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(Narratives of Empire #2)

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  7,867 ratings  ·  488 reviews
Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire series spans the history of the United States from the Revolution to the post-World War II years. With their broad canvas and large cast of fictional and historical characters, the novels in this series present a panorama of the American political and imperial experience as interpreted by one of its most worldly, knowing, and ironic observ ...more
Paperback, 672 pages
Published February 15th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1984)
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Average rating 4.20  · 
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 ·  7,867 ratings  ·  488 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.

In the immortal words of Joe Biden this was a “big f**king deal”.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.

In the immortal words of Joe Biden this was a “big f**king deal”.


If you have not seen the movie Lincoln please go see it. I cannot remember the last time that I have enjoyed a movie so thoroughly. Daniel Day-Lewis is spectacular. For two and a half hours he was LINCOLN, more so than the original. The supporting cast is absolutely superb. David Strathairn plays William Seward and Sally Fields plays Mary Todd. James Spader shows up as one of the men who has the job to strong arm lame duck senators into voting for the 13th Amendment. He was hilarious. The movie made me laugh and moved me to tears of joy and pain. Even though I knew, obviously, that the 13th Amendment had passed I was on the edge of my seat with stomach clenched and my heart in my throat watching the vote. If it had been a sporting event and not a movie theater I would have rung the rafters with my shouts of exultation when the final votes are tallied.

Rachel Maddow said recently something that still resonates with me. “But here is the thing about rights-they’re not actually supposed to be voted on. That’s why they are called rights.” Amazing that we are still discussing rights in this country. Every time we bring up an initiative in this country regarding the rights of some of our citizens I just have to shake my head. It is or at least it should be self-evident.

I’m rarely going to say this, but watching the movie first actually enhanced my reading experience. The movie is based on the Doris Kearns Goodwin book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, but I found whole dialogue scenes lifted from Gore Vidal's book. Let’s just say that Steven Spielberg probably read this book before filming the movie.

William Seward who gave wise counsel to his rival during the war.

Abraham Lincoln to maintain peace in his own party and to keep an eye on his enemies appointed his rivals to the cabinet. The two most ambitious were William Seward who served as Secretary of State and Salmon P. Chase who served as Secretary of the Treasury. Their plotting and scheming were sometimes a source of amusement to Lincoln, when discovered resignations were offered, but Lincoln refused to accept. When greenback money was introduced Chase’s ambitions got the better of him.

”You know ,” said Lincoln, “I asked Mr. Chase why he had put himself instead of me on the one-dollar bill, clearly the most in use of the two denominations, and he said, ‘As you are the President, you must be on the most expensive bill; and I on the less.’”

Salmon P. Chase providing the image for the $1 greenback.

There is something FISHY about Chase.

Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury.

Lincoln was much more politically savvy than his rivals expected. He outwitted them at every turn and planted devious traps for them. He did the same to his Democratic challengers. He used his knowledge of the law to bend the law and in one of the more controversial moments of his term in office he suspended habeas corpus and threw thousands of agitators in jail. His homespun mannerisms and his penchant for storytelling certainly hid his steely determination. I had always thought of Lincoln as a reluctant politician, but that was part of his brilliance concealing the ambition that made him a man who burned with desire to be reelected. Seward’s respect for Lincoln continued to grow as the war continued. Chase never seemed to learn that he was over-matched by Lincoln, although I did have a soft spot for Chase’s hobby of collecting signatures. Every time he would find a new one he was as excited as I am when I find a book I thought I’d never find. Vidal planted me squarely at the table during cabinet meetings. I came away from these meetings with the smell of cigar smoke in my hair and the pungent taste of bourbon on my tongue.

