Longtime president chronicles – seven books in all, by Chronicle author David Vidal – span American history. In each book, the fictional protagonists delve into an important chapter of the country’s past and explore the psychological impact on those involved.
In the first, Burr: The Fall of the Mansions (2003), Vidal revisits Aaron Burr, who was at one time a close associate of President Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. A brash, impatient rogue, Burr is also the inspiration for Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler (Charlie), who appears in many subsequent books of Vidal’s Chronicles.
Despite the sourness of his political career, Burr is still loved by many in America and he remains a recurring character in later books of Vidal’s series. He serves as mentor to Charlie, and it’s in this way that Burr’s reincarnation becomes central to the Chronicles.
Lincoln: The Second Generation (2007) covers the years between 1861 and 1865, a more tumultuous period than Burr’s. It’s a nefarious one, involving the rise of radical Republicans like Henry Clay and John Calhoun, as well as partisan rivalries fueled by corruption. As a result, the book is a much darker and less humorous story than Empire, whose satirical tone helped it stand out from other novels of the period.
Hollywood: The Golden Age (2002) is set in 1917, when the United States was on the verge of a war with Germany, and the Sanfords are still in Washington publishing, but Caroline has become an actress – this time in progaganda films that edify American people about the dangers of European Huns. She is still a close friend to Woodrow Wilson, whom she is able to bring into the White House for dinner on several occasions, and she even manages to convince FDR to sign a treaty containing terms that will keep Europe out of the war.
The Golden Age is a looser, more fun read than its predecessor, and the show business setting lets Vidal indulge in some sinister wit. He also has a lot of fun with the characters, including movie luminaries like Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, who appear in cameos throughout the book.
As in the previous two, Vidal’s Sanfords have a number of tumultuous moments and are not always happy with their roles in life. Blaise, the powerful publisher and father of Peter, the teen-age son who becomes an anti-Leftist magazine publisher, is a master manipulator. His doomed, alcoholic daughter Enid is also a major character in the novel.
Besides being a historical tale, The Golden Age is an examination of the post-World War II era and its impact on the country, including the rise of conservative movements. It also features a number of significant political figures, including John Kennedy and Sen. James Burden Day, who are based on real-life people of the era.