialist). There are also the fictional Sanford half-brother and -sister, who appear in his other American novels, who are very funny as they struggle ruthlessly against eachother for the family fortune as well as for the same man. The peccadilloes of finely drawn characters were the stuff that made empires fall and created war, in particular in the Philippines. There are also the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, and many other giants from the Gilded Age. Finally, Henry James has two brief appearances and goes into long monologues that read exactly like his stuffy prose.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Peter McMahon on April 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
I recently reread "Empire" and "Hollywood" and it occurs to me that these two books contain the most explicit elucidation of Vidal's theory of US politics. So what is it? As I understand it, it is this: Sometime between the Civil War and the turn of the century the US political system was taken over by the big money generated by mass industrialisation. Since then, US politics has been essentially theatre in which the Congress and the Executive haggle over the trappings of power. Because the US was the ascendant industrial, and hence military power, not even world war could seriously threaten this cozy, somewhat incestuous situation. I think, in a nutshell, that's about it. There are a few problems with this position, particularly the minimal treatment of economic factors (although Vidal's assessment of finance is usually insightful), but with Dubya in the White House, and the very real threat of US political dynasties (including Vidal's own relative, Al Gore) taking over electoral politics, I'd say Vidal's thesis is looking pretty good.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By R. McOuat on May 15, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although Vidal provides a shotgun approach to character development, Empire is best viewed in the perspective of two primary conflicts; one among fictional characters (Caroline and Blaise Sanford) and the other among two historical players (Theodore Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst). Only through fictional characters could Vidal create narrators capable of such convoluted and impossibly rich experiences that they could come into critical conversations with so many historical characters. Caroline and Blaise are half-siblings who rival for the same fortune and unravel a dark secret regarding their respective dead mothers.

McKinley and Roosevelt both have imperialistic aims with racist purpose. Both want America to fill the power vacuum created by the decline of the British Empire; both feel it is the duty of the civilized Americans to be stewards for the primitive races of the Asian, Caribbean and Pacific Islands. To the regnant aristocracy, war is the natural state of man. Hearst, McKinley and Roosevelt are portrayed as not only making war inevitable, but also desirable. The respectable and intellectual few, best exemplified by John Hay and the Five Hearts, are more conscientious, but remain low key compared to the dashing and charismatic politicians bent on imperialism and self-promotion.

Hearst is an antihero similar to Satan in Milton's "Paradise Lost." Clearly, Hearst is a manipulative megalomaniac, but he is much more interesting character than the prudent McKinley or the bellicose Teddy Roosevelt. Although the Hearst who instigated the Spanish-American war of 1898 and incited the assassination of McKinley connotes horror and repulsion, Vidal clearly enjoys Hearst's vapidity and ingenuity.
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