The Golden Age: A Novel

by Gore Vidal

Hardcover, 2000

Call number




Doubleday (2000), Edition: 1st, 467 pages


The Golden Ageis Vidal's crowning achievement, a vibrant tapestry of American political and cultural life from 1939 to 1954, when the epochal events of World War II and the Cold War transformed America, once and for all, for good or ill, from a republic into an empire. The sharp-eyed and sympathetic witnesses to these events are Caroline Sanford, Hollywood actress turned Washington D.C., newspaper publisher, and Peter Sanford, her nephew and publisher of the independent intellectual journalThe American Idea.They experience at first hand the masterful maneuvers of Franklin Roosevelt to bring a reluctant nation into the Second World War, and, later, the actions of Harry Truman that commit the nation to a decade-long twilight struggle against Communism—developments they regard with a decided skepticism even though it ends in an American global empire. The locus of these events is Washington D.C., yet the Hollywood film industry and the cultural centers of New York also play significant parts. In addition to presidents, the actual characters who appear so vividly in the pages ofThe Golden Ageinclude Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, Wendell Willkie, William Randolph Hearst, Dean Acheson, Tennessee Williams, Joseph Alsop, Dawn Powell—and Gore Vidal himself. The Golden Ageoffers up U.S. history as only Gore Vidal can, with unrivaled penetration, wit, and high drama, allied to a classical view of human fate. It is a supreme entertainment that is not only sure to be a major bestseller but that will also change listeners' understanding of American history and power. From the Trade Paperback edition.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member tsutsik
The last part of Vidal's fictional history of the United states. From Aaron Burr to Aaron Burr could be the cryptic summary of the total sequence.The final book describes Vidal's view on the Second World War, and especially Pearl Harbour: a deliberately provoked attack, which would bring world
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dominion to the USA. The weak point of his argument is that although he states that this strive for empire is against the wishes of the American people, and serves minority interests, he doesn't make clear just why this minority would want this war other than for an innate will for power, which does not convince me. It is a well written book, in which he even parodies himself a bit, but as a novel it fails, the members of his fictional political dynasty (illegitimate offspring of Aaron Burr, the bad guy of the early years of the American republic), are just pawns in the political game around the Pearl Harbour attack. The most memorable statements of the book would have found a better place in an essay on American history and the nature of American democracy than in a novel.
I liked the parallel he draws between the classical world and the position of the USA, and provides a good summary of the main theme of his seven American histrory novels: ,,Arguably, for that brave pompous invention of the Enlightenment, the United States set in a wilderness, forever dreaming itself Athens reborn even as it crudely, doggedly recreated Rome.''
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LibraryThing member stevesmits
The Golden Age is the seventh and last in The American Chronicle series by Gore Vidal. I previously read Burr and Lincoln, both of which I enjoyed more than this novel.

Gore writes of the era between 1939 and 1960. To propel the story, he creates a fictional family – the Sanford’s – and
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weaves their story into actual political figures and events of the era – the Roosevelt’s, Harry Hopkins, Truman, Acheson, McCarthy and others. The Sanford’s own one of Washington’s leading newspapers. Blaise Sanford is the publisher; his half-sister Caroline was a founder of the paper. She had been away from the paper for decades when she went to Hollywood to star in silent pictures, but returns to Washington right before the war. Caroline has become close to Hopkins and her interactions with Franklin and Eleanor serve to bring the historical events into the story line. Blaise’s son Peter decides not to follow his father into the newspaper business; instead, he starts his own magazine – “The American Idea” – a left-leaning commentary periodical on the politics of the time.

There are portrayals through the eyes of the Sanford’s of the political conventions of 1940 and 1944 when Roosevelt sought unprecedented third and fourth terms. The atmosphere of the conventions of those days is vividly depicted, certainly in contrast to later day political processes. A minor character in post-war political ambitions is Clay Overbury, son-in-law to Blaise, who exploits his war hero image (likely fabricated) to advance his political career ruthlessly until his untimely death. Overbury is aiming for the presidency in 1960 as a competitor to Jack Kennedy.

Vidal delves deeply into the build up to the war and the radically shifted American role on the world stage in the post war era. He examines the theory that Roosevelt manipulated America (at the time overwhelmingly isolationist) into war. Despite our neutrality, Roosevelt used complicated quasi-legal means to support Britain, like the lend-lease scheme that sent ships and war material to England. He also (according to the theory) pursued a series of blatantly provocative moves against Japan designed to compel them to attack America first. These theories have been expounded throughout the years and there is a ring of credibility to them. Truman’s decisions are examined from the perspective how they brought on the cold war with the Soviet Union. By exploiting the hyperbolic fixation present in the media and right-wing political circles on the Soviet’s putative intentions to dominate the world, Truman and his diplomats engendered a hostile, belligerent attitude toward the Soviets that foreclosed any possible less antagonistic relations. The rise of the extremism of McCarthyism was, in light of the overblown conceptions of the dangers posed by the Soviet Unions, a manifestation of the paranoia extant throughout the nation.

The novel is the forum for Vidal to expound his conceptions of the motivations of the political figures of the time. From the jaded viewpoint of one who considers himself an insider, there is a cynical tone in his writing and the sense of the American people are utterly manipulated leaders whose self-interest plays a large part in their scheming. I found this a bit too tendentious at times and the personal intrigues of the characters a bit too much to care about. Nonetheless, understanding the figures of the times and reading a point-of-view about their motivations and decisions would make this an interesting read for anyone.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Not as good as "Burr" or "1876", or even "Lincoln." But not awful.
LibraryThing member EpiTeleStrat
Re-reading this book by one of my favorite writers.
LibraryThing member pife43
I can see that, at some time in the past, books like these seemed pretty good, fun to read, interesting. But that day is gone. Life is too short for a marginal read like this. Its somewhat interesting, has somewhat defined characters and may give food for thought to some degree.
I am left
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Life is short. There are amazing books to read in every genre. Unfortunately, this book is not a priority at all.
I ditched it 1/3 the way through.
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