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United States: Essays 1952-1992 Hardcover – May 18, 1993

4.7 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This mammoth omnibus of 114 essays is vintage Vidal, a marvelous compendium of sharp wit and independent judgment that confirms his status as a man of letters. The prolific novelist/critic offers withering putdowns of the French "new novel," billionaire Howard Hughes and bestseller lists. He displays a reporter's hard nose for facts in travel pieces on Nasser's Egypt and Mongolia. He pens definitive portraits of H. L. Mencken, Oscar Wilde, Anthony Burgess, L. Frank Baum. He reminisces on his boyhood friendship with Amelia Earhart, who, we learn, was in love with Vidal's father, Eugene, FDR's director of commercial aviation. Mingling patrician impulses and egalitarian, subversive sentiments, Vidal takes unfashionable stances, as when he urges the legalization of drugs or ending military aid to the Middle East, including Israel. His sense of the United States as hub of an overextended empire informs pieces on "American sissy" Theodore Roosevelt, JFK, CIA spook E. Howard Hunt and the bloated military budget.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This hefty volume will need strong binding: it contains 114 essays and over 1300 pages of Vidal's barbed opinions, articulate insights, intellectual observations, and more "correctionist" opinions. These pieces represent two-thirds of the essays Vidal has published over 40 years and fall into three categories: literary, political, and personal. Why the other one-third was omitted or why these particular ones were gathered at this time is not clear. If the aim is a "complete works," then why not include the other third and divide them into three physical volumes with proper editing? Such a collection would be worthwhile. Because Vidal's essays are always provocative, full of interesting facts, and have the immediacy of a conversation, this collection might be of interest to both public and academic libraries. Libraries on a tight budget can remember that the essays have appeared previously in such publications as the New York Review of Books.
- Nancy Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1295 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (May 18, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679414894
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679414896
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Despite (repeatedly) claiming a place as one of America's greatest novelists, perhaps it will be this collection of essays which survives Vidal the longest. Arranged in two roughly equal collections dealing with literary and with political matters, the pieces span forty years and a rapidly-changing American society. Some of the most interesting pieces are commentaries on the development of the USA from a 'backward, agrarian republic' to the modern-day imperial juggernaut, summed up in the phrase 'National Security State' in which Vidal alleges there remains no true democracy, merely a meaningless choice between politicians who act like television personalities and seek only to maintain the status quo in favour of the rich elite. Politically leftist, Vidal takes an uncompromising stance against artistic, sexual and political hypocrisy, satirising politicians, journalists, fellow authors and historical figures with glee. The literary pieces are remarkable not only for the broad span of writers with which Vidal is familiar, but also for his ability to sketch in a few pages the whole development of a writer's work. The overall sense left by these essays, however, is that of something unfulfilled - whether Vidal's failed political ambitions, the sense one gets that he did not receive the recognition he wanted for his writings, and the broader sense of regret at the loss of American 'innocence' under Truman. Be that as it may, they offer one of the most radical, uncompromising, sharp and indeed witty voices available in America today, and I would highly recommend them
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Format: Paperback
...and a brilliant essayist, Vidal shines in this book. The breadth of his scholarship is astonishing, and his matter-of-fact, cynical, mildly humorous take on American life is always interesting. He explodes all manner of literary, political, and religious pretensions in these essays, and makes serious, salient criticisms of our government, particularly what he deems the "National Security State" of the past 50 years. Vidal must be one of the most erudite individuals in American letters, and his grasp of U.S. history is unparalleled. The only downside of reading these essays is that one may feel like an uneducated rube afterwards.
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Format: Paperback
This is a remarkable collection of essays. They cover literature, politics and history and show Vidal at his best. My favorites include his examination of the Kennedy Family (entitled The Holy Family) which though dated still shows the importance of showmanship be it the construction of a religion or a political dynasty. Vidal also looks at General Grant and surveys the American scene. Another gem is his examination of the books on the New York Times Best Seller list in the early seventies and what they tell us about American tastes and the declining craft of the writen word (Vidal believes it to be largely cinematic). There really are too many topics to cover properly in only 1,000. All of the essays are stimulating and thought provoking whether one agrees with the ideas expressed or not. I urge anyone who enjoys reading well-written prose to get this fascinating volume and discover the joys within its covers.
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Format: Paperback
United States, the 1993 Winner of the National Book Award, it covers the years from 1952 until 1992. This book shows that Vidal is an authority/reliable source in many areas. He served in WWII and wrote his first novel while doing so. He comes form a political background; his grandfather, blind Senator T.P. Gore, brought him up. He is related to Eleanor Roosevelt and was friendly with JFK. He ran for Congress in New York in 1960 and came in second in the California democratic primary in 1982. Furthermore, his father served as director of the Bureau of Air Commerce under FDR, which gave him insight into the forming of airlines and access to Charles Lindberg. He wrote his first novel at the age of 20 and has subsequently written 23 other novels, most of them historical novels in which he did significant research to get the details just right. He has numerous interesting insights into the lives of other writers as well as being capable of writing compelling book chat. He has also written for TV and the movies, as a result knows a lot of famous Hollywood movers and shakers. His heroes (John Quincy Adams, FDR, Abraham Lincoln, Paul Bowles, Edmund Wilson, Charles Lindberg) and villains (Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, the CIA) are vividly drawn and expertly judged throughout.
I am hesitant to recommend this tome that weighs in at 1295 pages and is the size of a reference book, but does seem all but indispensable, because it has many excellent and interesting essays. It is divided into three sections: state of the art (literature), state of the union (politics), and state of being (personal responses to people and events, not to mention movies and children's books). Not a light book to take on the train, this tome took me the better part of a year to finish, but was well worth it.
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Format: Paperback
Gore Vidal possesses an immense erudition and a willingness to inflict it on anyone and everyone who doesn't measure up to his standards, with tremendously entertaining results. He is a pedant and a nitpicker who will not let be even the smallest things, and I would hate to be subjected to his merciless eye, but it's great to read about the people who have been.
I bought the book for its first section, which consists of essays on literary matters (quite a few of them concerning people of whom I had never heard before -- some of whom I have now started reading just because of the essays), figuring that I could at worst skip the politics (the idea of which bored me) and still have quite a collection of essays in my hands. As it turned out, though, once I had made my way through that section I was so hooked on Vidal's drily contemptuous writing that I couldn't help continuing. I'm glad I read on, because his views (many of them bolstered by first-hand experience with the issues about which he's writing) and ability clearly and convincingly to expound them are amazing. He has really changed my ideas about a few issues. (There are also a few issues on which I think he can say nothing but educated nonsense, but I didn't read the book to have my own opinions parroted back at me.) The essays are fascinating, educating and entertaining, and the collection is superb -- trumping (in quantity and quality) just about any other book of his essays available. The ``sequel'' to this collection, Last Empire, can be a bit repetitive and shrilly alarmist, but this one is fresh and insightful throughout (perhaps because he's talking about events from which I feel sufficiently detached to be open-minded?).
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