Gore Vidal’s reputation as America’s finest essayist is an enduring one. This collection, chosen by the author from 40 years of work, contains about two-thirds of what he published in various magazines and journals. He has divided the essays into three categories, or states. State of the art covers literature, including novelists and critics, bestsellers, pieces on Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Suetonius, Nabakov, and Montaigne (a previosly uncollected essay from 1992). State of the union deals with politics and public life: sex, drugs, money, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, The Holy Family (his essay on the Kennedys), Nixon, and finally Monotheism and its Discontents , a scathing critique of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In state of being, we are given personal responses to people and events: recollections of his childhood, E. Nesbit, Tarzan, Tennessee Williams, and Anais Nin.
The essays that appear in this work were originally published in Architectural Digest, Book Week, Commentary, Encounter, Esquire, London Sunday Telegraph, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, New World Writing, The Observer, Partisan Review, Playboy, The Reporter, The Threepenny Review, The Times, Times Literary Supplement, Vanity Fair, and Zero. "Paul Bowles's Stories" was originally published as the Introduction to Collected Stories of Paul Bowles (Black Sparrow Press, 1983). "H. L. Mencken the Journalist" was originally published as the Foreword to The Impossible H. L. Mencken: A Selection of His Best Newspaper Stories edited by Elizabeth Rodgers (Doubleday/Anchor Books).