The Smithsonian Institution: A Novel

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Random House, 1998 - Fiction - 260 pages
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It's Good Friday 1939, and a teenage math prodigy from St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., is mysteriously summoned to the Smithsonian Institution, where a crash program to develop the atomic bomb is being conducted in the basement. Someone is also fooling around with the space-time continuum, and the preternaturally gifted teenager turns out to hold the key to both the secrets of nuclear fission and breakthroughs in the fourth dimension. In the subterranean laboratory, he brainstorms with Robert Oppenheimer and other scientists who will soon be at Los Alamos. Meanwhile, upstairs, the displays in the museum come to life after hours, and an adventurous First Lady from the inaugural-gowns exhibit takes it upon herself to show him the sexual ropes.
Abraham Lincoln - along with Charles Lindbergh, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Grover Cleveland, and Adolf Hitler - turns up here as the teenage narrator tries not only to make sense of history but to intervene in key events that shaped the twentieth century. Questions about political responsibility and personal sacrifice are deftly woven into a surreal narrative of quantum physics, string theory, clones, the sexual habits of Eskimos, and the domestic arrangements of various U.S. presidents.

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User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Another merry riff on Washington power politics, struggles, and failures from the venerable curmudgeon and sage: an appealingly unholy marriage of Burr, Duluth, and a suavely Vidalian amalgam of Tom ... Read full review


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About the author (1998)

Gore Vidal was born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr. on October 3, 1925 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He did not go to college but attended St. Albans School in Washington and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1943. He enlisted in the Army, where he became first mate on a freight supply ship in the Aleutian Islands. His first novel, Williwaw, was published in 1946 when he was twenty-one years old and working as an associate editor at the publishing company E. P. Dutton. The City and the Pillar was about a handsome, athletic young Virginia man who gradually discovers that he is homosexual, which caused controversy in the publishing world. The New York Times refused to advertise the novel and gave a negative review of it and future novels. He had such trouble getting subsequent novels reviewed that he turned to writing mysteries under the pseudonym Edgar Box and then gave up novel-writing altogether for a time. Once he moved to Hollywood, he wrote television dramas, screenplays, and plays. His films included I Accuse, Suddenly Last Summer with Tennessee Williams, Is Paris Burning? with Francis Ford Coppola, and Ben-Hur. His most successful play was The Best Man, which he also adapted into a film. He started writing novels again in the 1960's including Julian, Washington, D.C., Myra Breckenridge, Burr, Myron, 1876, Lincoln, Hollywood, Live From Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal, and The Golden Age. He also published two collections of essays entitled The Second American Revolution, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 1982 and United States: Essays 1952-1992. In 2009, he received the National Book Awards lifetime achievement award. He died from complications of pneumonia on July 31, 2012 at the age of 86.

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