Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Palimpsest” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


4.01  ·  Rating Details ·  1,399 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
This explosively entertaining memoir abounds in gossip, satire, historical apercus, and trenchant observations. Vidal's compelling narrative weaves back and forth in time, providing a whole view of the author's celebrated life, from his birth in 1925 to today, and features a cast of memorable characters—including the Kennedy family, Marlon Brando, Anais Nin, and Eleanor Ro ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published September 1st 1996 by Penguin Books (first published September 28th 1995)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Palimpsest, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Palimpsest

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
MJ Nicholls
This memoir covers the first forty years of the Vidal saga, alighting on his blind senator Grandpa, savage alcoholic mother, childhood sweetheart, licentious sex life, and endless hobnobbery with the most prominent actors and politicians of the period as he mosies up the Hollywood ladder and cosies up with Kennedys. Written in the sumptuously arch manner familiar to anyone who has seen a Vidal clip on YouTube, the memoir establishes a warm if prickly tone, and treats the reader as an intelligent ...more
Jun 25, 2012 Myles rated it it was amazing
The only novel of Vidal's I've read so far is The City and the Pillar, and reading this memoir makes me want to seek out more of his work.

The prose is graceful and fluid, full of education and humor. He moves from the present to the past as his memory serves him, the memoir settling down chronologically only after its well under way. The effect is engrossing and feels like you're listening to the man tell you about his life, and the love affair that triggered his artistry.

Vidal had a wonderful
Nov 18, 2007 Thirstyicon rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Gore Vidal, and people who enjoy the combination of gossip and politics.
Recommended to Thirstyicon by: dusty rebel
I learned that Gore Vidal liked John Kennedy, but was not a fan of Bobby. I also learned quite a bit about Tennessee Williams; a little about Truman Capote; and quite a bit about what he thought of Jackie O. He also talks at length about people most people have no interest in; but it turns out they do make for interesting stories, sometimes. Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it, if you are interested in reading about Gore's experiences and stories about other writers (Kerouac, Bur ...more
Aug 30, 2008 Bryant rated it liked it
The metaphor of a palimpsest for writing a memoir is an ingenious one, and there are scraps of Gore Vidal's well-textured parchment that are genuinely fascinating. Step-brother to Jackie Kennedy Onassis (nee Bouvier) and her sister Caroline Lee, and generally very well-connected from an early age, Vidal is nevertheless at pains to observe throughout the book that the essential choice he made was never to let his possible privileges make him passive. As he writes, "Jackie, Lee, and I were brought ...more
T.B. Markinson
Dec 18, 2016 T.B. Markinson rated it really liked it
Intriguing, brilliant, and frustrating at times.
Feb 26, 2009 Jill rated it really liked it
Vidal's wit astounds and his insights resonate, at least for me. I particulary like a passage from page 193, "I understand now why the old enjoy the obituaries of contemporaries. I think it is a sense of relief in letting go for good of people whose presence one no longer needs."

The Newsweek review of this book says it best,
"Vidal is a kind of contemporary Byron: patrician, major writer, glamourboy, flouter of norms..."

Great book.
Nick Van
Aug 03, 2015 Nick Van rated it it was amazing
Simply a delight, as only he can deliver.
Jan 27, 2015 Rj rated it it was amazing
Just finished reading Gore Vidal's Palimpsest (New York: Random House, 1995). According to Vidal, "I have just now looked up the earliest meaning of palimpsest. It is even more apt than I thought: "Paper, parchment, etc., prepared for writing on and wiping out again, like a slate" and "a parchment, etc., which has been written upon twice; the original writing having been rubbed out!' This is pretty much what my kind of writer does anyway. Starts with life; makes a text; then a re-vision-literall ...more
Jul 21, 2013 Kittaroo rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
È il quarto titolo di Vidal che leggo: Giuliano, capolavoro, l'età dell'oro, altro capolavoro, la statua di sale, pietra miliare. Poi incappo nella biografia e ci metto tipo un mese a finirla perché è noiosissima.
Vidal è cresciuto tra la gente che conta, nel periodo d'oro della cultura americana. C'era in ogni avvenimento fondamentale del 20º secolo. Ha conosciuto chiunque. E ce lo fa sapere.
A volte i paragrafi sembrano elenchi telefonici.
Poi il terribile vizio, così radical chic di chiamare t
Jan 08, 2010 John rated it it was ok
This book was okay. Parts of it were good. The thing that really struck me is his selfishness. He says that his one great love died when he was young and he was unable to really love again. I just don't buy it. How can you even know what love is when you are so young? In the end it seemed more like a coward's excuse to not have to love again. It is easy to idealize someone who has died.
Craig Swartz
This book revealed many things to me that I had not previously known about Gore Vidal, all of them enlightening. He was in so many ways a remarkable person. What I took away from it was his straightforward honesty in nearly all facets of his life and his razor sharp commentary on our modern day tendencies and mores. It's a very good read.
Stephen Brody
Jun 22, 2014 Stephen Brody rated it really liked it
I read, or rather raced through almost in one sitting, Palimpsest when it first came out, with unalloyed if sometimes rather startled attention. Ten years later, savoured like a splendid dinner, it was even better. Of course one would need the same easy talent with words as its author to say anything that would do it justice. Yet what exactly is it: not a biography because it hops around seemingly free-associating randomly between just about any subject over time and place; far too un-dusty to f ...more
Stephen Hayes
I'm not quite sure why I took this book out of the library. I sometimes find that I like literary biographies of authors more than the books they wrote, and I've never read any books by Gore Vidal.

