Accessing Course Texts During COVID-19

Learn more about the actions Yale University Press is taking.

Inventing a Nation

Washington, Adams, Jefferson

Gore Vidal

View Inside Price: $16.00

August 11, 2004
208 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
ISBN: 9780300105926

Also Available in:

Gore Vidal’s uniquely irreverent take on America’s founding fathers will enliven all future discussion of the enduring power of their nation-building ideas

Gore Vidal, one of the master stylists of American literature and one of the most acute observers of American life and history, turns his immense literary and historiographic talent to a portrait of the formidable trio of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. In Inventing a Nation, Vidal transports the reader into the minds, the living rooms (and bedrooms), the convention halls, and the salons of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and others. We come to know these men, through Vidal’s splendid and percipient prose, in ways we have not up to now—their opinions of each other, their worries about money, their concerns about creating a viable democracy. Vidal brings them to life at the key moments of decision in the birthing of our nation. He also illuminates the force and weight of the documents they wrote, the speeches they delivered, and the institutions of government by which we still live. More than two centuries later, America is still largely governed by the ideas championed by this triumvirate.

Gore Vidal, novelist, essayist, and playwright, is one of America’s great men of letters. Among his many books are United States: Essays 1951-1991 (winner of the National Book Award), Burr: A Novel, Lincoln, and the recent Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace.

A selection of Readers' Subscription

“Washington’s steady presence and regal confidence more than compensated for his poor performance in the field against British generals, themselves every bit as striking in their mediocrity as he.”

"Entertaining and enlightening. . . . A must for buffs of American civilization and its discontents."—Booklist 

“[Vidal offers] characteristically brilliant and acerbic reflections on power and personality. . . . This entertaining and enlightening reappraisal of the Founders is a must for buffs of American civilization and its discontents.”—Booklist

“Trust Gore Vidal to teach us things we never learned in school. In Inventing a Nation, his quick wit flickers over the canonical tale of our republic’s founding, turning it into a dark and deliciously nuanced comedy of men, manners, and ideas.”—Amanda Heller, Boston Globe (Sunday)

“Trust Gore Vidal to teach us things we never learned in school. In Inventing a Nation, his quick wit flickers over the canonical tale of our republic’s founding, turning it into a dark and deliciously nuanced comedy of men, manners, and ideas. Vidal reads our originary documents and the more private writings of their authors with a novelist’s eye for the juicy personal rivalries and ambitions lurking beneath their principled surfaces. Ever the iconoclast, he pries our national gods, Washington and Jefferson and the querulous Yankee Adams, off the sanitized, Rushmore-ized monument we call American history, paradoxically enlarging them by making them human.”—Amanda Heller, Boston Sunday Globe

"A well-written, thought-provoking look at some of our founding fathers—always with appreciation."—Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)

"Vidal assumes . . . an insider's knowledge to present an intemate view of the founding of the American republic. . . . [He] assumes a conversational tone in describing the Founding Fathers and the complex political struggles of the 1790s. . . . His is a gossipy account not of marble figures on monuments but of flesh-and-blood human beings who engaged in personal and political battles."—Francis D. Cogliano, Journal of the Historical Association

"Pure Vidal. . . . Inventing a Nation is his edgy tribute to the way we were before the fall."—Los Angeles Times Book Review 

“A hot topic [is matched] with one of the master stylists of American letters . . . This is pure Vidal.”—Joseph J. Ellis, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Gore Vidal . . . understands American history backwards and forwards as few writers ever have."—National Public Radio

"An unblinking view of our national heroes by one who cherishes them, warts and all."—Edmund S. Morgan, New York Review of Books 

"[Vidal] cannot bear to write or speak a dull sentence. . . . It is as though Vidal has us with him in easy chairs by the fireside, as he chats about familiar friends and the things they have done. . . . For anyone puzzled by our continuing attachment to what some dead white males did two centuries ago, Vidal’s talk is an engaging answer, an unblinking view of our national heroes by one who cherishes them, warts and all. . . . A sly tract for the times. . . . Inventing a Nation is a cri de coeur from one who has seen the wolf and cried in vain."—Edmund S. Morgan, New York Review of Books

"He has brought a novelist’s gifts to history . . .. and a graceful, wicked stiletto to the polemical public essay. Now, in Inventing a Nation, Gore Vidal swirls these talents together for a brief, idiosyncratic (of course) conversation about three American founders: Washington, Jefferson and Adams. . . . [Vidal] slips in reflections on the past that point sharply to today. . . . One of the most attractive aspects of Mr. Vidal’s book is his novelist’s skill with details that enliven and portray."—Richard Eder, New York Times

“One of America’s great men of letters animates the history of the early Republic and its first three presidents, interspersing his history with commentary on our present circumstances.”—New York Times Book Review

"Vidal, master—inventor even—of the political entertainment genre make[s] for splendid reading."—Andrea Hoag, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“By turns enchanting, persuasive, vexing. . . . No admirer of Vidal’s would wish to miss this sparkling historical excursion, not least for it’s moving description of Washington’s death.”—Ferdinand Mount, Sunday Times (London)

“Anyone with an interest in history will enjoy these glimpses of the characters involved in the making of the American nation, especially their trenchant views of each other.”—Michael Sexton, Sydney Morning Herald

“With a novelist’s eye for character and the telling detail, Gore Vidal takes us on a brisk ride through early American history as seen through the eye of the Founders.”—Justin Raimondo, The American Conservative

“A brief, luminous and idiosyncratic book on the deeds and thoughts that forged the nation. . . . Lively in its portraits of the founding fathers.”—Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (UK)

“For U.S. readers, Vidal’s iconoclasm will loom largest, as he insists on the English roots of all-American ideals, labels his native land a ‘despotism’ after the ‘anti-constitutional’ USA Patriot Act, or looks at how Jefferson finessed the matter of slavery. . . . For all his debunking mischief, Vidal has a salutary story to tell us of how grand ideas can coalesce into fresh institutions.”—Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (UK)

“Vidal’s wit occasionally comes across as facetiousness in his brilliant study of Washington, Adams and Jefferson, founding fathers of the Republic and its first three presidents.”—Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)

“An illusion-free and briskly entertaining take on America’s Founding Fathers.”—Pankaj Mishra, Times Literary Supplement (Books of the Year)

“Vidal invites candid reappraisal of the achievements of the so-called Founding Fathers. His timing is splendid. . . . A fast-paced, highly entertaining political history.”—T. H. Breen, Times Literary Supplement

“Vidal animates the staid history of the early American republic with vivid portraits of our first trio of presidents--Washington, Adams and Jefferson. Along the way he points up the foibles and preoccupations of these first custodians of the great American experiment in democracy.”—Washington Post Book World

"Persuasive and very readable."—John Lukacs 

Selected as an outstanding book by University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries

A Los Angeles Times Book Review Bestseller

A New York Times bestseller
Icons of America
Nearest Thing to Heaven

The Empire State Building and American Dreams

Mark Kingwell

View details
Fred Astaire

Joseph Epstein

View details
Frankly, My Dear

"Gone with the Wind" Revisited

Molly Haskell

View details
Wall Street

America's Dream Palace

Steve Fraser

View details
The Hamburger

A History

Josh Ozersky

View details
King's Dream

The Legacy of Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" Speech

Eric J. Sundquist

View details