The title of Gore Vidal's most recent meditation on US history, Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, promises a dramatis personae approach to the early days of the executive branch of the US governmental experiment. And Vidal delivers on this promise, providing fully blooded portraits of the first three presidents, including their financial straits, physical traits and political theories and practices. The book's subtitle, however, ignores an array of other personages important to Vidal's deceptively thin book (e.g. Franklin and Hamilton), while also, more importantly, obscuring his main argument: that the flower of US executive power present, no matter how heady or malodorous its bouquet, has its seeds in the nation's founding and the debates operative at the time of its invention. The warped mirror of historical analogy and antecedent creates the funhouse of Vidal's political analyses, and it is with gleeful...

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