After reading this one, I'm still not sure if I'll read any others, but I found this one quite interesting, and in many places, especially the earlier part, witty and humorous. As the title suggests, he jumps backwards and forwards in time, sometimes writing over what he has already written, and somet
Nov 06, 2011 Rose rated it it was amazing
Early in the book Gore Vidal makes the point that this is not an autobiography; it's a memoir. Too many autobiographies read like an excuse for the author’s failings and a platform for their supposed triumphs, as though they are getting their two cents in before someone else gives the final accounting. Vidal offers no excuses, even admitting in the beginning that he chose the title, and later realized he had been mispronouncing the word for years, and didn’t fully understand the origin of its me ...more
Aug 06, 2012 Sam rated it really liked it
On hearing of Vidals death some weeks ago i felt quite sad and decided that it was time for me to pick up some more of his books. I opted for the first of his memoirs and was very glad to have done so. It is typically well written, entertaining and, even when it seems merely to resort to idle gossip about movie stars, writers, his bizarre family or life among the American ruling class with which he was associated, it seems perfectly justified as the stories within it are some of the juiciest one ...more
Feb 28, 2015 Patricia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
This has a surface of glitter and wit, written by a man who is as acerbic, clever and a great hater. I can't stay in his literary company for too long at a time and I'm glad I was never really in his company. I would never have survived. So I took my time with these memoirs and enjoyed myself. Gore Vidal can be laugh out loud funny. He is a great name dropper but it is done in a way that makes you feel that the big names are impressing other people by dropping his name into conversations. His go ...more
Molly Black
Jun 21, 2009 Molly Black rated it it was amazing
Another book discovered through a swap that just blindsided me with it's brilliance. I've read it several times due to the layering technique that Vidal uses.

He's (apparently) quite open about not only much of his life, but also the rich, powerful and lucky family ties that allow him to share anecdotes about the Kennedys and the satellites, such as Jackie, who didn't come from money, but certainly knew how to carry herself in such a way as to allow her to keep marrying "up" as it were.

I found it
Greg Heaton
Aug 01, 2012 Greg Heaton rated it liked it
Gore Vidal was a massive dickhead. I cannot fathom why all these amazing people would spend time with him. The list of friends and contemporaries reads like some kind of insane post second World War Who's Who. Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, JFK, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Norman Mailer, Jack Keruoac, Allen Ginsberg, Frank Capra, Italo Calvino, Princess Margaret... the list goes on and on and on.

I suppose if you can easily switch between novels, TV and film, if you'
Sep 15, 2013 Jollo rated it it was amazing
Gore Vidal surely comes off as a truly awful human being in this book but I still found this a fascinating read. As Barry Switzer said (later appropriated by Ann Richards to describe George Bush) "Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple."

