Empire opens in 1898, just as the Spanish-American War ends. Charles Schuyler, the engaging young narrator of Burr, is dead, but his granddaughter, Caroline Sanford, is the protagonist of this book. Her half brother, Blaise Sanford, works for publisher William Randolph Hearst, and Caroline defies the Victorian era gender code and buys her own newspaper, in Washington, D.C. She copies Hearst’s style of yellow journalism, featuring murders on the front page of her newspaper, preferably of beautiful half-naked young women. Blaise later joins her as part owner of the Tribune, which gives them access to the power brokers who make history, as does Caroline’s affair with a rising southern politician, James Burden Day.
Much of the story is told from the point of view of Caroline’s friend, John Hay, once Abraham Lincoln’s young aide, now secretary of state. Hay’s circle includes Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt, whose geopolitical intrigues are wryly observed by Hay’s close friends, historian Henry Adams and author Henry James.
Hay, Adams, and James dissect the world scene as the United States continues its evolution from republic to empire. Vidal traces the path from the republic established by men such as George Washington and John Adams through the creation of an internal empire by Presidents Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and James Polk—expansionists who grabbed vast tracts of land from Native Americans, Mexicans, and others. Lincoln created a unified...
(The entire section is 479 words.)