A Memoir

About the Book

Vidal on Vidal—a great and supremely entertaining writer on a great and endlessly fascinating subject.

A New York Times best American memoir

“In the hands of Gore Vidal, a pen is a sword. And he points it at the high and mighty who have crossed his path.” —Los Angeles Times

Palimpsest is Gore Vidal's account of the first thirty-nine years of his life as a novelist, dramatist, critic, political activist and candidate, screenwriter, television commentator, controversialist, and a man who knew pretty much everybody worth knowing (from Amelia Earhart to Eleanor Roosevelt, the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor, Jack Kennedy, Jaqueline Kennedy, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote, Andre Gide, and Tennessee Williams, and on and on).

Here, recalled with the charm and razor wit of one of the great raconteurs of our time, are his birth into a DC political clan; his school days; his service in World War II; his emergence as a literary wunderkind in New York; his time in Hollywood, London, Paris and Rome; his campaign for Congress (outpolling JFK in his district); and his legendary feuds with, among many others, Truman Capote and William F. Buckley.

At the emotional heart of this book is his evocation of his first and greatest love, boyhood friend Jimmy Trimble, killed in battle on Iwo Jima.
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Praise for Palimpsest

“As host of the crowded cocktail party that is his memoir, Gore Vidal is mostly on his best behavior. He seldom scandalizes his guests and rarely flings a martini into anyone’s face. Courtly but gossipy, chummy but not overfamiliar, he proudly points out all the notables he has managed to attract to his soirée. . . . Vidal is a first-rate essayist, one of America’s finest.”

“This is Vidal at his most devastating, connoisseurs of which will find enough in Palimpsest to satisfy if not fully slake their thirst.”
The Washington Post

“The book is the product of a mind fully immersed in both the frivolities and sinister undercurrents of its era. Best of all, it keeps readers conscious of how much the past is an ever-evolving, often illusory product of the present. . . . Vidal’s portraits of fellow writers find him at his wittiest.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Among the writers of his midcentury vintage, Gore Vidal stands apart. . . . [An] entertaining, gossipy memoir.”
The Boston Globe

“As absolutely everyone with a taste for literary candy has no doubt already discovered . . . Palimpsest is a trick-or-treater’s El Dorado. . . . While his own life may not fascinate him . . . treating it as history certainly does. Nothing engages his imagination like telling the truth.”
The Village Voice

“Invigoratingly high-plumed cynicism . . . I knew Vidal would have me frowning and nodding and smiling and smirking—with admiration, with exasperation, with scandalized dissent. I never dreamed Vidal would have me wiping my eyes, and staring wanly out the window, and emitting strange sighs (many of them frail and elderly in timbre).”
—Martin Amis, The Sunday Times (London)

“Provocative . . . it is autobiography at its best. . . . Loaded with vintage Gore . . . here he lays himself bare, tells us as much about himself as he does about those friends and enemies who have populated his early work. Vidal’s take on twentieth-century history is remarkable—and right up close.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Witty, literate, perceptive, didactic; in short, vintage Vidal. . . . Always entertaining, in so erudite a way.”
The Detroit News

“Reveals the intellectual pugilist in a different light. . . . Here is a man who has known much of the literary and political history of the twentieth century through personal experience, who has strong opinions about politics and the arts and who can articulate his ideas without falling into the traps of ideology and party lines.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“In this memoir, Vidal takes a great risk. He sets aside his public persona and opens his heart, allowing us to see a rare vulnerability. . . . While Vidal’s writing is consistently entertaining, it is the meeting of brittle, worldly humor with a tender teenage love story that lifts Palimpsest above the level of gossip to an emotionally fulfilling experience.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“True to the rhythms of real life. . . . Palimpsest is the story of a rich life, and an ode to loss. . . . A bittersweet backward glance.”
The Virginian-Pilot

“The first chapters here are recalled with a rapture which matches some of the great literary memoirs of childhood, such as Nabokov’s Speak, Memory.”
Financial Times
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Vintage International Series

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Giovanni's Room (Deluxe Edition)
Go Tell It on the Mountain (Deluxe Edition)
If Beale Street Could Talk (Deluxe Edition)
Answered Prayers
The Rainbow
Caligula and Three Other Plays
Soldiers' Pay
Out (Special Edition)
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About the Author

Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal (1925–2012) was born at the United States Military Academy at West Point. His first novel, Williwaw, written when he was 19 years old and serving in the army, appeared in the spring of 1946. He wrote 23 novels, five plays, many screenplays, short stories, well over 200 essays, and a memoir. More by Gore Vidal
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