As much as I want to have sympathy for Mary Todd Lincoln I found it more and more difficult as Vidal revealed more of her character. She was a shopaholic before they knew what to call it. As it became harder for her to get money out of congress and her husband, she started exchanging political favors for money. She was easily slighted and exacted vicious revenge. Lincoln’s clerks who had to deal with her money concerns and her frequent embarrassing outbursts referred to her as the Hellcat. She did suffer from debilitating migraines usually brought on by stress. She would throw childish fits ratcheting Lincoln’s own stress levels higher when the union most needed him concerned about the national interest. Both of them suffered from frequent bouts of melancholy and rarely seemed able to help each other to be happy.

Lincoln had problems with his generals. He even fired some of them more than once. His first choice for command of the Union army was Robert E. Lee, probably the first man in history who was offered the command of two armies fighting against each other. When Lee chose his state over his country Lincoln went with Irwin McDowell who proved very ineffective. Then:

George McClellan referred to as “The Great American Tortoise” because of his inability to engage the enemy. A problem that would plague a series of union generals. The one positive contribution McClellan made to the war effort was he proved to be an excellent trainer. He turned a ragtag army into a drilled and efficient machine. He was fired, rehired and fired again.

General George B. McClellan, a disappointing fighter, but a dangerous Democratic opponent.

John Pope fired
Ambrose Burnside fired

General Joe Hooker the man who lent his name to prostitution.

Lincoln had great hope for “Fighting Joe" Hooker and for a while it looked like he finally had a general that wanted to fight. Hooker was knocked unconscious when a Confederate shell hit a pillar of the porch on which he was standing, and the pillar had fallen on him, and he had been unconscious for hours. Once recovered, he had given up drink and without drink there was, everyone said, no longer a “Fighting Joe” Hooker but simply another incompetent Union general named Hooker. He had another issue that may have sapped some of his fighting strength. His headquarters looked like a brothel-casino. In fact, so addicted was Hooker and his immediate staff to the flesh that Washington’s army of prostitutes was now known as Hooker’s girls or, for short HOOKERS.


George Meade fired

The victories, like a breath of fresh air were coming from the generals out west, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan. Finally Lincoln appoints Ulysses S. Grant to command the Union army and the rest is history.

It was a bad bet for the South to make, with 2/3rds of the population in the North it didn’t take much slide rule work to figure out that a prolonged war would simply result in the South running out of men to fight with. Some say the South might have won if they had fought a defensive war, just holding a line and letting the Yankees come to them. I have been a proponent of that theory as well in the past especially since the Union generals showed such a reluctance to fight their fellow countrymen. The blockade would have continued to squeeze down supply lines and with most of the manufacturing in the North, the sanctions would have continued to erode the ability of the South to fight effectively. Despite having the best generals, and they were truly providing inspirational leadership, and with a population that was determined to hang on to a way of life that was unsustainable; it is still really hard to concoct a scenario that would have resulted in the South winning the war.

The Ancient, as his clerks referred to him, was intent on bringing the Union back together. ”Of course, Pennsylvania is our soil. But so is Virginia. So are the Carolinas. So is Texas. They are forever our soil. That is what this war is about and these damned fools cannot grasp it; or will not grasp it. The whole country is our soil. I cannot fathom such men.”

And here we are living in a Union that Lincoln through guile and ruthlessness managed to hold together. Unfortunately the South did not get to benefit from the benevolence that Lincoln had planned for them during reconstruction. Highly recommended to read in conjunction with a wonderful movie.

I have also reviewed another Gore Vidal book from the Empire series. Washington D. C. review

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit
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Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
As I write my review I am within the last hundred pages and last few months of Abraham Lincoln's life. In other words, Good Friday 1865 is on the horizon and both President and Mrs. Lincoln are set to go and see "Our American Cousin" at that now-fated Washingtonian landmark Ford's Theater. I have been immersing myself in all things Lincoln/Civil War in the last few months as a result of the new Spielberg film and my already having seen it twice. For as much as I cannot stop raving about the film ...more
Sep 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Arguably the best historical fiction book every written beating out even notables like Shaara's Killer Angels. Hell this is probably one of the top 5 books on the Civil War period. (Along with Shelby Foote's epic three volume opus, McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, and the aforementioned Killer Angels)

