Through his historical fiction, his reviews, and his eloquent and acerbic essays on U.S. foreign policy, Gore Vidal became a prolific and widely read commentator on American life. Parini, a novelist who knew Vidal well, has written a lucid, bracing, and candid book that is likely to become the definitive Vidal biography. Vidal was a successful American who went to the Old World and scaled the heights of its social and literary worlds. But his ambitions went further; he hoped to be recognized as a major novelist and to become a significant political figure in the United States. Parini discounts Vidal’s political efforts; he ran for both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate but was never elected. Parini’s critical appraisal of Vidal’s novels seems just; the best of them are quite good, but none quite makes it to the first rank. But Parini is too kind to Vidal’s essays on U.S. foreign policy, which are attractively cynical and elegantly Jeffersonian in worldview but offer little to serious students of international affairs; despite their great wit and charm, they are unlikely to be consulted much in days to come.
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