From the earliest of the political essays collected here to the most recent, "State of the Union" (2004), the spine of Vidal's historical analysis has remained intact. As a young man, Vidal served as aide and guide to his maternal grandfather, Sen. Thomas Gore (D-Okla.), a leading isolationist. Vidal was profoundly influenced by the older man, though he is much too cosmopolitan to share the basic isolationist notion that contact with "the old world" would inevitably contaminate the American Eden. Vidal does share the isolationist notion that World War II was a disaster for the United States, but his opinion is based on the judgment that the war -- and particularly the postwar world -- created an irresistible temptation to empire. Ascension to empire, in turn, created a demand for construction of a national security state, and that entity has eroded individual liberty ever since.