No one knew the American history better than Gore Vidal. It was in his blood.
He learnt it from a grandfather who served in the Senate, and from his personal association with the great American political families of his time.
From his home atop a Ravello cliff face he spun wonderful stories out of American history, buttressed by a flawless memory and a talent for mimicry.
His historical novels chart the emergence of America as a continental power with centralised government, and what he saw as a descent into imperialism.
He embodied an anti-imperial tradition that goes back to Mark Twain – representing an isolationist viewpoint that once ran deep in America. Gore Vidal believed no foreign war justified a single American life and this view was his fundamental political commitment.
And he loved a political feud – his own being a vendetta against Bobby Kennedy, with whom he clashed while campaigning for the US Congress in 1962.
He told me once that addressing an anti-Nixon rally in Boston he was asked, “Why is Nixon so hated in Massachusetts?” His roared response: “Because having seen so many crooks in its history, the people of Massachusetts recognise a crook when they see one!” The public applause, so strong it was almost a blow to the chest, confirmed in him a love of oratory and the chance to occupy a political stage.
He would have loved to have been a politician and stood twice – once for Congress and later for the Senate from California. He would have traded all his literary accomplishments for a chance to serve as a long term Senator, and to have one day run for President.
Gore Vidal’s passing at age 86 is a loss to his country, to literature and to history.
Farewell to a polymath, a storyteller and a wonderful writer. His essays may have been the best in the language.
There won’t be another mind like his.