Friday, July 28, 2017

The Last Empire by Gore Vidal

The Last Empire is a collection of Gore Vidal's essays from 1992 through 2006.  Vidal is a man of letters, best known for his acidic wit and his disdain for the establishment positions of American superiority and the assumption that American culture was better than that of the rest of the world.  He came from an influential family, growing up in Washington, D.C. and going to the best schools.  His family were in politics and business.  His father was the founder of the TWA airline, and his mother was married for a time to the man who was also Jackie Kennedy's stepfather.  Gore knew everyone who was anyone and he refused to let anyone put him or his life choices down.  He was widely known as one of the first gay men to be actively out, although the truth was probably that he was bisexual.  He wrote many novels, most based on historical events such as Burr and Lincoln.    Many knew him best as the sparring partner of William F. Buckley in the first Crossfire debates.

This book is divided into four parts, each covering a specific number of years.  The first covers topics such as  pieces on Charles Lindbergh, the critic Edmund Wilson, Mark Twain and Sinatra.  Part two becomes more political, covering topics such as wiretapping in the Oval Office and the Gore political family.  The third part becomes more political with Vidal hitting his themes of the country steadily losing the freedoms the founders wanted us to have and the danger of the military and big corporations taking over the country and the legal systems.  The last part continues this theme while spending a lot of time covering the President Clinton scandal and impeachment and calling for the populace to take back their country.

Vidal took no gruff from anyone.  His putdowns and feuds were legendary.  One rival was the author John Updike.  A quote from his piece, "Anyway, I hoped that he would make some self-mocking play on his own self-consciousness as opposed to Socrate's examined life.  Hope quickly extinguished.  There is no real examination of the self, as opposed to an unremitting self-consciousness that tells us why he was--is--different--but not too much different--from others and what makes him the way he is--always is, as he doesn't much change in his own story, a small-town Philocetes whose wound turns out to be an unpretty skin condition called psoriasis."  Another quote, "For Updike, fags and dykes are comical figures who like their own sex and so cannot be taken seriously when they apply for the same legal rights under the Constitution that fun-loving, wife-swapping exurbanites enjoy."

Vidal is not for everyone.  Yet his love for his country and his dismay at how business and the military are taking over the rights we were given by the founding fathers shines through.  Those reading this book will find themselves educated about past events and individuals and will emerge with a new appreciation for Gore Vidal.  This book is recommended for history readers and those interested in the arts and how they intersect with government and world history.

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