If you have the slightest interest in history, the Civil War, Lincoln or even just a beautifully constructed story of politics in a time of war read it. Meticulously researched and exq
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This is another entry in the Superb category of true historical fiction. I cannot heap enough praise on Vidal for his ability to present history in a readable format. He understood the characters, mated them with the facts and made them flesh and bone. Still, this is fiction and he says he did take some liberties.
All of the principal characters really existed, and they said and did pretty much what I have them saying and doing, with the exception of the Surratts and David Herold (who really lived and workedliberties.
Nov 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really like how Vidal writes. I read half of this novel before I watched the Lincoln movie (not the vampire hunter one :D) and I was really impressed by the amount of research that went into this book. As someone who knows very little American history, I definitely gained a lot more knowledge after reading this book.It was a long read but worth it.
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wildly entertaining, Gore really brings to life Washington DC in 1860, when our nation truly was on the threshold of (near certain) dissolution. Lincoln, the surprise victor of the presidential race faced a mostly confederate-leaning city (the capitol dome was being constructed) and everyone expected the raw-boned Midwesterner to fail. But he was wily and had an animal's instinct with people, keeping his veneer carefully sculpted and his ultimate strategies hidden. The period covered is 1860-186 ...more
Mar 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Gore Vidal was a huge discovery for me. Until I'd read this book, I knew only that he was related to Jackie Kennedy Onassis and and Lee Radziwill and that he was a guest on many talk shows of the 70s & 80s where other well-known guests frequently found his opinions profoundly upsetting. But there was a lot of that going on at the time. I have always admired Abraham Lincoln as our most important president (except for brief periods when I was enamored of Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman and John ...more
Scott W.
Dec 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Whatever hubris it takes to write a biography of Abraham Lincoln, it surely takes plenty to write a research-intensive 657-page novel that covers the entire presidency. Vidal accomplishes this compression by including a pile of exposition in dialogue without it ever quite seeming like he's doing so; perhaps famous national leaders are the only characters in fiction exempt from the rule.

Portraits of "minor" characters -- John Hay (one of Lincoln's personal secretaries) and Kate Chase (daughter o
Gore Vidal's enjoyable and masterly fictional biography of Abraham Lincoln is, according to the author, largely based on fact.

Until I read Lincoln I had a naive belief that he was a modern saint. That he was not. He is portrayed as being a brilliant politician: persistent, both ruthless as well as humane, and pragmatic.

We are introduced to him as the USA was in the process of becoming disunited and was plunging into a deadly civil war. Not only was his country disunited, but also was h
Feb 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was rollicking good read, and may even contain some historical truths about Abraham Lincoln and his fellow politicos duing the turbulent era of the Civil War. Vidal draws a vivid picture of 19th century Washington - a city built on a swamp, with rudimentary facilities, but with grand aspirations. Lincoln is presented as a man of brilliant lawyerly talents, a pragmatic strategist rather than an idealistic opponent of slavery. Throughout the book, Vidal makes clear that Lincoln (alternately r ...more
This is not the easiest book to read. It is dense, large, and dense. But very much worth the read if you have any interest in the American Civil War or President Lincoln.

