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Gore Vidal, 'Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How we got to be so hated - causes of conflict in the last empire'

Clairview 2002; ISBN 1 902636 38 4;160 pp, £8.95

Gore Vidal knows how to write. The only problem is that you get the feeling he's written it all before. Literally. Nowhere on the cover (front or back) are you warned that three-quarters of the book is a reprint of articles that appeared previously in Vanity Fair (three) or The Nation (one), which were published as long ago as 1997 (although I can't say the material feels dated, far from it).

The drawback of having read it all before won't apply to everyone of course. But besides that, there is another major hitch in this book. Which is that it promises more than it delivers. It does not form a coherent argument that lives up to its title. Vidal doesn't even attempt to explain the drive behind the perpetual war, and thereby completely denies the title of the book.

What he does do is let you inside the mind of Timothy McVeigh, or at least lets you into the correspondence he had with him. It is very interesting. But if that is not what you're after then this book is quite a let-down. Vidal does remind us of the perpetual war, sometimes even by giving us entire pages full of damning US military operations. This is all well and good, but again we are simply left with dry information, and no real historical narrative.

This book seems to have been put together to enlighten the North American readership by showing them the other side of 11 September. But it is too scrappy to warrant a critical analysis. By all means, read as much Gore Vidal as possible. But catch him in magazines and newspapers so you don't have to fork out for an overpriced and jumbled collection a couple of years down the line.

Topics: War and peace | Empire