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The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000 Paperback – June 11, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037572639X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726392
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gore Vidal admires Edmund Wilson, Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, W.D. Howells, the recently resurrected Dawn Powell ("our best mid-century novelist") and the almost entirely unknown Isabel Potter. His praise, however, often seems a form of self-portraiture: when he remarks on Wilson's "powerful wide-ranging mind," one gets the feeling that he's glancing at a mirror. And in a public-relations first, he manages to extract a posthumous blurb of sorts from Thomas Mann 47 years after the publication of Vidal's novel The City and the Pillar (the German novelist had ignored the novel when Vidal sent it to him in 1948, but Vidal publishes here extracts from Mann's diary which describe the work as "brilliant" in parts but "faulty and unpleasant" overall). Vidal despises academics and the humorless, two groups apparently synonymous in his mind. There is a cautionary illustration here of the folly of answering a negative review: when Vidal trashes a Mark Twain biography and the author replies, Vidal's response is a crippling artillery blast. But that salvo is nothing compared to the tonnage he drops on arch-rival John Updike; Vidal devotes the longest of these essays to a merciless bombardment of Updike for being shallow and jingoistic, undeterred (or perhaps spurred on) by Updike's superior critical reputation. When not settling literary scores, Vidal turns to politics, where he belies his patrician background by consistently rooting for the little people in their struggles against an impersonal empire. In one especially choice paragraph, Vidal observes that two months after The City and the Pillar was published and its same-sex themes put an end to the political ambition his family had for him, his cousin Al Gore was born in a moment of "weird symmetry... whose meaning I leave to the witches on the heath." Commenting on Gore's central flaw, his Jimmy Carter-like obsession with flawless order, Vidal observes that the greatest presidents, such as FDR, knew that nothing really connects and that the best political minds simply adapt and move on. Vidal's ninth collection of essays, this one shows the mandarin populist to be at the height of his powers of both vituperation and sagacity. It leaves one impatient already for the tenth.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Beginning with essays about Edmund Wilson, Isabel Potter, Isabel Bolton, and Dawn Powell is a subtle launch, since many listeners haven't thought about these literary luminaries since college, if ever. But soon more familiar names and events from literature and politics ignite sparks of interest: Bill Clinton, FDR, Al Gore, Sinclair Lewis, Charles Lindbergh, Harry Truman, Mark Twain, the Bill of Rights, World War II, and the war on drugs. Whether describing events the public witnesses through the news media lens (one chapter is titled "Birds and Bees and Clinton") or as legend (Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's marriage), Vidal's perspectives are neither ordinary nor vernacular. The result is a satisfying intellectual workout for those who missed his original works in issues of The Nation, New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and the like. This, Vidal's ninth collection, picks up where his 1993 National Book Award for Nonfiction winner, United States: Essays, 1952-1992, left off. Narrator Dan Cashman's neutral and unbiased tone is the perfect trumpet for Vidal's snappy vocabulary and literary allusions. Recommended, but repackaging will be a must the original box is flimsy. Judith Robinson, Univ. at Buffalo, NY
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

4.6 out of 5 stars
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One might say, nowadays he just lets it fly.
Dennis Littrell
As great as he is in the historical fiction genre (his works from "Burr" through "Empire" are true American classics), still, I think his essay work is his best venue.
Truman, in Mr. Vidal's opinion the founder of the National Security State, and his comments on 1954 Guatemala are truly a revelation!
Hans Castorp

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There is no question that Vidal likes to take people apart, especially political people. He likes to introduce the obtuse and stuffy to themselves, as it were, and to laugh at the pretentious. His favorite targets are on the Right, which is good, and his second favorite targets are on the Left, which is also good. He is, strange to say, and perhaps unbeknownst to himself, as American as pizza pie and Cabernet Sauvignon, matzo balls and chow mein. If he didn't exist we would have to invent him. He is the heir of Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken and Edmund Wilson with a dollop of Truman Capote thrown in. His ego is as wide as the Mississippi and his self-aggrandizement as consistent as the winter snow in Buffalo. He has done everything in literature except write poetry, and he has probably done that, and I just don't know about it. He has run for congress, for president, written screenplays (e.g., Suddenly Last Summer) and TV scripts, plays, and appeared in a science fiction movie (Gattaca). He and William F. Buckley Jr. have played clowns for one another, and he has been the confidant, if not of presidents, then of first ladies. He thinks of himself as beautiful, although it's been a long time since he really cared about that. He is one of our finest and most penetrating social critics, an original who manages to occupy the left while maintaining a stance somewhere to the aristocratic right of the Boston blue bloods, although of course his roots are in the political south, in Tennessee, Washington, D.C. and Mississippi.

