(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Caroline Sanford provides the central focus of The Golden Age as it begins in 1939, but she soon gives way as protagonist to her young nephew and heir, Peter Sanford. Peter meets President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman and most of the other political insiders of his time, as well as such cultural figures as playwright Tennessee Williams, composer Leonard Bernstein, and even a young novelist named Gore Vidal.

Sanford family relationships are tangled, although death simplifies matters as the years pass. Peter’s father, Blaise Sanford, champions the ruthlessly ambitious Clay Overbury in his relentless drive for power. Overbury forces his benefactor, Senator James Burden Day, into retirement so that Overbury can take Day’s Senate seat.

However, the Sanford domestic entanglements take a backseat to the geopolitical maneuvers that begin in 1939. Caroline observes the drama firsthand, through her friendship with Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s alter ego. Hopkins mocks the blindness of isolationists who oppose Roosevelt’s attempts to support France and Great Britain, under assault from Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Hopkins says that the unspoken reality is that Americans have a world empire and that Great Britain is America’s client state, which must be protected for American self-interest. Peter and his friend Gore Vidal later speculate about Roosevelt’s role in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They believe that Roosevelt deliberately...

(The entire section is 531 words.)