In our continuing journey through Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire brings us to 1876, the third published and the third chronologically. This is much more of a direct sequel to Burr than Lincoln was and bridges the gap between Burr and the first book published, Washington D.C. (You could consider Narratives of Empire in publication order as two trilogies, with the misfit Lincoln between them. Anyway, enough discussion of the series, on to the book!
While Gore Vidal's cynical eye generally portrays an America that is probably more true than I would like, his coverage of the year 1876, what he calls "probably the low point in our republic's history" is particularly painful. Grant is another historical figure I found interesting, I read his memoirs and enjoyed them, but there is a reason that they end at the end of the civil war and don't continue into his political career.
I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but the character of Grant in this book gets very little wiggle room around his corruption and the problems in his administration. This book could easily have been entirely about Grant's administration like a dark mirror to Lincoln but instead the author has tried to give us a slightly wider view of what is going on, which has its pluses and minuses.
Our narrator from Burr returns, now an appropriately old man. As an interesting choice, Vidal makes him quite the unreliable narrator. He ignores signs that are right in front of him and has difficulty remembering things. In an interesting case of parallelism, the corruption of the United States is matched by the corruption in the narrator's brain. His self-delusion and absent-mindedness perhaps match the country's delusion that, at that point in history, America was still a great nation.
Overall, I would give this book an 89%.