I have never been able to read, much less appreciate, however, his fiction. No doubt the failure is mine. Yet I think it indisputable that Vidal is a much better essayist than he is a novelist.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Richard Wells on May 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Gore Vidal is a patriot who sees America through the clear eyes of a long-term relationship. If an unexamined life is not worth living, then an unexamined country is not worth loving. Even as Mr. Vidal reviews our national foibles, examines our errors, and dissects our politicians his love of the founding principles of this flawed democracy shine through. There is no doubt as to Mr. Vidal's erudition, but he is also wickedly funny. Mr. Vidal is a political and social aristocrat that gives him name-dropping rights to the 20th century, and drop names he does. He's had dinner with everyone who matters, and it seems he's read everyone who matters more. Whether he's unveiling the secrets of America's entrance into WWII, or punching holes in Kenneth Starr's multi-million dollar investigation into Bill Clinton's peccadilloes he is unerringly on-the-mark. Gore Vidal is Noam Chomsky with a sense of humor, and the thinking persons' Michael Moore. These essays are a fascinating look at America, and a great read to boot.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By bibliomane01 on November 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
And we rejoice. Raconteur, critic, historian, polemicist, name-dropper - Gore Vidal either knew everybody who was anybody or is related to them. In this successor to "United States," we meet FDR, JFK and Jackie, Dawn Powell, Edmund Wilson, Nixon, Lindbergh and Sinclair Lewis, to name a few, and gain perspectives that nobody else could provide. We watch as Mr. Vidal hilariously demolishes a critic and marvel as he tears into John Updike. We learn that Thomas Mann was inspired by a Vidal novel to return to "Felix Krull." But for most of the book, we are treated to Mr. Vidal's vehemently expressed political views (the military-industrial complex runs the country, the American polity is a single party state with two right wings - Democratic and Republican, the Federal government is a form of tyranny, the majority of Americans are worse of than their counterparts in other rich countries). Whether you agree or not, reading Vidal always has the salutary effect of making you revisit your assumptions. This reader certainly awaits more from Gore.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on June 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It seems perfectly fitting that Gore Vidal should become our leading man of letters here in fin de siecle America. Through his novels he has become our de facto historian, and through his essays he has emerged as a wry observer of American life and letters, although a sort of disembodied one, as he spends most of his time at his home in Italy.
As he enters what is certainly the last fertile period of his life, we ask ourselves if The Last Empire will indeed be Vidal's last collection, or last memorable collection, of essays. If this should indeed be the case, Vidal has gone out a winner.
Vidal's strong point as an essayist is not to lecture the reader, but rather to take the reader into his confidence, almost as if he was at his home in Ravello having a conversation. Whether he is discoursing on Claire Bothe Luce, Mark Twain, or the latest history of the Kennedy years, Vidal brings a lot of himself and his personal experiences to the page and opens up new vistas even to his most educated readers. The beauty of Vidal is no matter how much the reader brings to his essays, he or she will always leave with something, whether a previously unknown fact or a lead for further reading.
One of the best essays in the book is "Twain on the Grand Tour," during the course of which Vidal takes apart an academic's book of psycho-babble on Twain. There is nothing Vidal dislikes more than academics who make their subjects fit whatever theory-of-the-day is popular, and by doing so, perform a disservice both to their subject and the reader. As a further bonus for us readers, the hapless fool Vidal criticized didn't know when he was beaten, and sent a reply. Vidal's riposte is a classic, hoisting the fool on his own petard and damning him with his own words.
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