Gore was born into privilege and then proceeded to spend his life cattily complaining about the people he fawned over and desperately sought attention from. The main thing I learned from this memoir, is how manipulative
May 25, 2014 Adrian rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I'm not a huge fan of Gore's novels, but this memoir, and to a slightly lesser extent its followup (Point to Point Navigation) is fascinating and entertaining. Gore's age, class, and profession have allowed him to be in contact with just about every important person in art, politics, and pop culture in the last century. He moves seamlessly between describing FDR's inauguration parade, his friendship with Amelia Earhart, his rivalry with Truman Capote, and his lunch with the Duke and Duchess of W ...more
Apr 15, 2013 Simon rated it liked it
Fun, if not necessarily truthful, read. The problem is that he makes these lordly statements about virtually everyone who was anyone in the last seven decades of the 20th century, and the net result makes it pretty plain that he can only see other people as extensions of himself. Jackie (truly improbable as he presents her) is Gore Vidal; Bill Walton is Gore Vidal; Bobby exists for Gore to hate, Schlesinger to patronize, etc. His voice is funny, but he only has one. I have the same issue with hi ...more
Sep 25, 2009 Rock rated it it was amazing
It begins with a retelling of the sexual perversions of John F Kennedy and Gore Vidal's memoir just keeps giving the juicy details. Unfortunately most of that juice is squeezed out of socialites and intellectuals of the 1950s, most of whom are long forgotten (except, obviously, by Vidal). Nonetheless Vidal is a born novelist who could point a reader to the fun stuff in any life, even someone far more boring than him (like Jesus Christ). And he comes up with fun devices, like excerpting passages ...more
Gore Vidal has connections to a lot of famous people (Truman Capote, the Beats, Kennedys) and he likes expound on the impressions they made in his life. He is a marvelous writer with a marvelous vocabulary but his memoir sounds like gossip. However, due to his fairly arrogant tell-it-like-he-saw-it attitude these famous people get cut down and become more real. A chapter that will stick with me describes his last visit with Allen Ginsberg, who I find quite visionary, and casually details Ginsber ...more
Dec 21, 2015 Adrian added it
Memoir of the American author. Very easy reading as it is frothy material-stories about the people Vidal knew and he seemed to know everyone. Very good on his early love Jimmie Trimble and his grandfather the Senator. He exhibits remarkable equanimity over being blackballed after he published his novel The City and the Pillar in 1948. Entertaining on writing scripts for Hollywood especially Ben-Hur. His memories of Jackie and JFK are endlessly fascinating. I had one major beef. GV was renowned a ...more
M.K. Hobson
Jan 05, 2013 M.K. Hobson rated it liked it
I have always really liked Gore Vidal's historical fiction ("Burr" is one of my particular favorites, as well as the followup "1876") and I knew he had a reputation for being kind of an asshole in real life, but in this book he doesn't come off so much an asshole as he does cold, distant, and disaffected. The many anecdotes relayed in this memoir were amusing enough, I guess, and if it was Vidal's mission to make his life seem decadent and glamorous he surely succeeded. I just wish there would h ...more
Mar 24, 2011 Corn14853 rated it really liked it
The worst part about this book is that in it, GV dishes out scandal like the rent is due tomorrow.
The best part about this book is that in it, GV dishes out scandal like the rent is due tomorrow.

Highly enjoyable - in terms of prose as well as details and secrets. You'll learn things about the Kennedies that many people today don't realize seeing the clean-scrubbed pictures on the History channel. But we also hear many unsavory details about other personalities and politicians.

But Vidal does kee
Dec 17, 2008 RunRachelRun rated it really liked it
Shelves: autobiograph
Oops, now I've bought this book twice, probably from the same Borders on Ponce De Leon in Atlanta. I obviously didn't do a good job reading it the first time since I just picked up the paperback this weekend, skimmed it,and thought "Well, this looks like a good Labor Day weekend read" and bought it. Strangely enough, the people portrayed in this autobiography, didn't seem to work a whole lot. Perhaps the gorgon masquerading as his mothers overshadowed much of the story so I was always anxious th ...more
MisterBarker Room203
Jun 28, 2009 MisterBarker Room203 rated it it was ok
I read this book in little sections before bedtime.

Gore is sometimes unreadable to me, but more often than not, I find it challenging in a good way: it's like the Dylan memoir -- you find yourself trying to figure out if the confusion is because of him or because of you, or because worthwhile insights aren't easy to digest. Hence the name of this book, perhaps:


"A palimpsest is a manuscript page from a scroll or book that has been scraped off and used again."
- from Wikipedia
Sep 26, 2010 Brian rated it liked it
As a Gore Vidal fan, I can say that I found this memoir of Gore Vidal's first 40 years of interest. Gore Vidal has had a very fascinating life on this planet as a man of fiction, a man of letters, and a man of political commentary. This book explains his childhood, his friendships with various well-known people, the stories behind much of his early work, and he lets loose on his sexual past as well. This book proves that you either love Gore Vidal or you don't, and his autobiographies are even w ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Farewell Symphony
  • World Within World: The Autobiography of Stephen Spender (Modern Library)
  • In Search of History
  • Experience: A Memoir
  • Self-Consciousness
  • Walt Whitman: A Life
  • Martin Bauman: or, A Sure Thing
  • Safe For Democracy: The Secret Wars Of The CIA
  • Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise
  • Memoirs
  • Christopher and His Kind
  • PR!: A Social History Of Spin
  • Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal
  • Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac
  • Them: A Memoir of Parents
  • Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Ralph Ellison: A Biography
Eugene Luther Gore Vidal was an American writer known for his essays, novels, screenplays, and Broadway plays. He was also known for his patrician manner, Transatlantic accent, and witty aphorisms. Vidal came from a distinguished political lineage; his grandfather was the senator Thomas Gore, and he later became a relation (through marriage) to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Vidal ran for political office twi
More about Gore Vidal...

Share This Book