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Gore Vidal

August 2, 2012

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.

  1. August 2, 2012 8:33 am

    Ave Atque Vale Gore Vidal

  2. sheree waks permalink
    August 2, 2012 9:50 am

    A loss, in fact, to the whole world. One can only imagine what might have transpired had his quest for political office succeeded. Congratulations for not playing down your admiration for him too much on Lateline. There are certainly many in the American establishment who would have been happy to see him go a lot sooner!

  3. John Mountbatten permalink
    August 2, 2012 10:38 am

    A good man, a fine mind, a great loss – and so the circle of sanity is further diminished.

  4. Ivan Pagett permalink
    August 2, 2012 2:52 pm

    Vidal was one of the great post war trio of Mailer, Vonnegut and Vidal. Not friends, more detatched aquaintances. I did not think Mailer liked him much. Kurt Vonnegut seemed to like just about everyone but he did allow himself a bit of a dig when he said “A lot of people think Gore Vidal is witty, personally I think he wants a lot of credit for wearing a three piece suit”. He could not resist a good line. Neither can i.
    All were great writers. I think Mailer’s “Harlots Ghost” was the best book I’ve read in the last 10 years or so.

  5. maximos62 permalink
    August 4, 2012 12:16 pm

    I agree with Ivan on the matter of the great post war trio. All three have made a significant contribution to my understanding of the US, in particular. Vidal wrote the most solid and well research history I’ve read. “Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson” is brimming with the adeptness and skill of a writer thoroughly well researched and fully acquainted with his subject. Russell Darnley.

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