Like any good Historical novel worth it's salt, it's brilliantly researched. A lot of the things said by Lincoln in the novel were in fact recorded speech from the great President. What I love about this novel though is that you never quite know what is going through Lincoln's head. All the point of views are from his wife, his
Felisa Rosa
Feb 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Felisa by: Tom Gannon
Shelves: favorites, literature

Once again, I am amazed by the breadth and depth of Vidal's knowledge. His seemingly encyclopedic grasp of the era is matched in equal parts by caustic wit and empathy. Vidal's Lincoln is at once human and monolithic, and the pages are imbued with his curious melancholy. (On a side note, one gets the feeling that Mark Ryden had read this book...)
The supporting characters are equally interesting. Mary Todd is nuanced and Vidal brilliantly tracks the evolution of Lincoln's relationship with
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: i-love-lincoln
First, I just read through many reviews here on Goodreads where the comment was made (over and over again), what an amazing work of non-fiction this is. I don't want to burst anyone's bubble, but this book is entitled "Lincoln: A Novel" and advises the bookseller to shelve it as Fiction/Literature. This is a novel, y'all, and it's important to know the difference. The author himself, in an afterword, makes it known that, while he stayed true to historical pieces of information as much as possibl ...more
Jenny Karraker
Aug 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It is listed as fiction, because it is written in novel form, with dialogue that isn't quoted from specific historical documents. However, the events and characters were all real. It was intriguing to read of how disrespected Lincoln was, especially by people in his own cabinet. They often thought him a naive, backwoods simpleton who knew nothing about politics and governing. But as Barbara Gannon often says in her Civil War class at University of Central Florida, you ...more
Christopher Saunders
In Lincoln, Gore Vidal tones down his usual insouciance for a fine-grained, occasionally profound portrait of power. Spanning the American Civil War, the novel's told from various perspectives: Lincoln's ambitious cabinet secretaries, William Seward and Salmon Chase (and Chase's daughter Kate Chase Sprague, a force in her own right); his personal secretary, John Hay (whose flirtations with Kate Chase come to naught, and whose visits to a bawdy house provide the story's only vulgar notes); his lo ...more
May 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'd like to give this book 5 stars for the extraordinary undertaking of thought and research that it represents, but the book, while very good, is weakened by its ambition and its reliance on dialog.

I think Vidal developed insight into many of the players (Lincoln, Mary, Salmon Chase, Kate Chase, Sprague, Stanton, Seward, David, Hay...) and wanted to sketch a portrait of each one of them. This detracted from his most interesting portrait, that of Lincoln.

The characters ar
Rob Anderson
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Conceptually, I have an issue with historical fiction, but it's so damn entertaining! Gore Vidal does it better than anybody. I've read Burr and Lincoln and both are excellent. In Lincoln, Vidal doesn't deviate from the historical facts (at least per my wikopedia spot checks), but through dialogue he builds out the characters of Lincoln, Seward, Chase, and Grant in a manner that is completely believable, insightful, and, yeah, entertaining. I won't be citing "Lincoln" as a source document, but a ...more
a chunk of a book that I found slow going at first because I was struggling to find the time to read but it warmed up as I got further in and I really enjoyed the political scheming and plots that surrounded Lincoln. A great insight into his wife Mary Todd Lincoln also.
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I became obsessed with this book! Very rich. Wierd parallels with current happenings...
Marty Fried
This is the first book I've read by Gore Vidal, and now I want to read more. He really brought this period to life and made it interesting and understandable. It was nothing like what I would have thought, had I thought more about it. The White House was a rat-infested dump with smelly swamps and garbage all around, where people were often sick or died, and inhabited by mostly confederate sympathizers. It was not the best place to be a Yankee.

Lincoln was always interesting. He and hi
Robin Friedman
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A Novel Of Abraham Lincoln

In his 1984 historical novel "Lincoln", Gore Vidal has written with great insight about our sixteenth president, his cabinet, his family, his enemies, and the Civil War Era. Lengthy though the book is, the writing is crisp and eloquent. It held my attention throughout. The book is part of a series of novels by Vidal exploring the history of the United States.

In writing historical novels, it is difficult to tell where fact ends and fiction begins.
Everyday eBook
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Everyday by: John Abrahams
What is it about Abraham Lincoln that so attracts authors and readers? Why have there been 15,000 books written about him -- reportedly more than have been written about any other person in world history, with the exception of Jesus Christ? And what was it about Gore Vidal, the famously acerbic author who died on July 31, 2012, that brought out so much intensity in the obituary columns? Gore Vidal's Lincoln is a good place to start looking for answers.

