Gore Vidal, who died today at age 86, wore many hats as a writer. Aside from eight plays and 14 screenplays, including contributions to the iconic "Ben Hur" and the classic "Caligula," he penned 26 novels and 26 works of non-fiction, often politically liberal in nature.
"The City and the Pillar," Vidal's 1948 novel about an openly gay man in post-World War II America, was arguably the writer's breakout work, mostly due to its controversial nature.
A number of his earlier works were written under a number of pseudonyms, including three sexed-up mystery stories by "Edgar Box." The fake names were used because at the time, being prolific could tarnish one's image as a serious writer.
"Since I lived on publishers’ advances, it was fairly urgent that I keep on publishing every year. But of course I wanted to publish every year," Vidal said in an interview with The Paris Review.
He is perhaps most famous for his seven-novel series, "Narratives of Empire," which blends fictional and actual historial characters to tell the story of America from its early days to the postwar era. Of the chronologically first installment, "Burr," Vidal told The Paris Review:
"I had assumed that 'Burr' would be unpopular. My view of American history is much too realistic. Happily, Nixon, who made me a popular playwright (the worst man in 'The Best Man' was based on him), again came to the rescue. Watergate so shook the three percent of our population who read books that they accepted 'Burr,' a book that ordinarily they would have burned while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag."
This rather curmudgeonly stance on American politics is typical of Vidal's public persona, and also his books. The ironically titled conclusion to the "Narratives of Empire" series, "The Golden Age," asserts that America provoked Japan to attack Pearl Harbor so that they could emerge from World War II as a global superpower.
Read more about Gore Vidal's most notable books:
Gore Vidal's most iconic works
Gore Vidal Quotes
Starred Review. Vidal's daunting career has encompassed 24 novels, 11 essay collections, six plays, two memoirs and countless occasional writings. This new collection is an entry point into this literary giant's work for a new generation of readers, offering some of Vidal's most famous and entertaining essays from the past 50-odd years. Compiled and introduced by Parini (The Last Station), Vidal's literary executor, the pieces range across Vidal's far-flung areas of expertise, resting most frequently and contentiously on literature and presidential politics of the past and present. His assessment of The Top Ten Bestsellers of January 7, 1973, is a savagely meticulous dissection of middlebrow American taste, while American Plastic tacks in the opposite direction, skewering the academy-approved, theory-based fiction of Donald Barthelme and William Gass with derisive glee. Vidal's comfort in puncturing conventional wisdom with his wit and analysis is fully displayed throughout, most notably in his discussion of the battle over the Kennedy legacy in The Holy Family and the controversial Black Tuesday, which condemns the Bush administration for its alleged imperial ambitions in the wake of September 11. (June 17)
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