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on March 22, 2014
Exploding all the great political myths- FDR was surprised by Pearl Harbor, we had to drop the bomb on Japan, and neo-con fundamentalists possess grey matter- Saint Vidal looses his acid wit upon miscreants and fools everywhere. But what I love most about this book is how Vidal utilizes the greatest wit since Menken to offer
us the unvarnished truth about our country and all the scoundrels from Lincoln to Starr who have attempted to demean her and her people for fhe sake of "family values" and military/industrial/corporate profit. Gods bless you, Vidal.
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on February 4, 2016
It's Vidal! Need anything else be said? He and Vonnegut are the successors to Twain. To know how to properly utilize the written word to get your point across properly and eloquently is to know Gore Vidal as an essayist. Whether you agree with his politics and viewpoints or you detest them their is no denying the gentleman's command of the English language.
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on April 8, 2006
In The Last Empire, Gore Vidal mentions Jean Paul Sartre, "...who once observed that the bourgeoisie theater will put up with the most harshly accurate depiction of the human case, as long as there is no hint that a solution might exist. What is, is, and must ever be." Almost all the essays in this book, like almost all the ones that have earned Uncle Gore the title of the finest essayist of our time, aim to destroy this "What is, is, and must ever be." And they succeed brilliantly. Their content, let us say, is enormously critical to their success; but even more critically, Gore Vidal's essays succeed because he is the finest American non-fiction prose stylist and humorist since Mark Twain.

The last time I saw Uncle Gore on TV was two years ago or so, looking good and saying, "Fighting terrorism is like fighting dandruff." A couple of other recent-to-me Vidal comments are, and I paraphrase, "One's sexual practices have nothing to do with anything except one's sexual practices." And, "Of course African-Americans drop out of school before going to college, out of boredom not incompetence." Like many of Vidal's comments, these may initially sound implausible or sincere but struck off for popular consumption, but upon mature reflection, as they say, their literal truth is undeniable.

From The Last Empire, here are three more gems of Vidal's wonderful prose style and humor-while-rocking-the-ship, followed by his tribute to the man I opine is his favorite fellow American anti-imperialist and humorist:

Gem 1 - "Most establishment American journalists tend to be like their writing, and so, duly warned by the tinkle of so many leper-bells, one avoids their company."

Gem 2 - "...who would care about Pericles today had he not given a sublime funeral oration - as reported by General Thucydides, Retired - in which he reminded the Athenians that an empire like theirs, no matter how larcenously acquired, is a very dangerous thing to let go? Ditto now, as Perot would say."

Gem 3 - "Even our wise hero, Edmund Wilson, didn't really write all that good himself."

Finally, Vidal's tribute - "Mark Twain is our only...Mark Twain....(His) is simply a voice like no other."

So is Uncle Gore's.
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VINE VOICEon June 30, 2001
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. It's like watching an osprey catching fish in the water.
One caveat, though. Vidal becomes glaringly inconsistent during the course of his political essays when he insists on issuing a free pass to the Clintons. It is apparent while reading the essays that he has succumbed to what passes for charm in the former First Family, Hillary especially. For him, she seems to represent some combination of the best of Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy. Though he says time and time again that it is impossible to be elected ruler of these United States unless one is part and parcel of the military-industrial complex, these rules seem to fly out the window when discussing the Clintons as brave reformers in the face of ignoble Republican opposition. In reality, Bill Clinton has proven to be no more than the poor man's Huey Long, while his wife is resentful and duplicitous. Were this America of the forties, Joan Crawford could have easily essayed her in one of the Warner potboilers of the day. It gets so even wooden Al Gore, of whon Vidal has said many unflattering things in the past, is given that ticket to ride. Vidal's strength is as a critic; his weakness is as a supporter.
Nevertheless, even flawed Vidal is far. far better than what passes for literary criticism in today's America. One should always keep this in mind when contemplating this book's purchase.
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on November 14, 2001
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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on September 19, 2001
Gore Vidal has lived during the most vitsl parts of the 20th century and knows/knew personally many of the players on the US stage of politics and entertainment. Coming from a political family with strong political connections, he has been privvy to the "real" machinations and intrigues of how policies, laws, and, yes, movies are made. His gift for sardonic wit, cutting observations, and a consistent world view allow him to comment in ways that open the reader's mind to entirely different and eminently practical perspectives. Vidal's use of language is first rate, and his thinking on why we live in the kind of country we have become is expressed in ways that force us to drop the pretenses of patriotism and help us to become active citizens instead - provided we pick up his challenge to think for ourselves. In fact, all his volumes of essays should be required reading for every engaged thinker, but this volume is by far his best contibution yet to the discourse of America. A must own and a must read.
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on April 12, 2015
All I can ever say about Gore Vidal is read everything and form your own opinions. Here is a man who knew "important" people and formed his own opinions. We don't have to agree, but his breed is dying under the umbrella of Popular Culture
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on August 27, 2016
A collection of various and not particularly connected essays, some are more entertaining than others, some rather obscure.
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on September 1, 2012
Gore Vidal is thee sardonic observer of life. He is one of the few humans that can produce laughter from me. His comments about people and events are razor sharp and entertaining. This is one of the few books I've read that was difficult to put down until completed. His observations and comments are priceless.
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on August 30, 2015
I liked the Book it is well written but I will have to say I liked hearing him talk on his documentary much more.
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