While Vidal wrote mysteries, pla
Aug 19, 2012 rated it liked it
After reading Team of Rivals, I have become obsessed with all things Lincoln Administration, and I began reading Vidal's novel the day before the great literary icon passed away. I found this an engrossing read, despite the Vidal-isms and some forgivable tics that were admittedly annoying (the overuse of the word "mischieviously" and some of the more obvious add-ons to scenes where subtlety would have worked better for me). I loved his Chase murmuring hymns to himself, his slightly debauched Joh ...more
Really, this book is a 4.7... Along with "Team of Rival" and the movie 'Lincoln' this is truly the most interesting and entertaining Lincoln novel I have read. Gone is the stereotypical self-educated, rail splitter who was born in a log cabin he helped his father build, replaced by an adroit, take-no-prisoners political creature, capable of doing the right things in the most efficient (yet sometimes illegal) ways...
Vidal has created personalities out of historical characters, from the very
Sep 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hf-usa, 1980s
Saw a Goodreads' Reviewer mention of the NYTimes controversial review of Vidal's Lincoln ... remembered my pleasure while engaged by the book, my favorite Vidalian.

Quote from the NYT review : "The portrait is reasoned, judicious, straightforward and utterly convincing, less dramatic, perhaps, than the inspired portrait of Aaron Burr in Mr. Vidal's ''Burr,'' but
Erik Graff
Apr 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Vidal or Lincoln fans
Recommended to Erik by: Fin Einar Graff
Shelves: literature
I read my brother's copy of this book while visiting him, his wife and his daughter up at their home in Sawyer, Michigan during the Christmas holidays, reading it as a bedtime book. Vidal's Lincoln, like his Burr and some of his other novels is reminiscent of Bob Woodward's instant histories. Both appear to produce well-researched reconstructions of history. Both appear to invent plausible conversations.
Mary JL
Jun 16, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-classics
I read this years before I joined Goodreads. I've always been and fan of Lincoln and so I tried and enjoyed this book. So long ago however, I do not recall specific details.

Ifyou are a fan of Gore Vidal, it is up to his usual standards.
Meirav Rath
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
Another excellently written book in this series. This time with more actual historical characters than fictional ones (only three fictional characters).

I have to admit, I don't know too much about the American civil war beyond what I read about it in Gone With The Wind. And what a difference it is between the two books! Not just the north/south issue, but the personal/political aspect. For example - I had no idea the north took such a long time to start being successful!!

Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This novel is easily one of the best books I have read about Lincoln. Gore Vidal does a great job of making Lincoln seem so real and attainable. So many books about Lincoln argue what a great and compelling person he was. This book fleshes out his greatness in ways other books have not. When reading this book, you see Lincoln's humanity along with his faults. Like all great men, Lincoln was not perfect; but he arose to the occasion and we all should be grateful for his humor, kindness, humanity ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book started slow, but ended up being quite a lot of fun. Vidal brings the characters, and the time period, to life. Much of it is superficial, because there is so much going on. And one might quibble about just which events Vidal chose to directly describe and which to skip over. The perspective of Lincoln, so often from another character looking in, gives the novel a "West Wing" feeling.
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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 politica

Other books in the series

Narratives of Empire (7 books)
  • Burr
  • 1876
  • Empire
  • Hollywood
  • Washington, D.C.
  • The Golden Age
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“Seward appreciated the honest and open way that Stanton lied; it was the hallmark of the truly great lawyer, and demonstrated a professional mastery not unlike his own.” 4 likes
“I realize,” said Sumner, “that the press is hardly reliable.” Lincoln turned from the window; suddenly, he grinned. “Oh, yes, they are. They lie. And then they re-lie. So they are nothing if not re-lie-able.” 2 likes
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