Readers of this brief book will lament the lack of wit and astute commentary which characterizes contemporary political debate. Gore Vidal, who died last July, was one of the last public intellectuals in American public life. Current viewers of our television wasteland may be shocked to learn that writers such as Vidal were once frequent guests on late-night TV like the Dick Cavett Show. Vidal represents an era when the intersection among politics, literature, art, history, and entertaining conversation mattered. With the advent of 24-hour cable news channels, the quantity of political chatter has increased, but reading Vidal reminds us of how much the quality of political discourse has deteriorated. It is not so much that one will always agree with Vidal’s conclusions, but that we are missing a witty and healthy irreverence for power which Vidal at his best represents.

I Told You So includes four interviews with Vidal conducted between 1988 and 2007 by Jon Wiener, a professor of history at the University of California-Irvine and a contributing editor to The Nation magazine. The interviews are printed in reverse chronological order with the first conversation in April 2007 before an audience of several thousand at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the UCLA campus followed by a more intimate dialogue in December 2006 before the Los Angeles Institute for Humanities at the University of Southern California. Vidal was also a political figure, which is quite evident in a radio interview he granted Wiener during the September 2000 Shadow Convention challenging the political assumptions of the Clinton administration and its heir apparent, Al Gore. Although appearing last in this collection, Wiener first interviewed Vidal for the Radical History Review at the writer’s Italian villa on July 12, 1988. Although sometimes repetitious, these conversations represent a critique of American empire and the threat of this monolith to the republic. This theme is not only evident in Vidal’s conversations but also forms an important thread in his essays, screenplays, histories, short stories, and twenty-three novels which include an overview of American history in the Narratives of Empire series with Washington, D.C. (1967), Burr (1973), 1876 (1976), Lincoln (1984), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1990), and The Golden Age (2000). Wiener concludes, “Gore Vidal wrote as a citizen of the republic and a critic of the empire. We won’t have another like him” (117).

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