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The Golden Age: A Novel Paperback – September 18, 2001
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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 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 gray 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 theater and politics, of Hollywood and Washington, D.C. 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, not to mention an encore appearance from his rakish progenitor Aaron Burr--which makes you wonder exactly who created whom. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The first weakness of this book is that Gore Vidal was far less subtle in controlling his own political philosophy in The Golden Age, possibly because the era in the novel was one in which Vidal lived, whereas in Lincoln, there was enough distance in time that Vidal was able to show more objectivity. For fans of Gore Vidal, of which I am one, his political philosophy is no secret. He believes that the Civil War allowed Lincoln to consolidate power into the presidency at the expense of the legislative branch. He thinks that we turned from the values of the republic and adopted the values of empire. During wartime, the power of the US President is heightened even further, thus becoming an incentive for a US President to declair war. He places both FDR and Truman into this category of expanding the power of the presidency through World War II and the Cold War. Vidal believes that the country has always been ruled by an wealthy elite group of citizens. As the technology of communication has evolved, this power seeking elite has learned how to control the media. The elite controlled first the printed press, then Hollywood in the 1930-1950s, and then television. Through mass media they shape the perceptions of the common American family. Vidal also believes that the Cold War and the search for Communism is also a strategy used by the powerful elite to evoke fear in the common family, thus keeping taxes high to pay wealthy defense and security contractors.
I actually also believe this to be true, however Gore Vidal is so heavy handed in The Golden Age that he ruins the novel by over emphasis of his political agenda.Read more ›
For instance, in The Golden Age, a large helping of World War II era spilled beans, a young man at a New York party responds to the idea that America needs a new civilization to go with its new global ascendancy by saying, ''Do we really want a civilization?... We've done awfully well as the hayseeds of the Western world. Why spoil it?... No, we've got to stay dumb.''
Yes, that signature cynicism is uttered by the author himself, making a brief cameo. So if you won't find gore, you will find Gore in this 100 percent action free wartime novel, the seventh and last in the linked sequence of American history novels that begins chronologically with ''Burr'' (although Vidal wrote what's now volume 6, ''Washington, D.C.,'' way back in 1967) and adds up to a talkative masterpiece.
Also in captivity, among a mob of mid century American potentates, are Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Herbert Hoover, Cary Grant, and Tennessee Williams.
As usual, the conversation's good. Vidal's animated historical figures aren't farcically pompous, but they are, like Vidal himself, trenchant, sporadically wise, and routinely malicious. He delivers verbal stilettos to just about every eminent back that appears.
The more ominous conversations are about America's backing into the war and its lurching role in the postwar world. If you've been following the story through previous novels like ''Empire'' and ''Hollywood,'' you know the anti imperialist gospel according to Gore.Read more ›
In my reading, Vidal is arguing that FDR saw WWII as the only way to stay in power, a life-saving decision as there was nothing else of intimate value in his life. To do so, he took a giant step in creating the "national security state," which upon his death in office an unwitting Truman completed. Now in my view, this is a simplistic reading of a bewilderingly complex period, a watershed if you will.
Nonetheless, Vidal succeeded in getting me to question my assumptions, and that I think is of the greatest value and the unique contribution that an historical novel can relate. That saved the reading experience for me, which was more wooden than Vidal's previous accomplishments. Perhaps it is Vidal's talent that got him to create this as a crucial moment in American foreign policy, in which our involvement in such places as Irak are under scrutiny and our ideals are distrusted by the very allies that are supposed to benefit from them. It is an age of the most profound disillusionment and Vidal is providing the art that reflects this period.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The Golden Age is the last chapter in a series of books that stretch from Aaron Burr and the birth of America, all the way to the apogee of the American Empire, as he describes... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Hakej
I've read them all,, this one just didn't do it for me,, maybe If I had read it out of sequence??Published 8 months ago by Raymond C. Cook
Vidal is prescient of his criticism of modern society. He traces the origins of how we got here based on the decisions of those in power after cataclysmic events during the middle... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Ryan
This was my least favorite book in the Empire series and led to a very flat and unsatisfying conclusion. It pales in comparison to Burr and Lincoln. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Jerry Borrowman
s we read Ulysses on Bloomsday every June 16th (or we should if we don't) I think that every December 7th should not only commemorate the Great Law of 1682 that banned war in... Read morePublished 12 months ago by David Swanson
You'll never view the US the same! A Great read and a fascinating story that puts the America of today into perspectivePublished 18 months ago by Joseph J. Auch
Though the realizations in this book might have been a bombshell back when it was written, they're old news now. Read morePublished 19 months ago by mselectromagnetic
Not quite. This is a pretentious, name-dropping bore of a novel. Vidal does what he does best - puts his nose in the air and sniffs at everything around him which does not... Read morePublished 19 months ago by febnyc
From Burr to the golden age you will read the history of the USA in away that you were never taught at school. Interesting, good stories and educational while being fun to read. Read morePublished 20 months ago by tom