Election year and 2020 madness reading: Gore Vidal’s narratives of Empire series

DISCLAIMER: Due to Kartik Krishnaiyer’s involvement in the Biden-Harris Campaign he has stopped writing about current politics. He will resume this beat after the November 3 Election.

No writer in American History is better tonic for what ails us in an Election year than Gore Vidal. The only regret I have about Vidal is that he did not live to see the ruin inflicted on this nation and its governance by Donald Trump.

Frustrated by the response to Coronavirus among both politicians and the public, as well as getting tired of the daily grind from watching CNN & BBC which left me perennially depressed , I escaped over the summer to re-reading Vidal’s most important novels. The rhetoric of President Trump led me to think about re-reading 1876, before realizing I should probably read more Vidal than just that important novel.

My intention was to read again all seven installments in the “Narratives of Empire ( also known as American Chronicles),” series before November 3, but duty called, and I was in late August, shoe-horned into a very specific Voter Protection niche with the Biden/Harris Campaign.

Still in my down time, I have clawed my way back through most of the novels. They are indispensable reads if you want to keep sane in the year that is 2020, while maintaining a healthy does of skepticism and historical perspective.

The Narratives of Empire series on my bookshelf – all seven novels

Historical fiction is a difficult genre to always appreciate. All too often works read like non-fiction narratives (making them inferior to the actual non-fiction versions) or are too colorful in describing historical events with layers of make-believe added.

Cutting through this to create a readable, yet reliably historically accurate novel is what made Vidal a genius.

Throughout the narratives, spanning seven novels, the invented Schulyer and Sumner families, provide a unique insight as storytellers to real history. They give a very cynical view of US political history – a perspective that prior to Vidal’s writing’s had never quite been told in as comprehensive and a complete a manner.

Burr and 1876 stand out as important reads in terms of understanding the manipulation of US politics by individuals while Empire, Hollywood and The Golden Age, stand out for describing the excess of America from the Spanish-American War to the heady days of the 1990’s. Lincoln and Washington D.C. provide important looks into wartime American politics.

For those who don’t know about Vidal or the series, I’ll let Wikipedia do the rest. They do a splendid job on this.

One comment

  1. Gary Kreissman · · Reply

    The 1876 election is justifiably in the news – and the analogies led me back to Vidal as well. Thanks for capturing the essence.

    Liked by 1 person

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