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Gore Vidal’s Late Summer Reading List

The passing of America's man of letters, quintessential as he was combative, has left the nation morally emptier. He once recommended Americans read two books above all others. 

What’s the Latest Development?

With the passing of Gore Vidal, America has lost a true man of letters and of conscience. While the author and one-time political hopeful seemed prickly and adversarial during many of his television appearances, beneath his acerbic wit ran a deep river of concern for the general welfare of the nation. Ten years ago, in “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire,” the prescient Vidal wrote: “Any individual who is able to raise [enough money] to be considered presidential is not going to be much use to the people at large. He will represent…whatever moneyed entities are paying for him… Hence, the sense of despair throughout the land as incomes fall, businesses fail and there is no redress.”

What’s the Big Idea?

According to Vidal, the two most essential reads for an America facing the presidency of Ronald Reagan were the Federalist Papers, so people could gain an appreciation of the hard work put into framing our Constitution, and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. At the time, Vidal remarked that America resembled Sparta in that it was “ruled by an elite, bound by tradition, xenophobic, a ‘militarized republic’ too eager for confrontation.” Since Reagan, popular debate over the Constitution and the country’s involvement in violent confrontation have only increased. Born to the now-faded American aristocracy, Vidal saw the creation of wealth as a means to ensure general welfare, lamenting that it now serves only to create more, and more exclusive, wealth. 

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