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The Plot Against America: A Novel [Hardcover]

Philip Roth
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 5 2004
When the renowned aviation hero and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt by a landslide in the 1940 presidential election, fear invaded every Jewish household in America. Not only had Lindbergh, in a nationwide radio address, publicly blamed the Jews for selfishly pushing America toward a pointless war with Nazi Germany, but upon taking office as the thirty-third president of the United States, he negotiated a cordial "understanding" with Adolf Hitler, whose conquest of Europe and virulent anti-Semitic policies he appeared to accept without difficulty.
What followed in America is the historical setting for this startling new book by the Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Roth, who recounts what it was like for his Newark family--and for a million such families all over the country--during the menacing years of the Lindbergh presidency, when American citizens who happened to be Jews had every reason to expect the worst.

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From Publishers Weekly

During his long career, Roth has shown himself a master at creating fictional doppelgängers. In this stunning novel, he creates a mesmerizing alternate world as well, in which Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election, and Philip, his parents and his brother weather the storm in Newark, N.J. Incorporating Lindbergh's actual radio address in which he accused the British and the Jews of trying to force America into a foreign war, Roth builds an eerily logical narrative that shows how isolationists in and out of government, emboldened by Lindbergh's blatant anti-Semitism (he invites von Ribbentrop to the White House, etc.), enact new laws and create an atmosphere of religious hatred that culminates in nationwide pogroms.Historical figures such as Walter Winchell, Fiorello La Guardia and Henry Ford inhabit this chillingly plausible fiction, which is as suspenseful as the best thrillers and illustrates how easily people can be persuaded by self-interest to abandon morality. The novel is, in addition, a moving family drama, in which Philip's fiercely ethical father, Herman, finds himself unable to protect his loved ones, and a family schism develops between those who understand the eventual outcome of Lindbergh's policies and those who are co-opted into abetting their own potential destruction. Many episodes are touching and hilarious: young Philip experiences the usual fears and misapprehensions of a pre-adolescent; locks himself into a neighbor's bathroom; gets into dangerous mischief with a friend; watches his cousin masturbating with no comprehension of the act. In the balance of personal, domestic and national events, the novel is one of Roth's most deft creations, and if the lollapalooza of an ending is bizarre with its revisionist theory about the motives behind Lindbergh's anti-Semitism, it's the subtext about what can happen when government limits religious liberties in the name of the national interest that gives the novel moral authority. Roth's writing has never been so direct and accessible while retaining its stylistic precision and acute insights into human foibles and follies.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–When Charles Lindbergh, Republican candidate in the 1940 presidential race, defeats popular FDR in a landslide, pollsters scramble for explanations–among them that, to a country weary of crisis and fearful of becoming involved in another European war, the aviator represents "normalcy raised to heroic proportions." For the Roth family, however, the situation is anything but normal, and heroism has a different meaning. As the anti-Semitic new president cozies up to the Third Reich, right-wing activists throughout the nation seize the moment. Most citizens, enamored of isolationism and lost in hero worship, see no evil–but in the Roths' once secure and stable Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey, the world is descending into a nightmare of confusion, fear, and unpredictability. The young narrator, Phil, views the developing crisis through the lens of his family life and his own boyish concerns. His father, clinging tenaciously to his trust in America, loses his confidence painfully and incrementally. His mother tries to shield the children from her own growing fear. An aunt, brother, and cousin respond in different ways, and the family is divided. But though the situation is grim, this is not a despairing tale; suspenseful, poignant, and often humorous, it engages readers in many ways. It prompts them to consider the nature of history, present times, and possible futures, and can lead to good discussions among thoughtful readers and teachers. Bibliographic sources, notes on historical figures, and documentation are included.–Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The plot sickens Oct. 7 2004
While I haven't read everything Roth has written, I'm familiar enough with his work to note that this book is off the beaten path, even for him. If you read the premise and were turned off, don't be. This kind of material in anyone else's hands would be a disaster, but masterbuilder Roth does wonders with it. Basically he creates an alternate world, one in which Lindbergh is president in 1940. Using Lindbergh's anti-Semitism, Roth builds a scenario that is frightening and at the same time, eye-opening. Funny at times, and not without the human touch, this is one you'll want to read.
Would also recommend another book, different with equally entertaining, titled BARK OF THE DOGWOOD. Funny and disturbing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
As a long-time lover of Philip Roth's books, I was a little surprised to find he'd written a book of political allegory. That's because there's a passage in I MARRIED A COMMUNIST that discusses and crystallizes in my mind the idea that art and politics are in opposition. So I bought the book and read it to find out what the deal was and though I enjoyed it, I do not think it is Roth's best. As for the politic overhang and how it relates to modern events, I take Roth at face value that this book is not a commentary on the Bush administration. I was up in the air on this point up until the end when Roth just makes the entire Lindbergh mess disappear with an off- handed, bizarre, Weekly World News like plotline. It's impossible to read the mind of the artist, but maybe he did this because he realized at the end that this book was less about what happens to a country when its plunged into chaos and more about what happens to people and families, the characters in a book, when they face their own personal chaos. That's where the heart of the book is, in the characters. I think the author knew that. Most of the political threads end in an off-handed way. Sandy, with all his Just Folks venom, fades when he discovers girls. Aunt Evelyn and the Rabbi leave when Mr. Roth makes them and though the Rabbi makes a play for revenge, he doesn't follow through. This goes on, from Alvin to Walter Winchell to Philip's uncle to the friend who leaves for Canada and on. The political conflicts are dropped one by one with minimal explanation or enlightenment. At the end, Roth saves enlightenment for the characters, mostly Philip, his mother and Seldon. Philip's mother becomes the hero. Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars plot thickens Dec 30 2004
Although Roth denies it, I can't help but believe that he uses this incident as a metaphor for current-day America, a nation led by those who care not one ounce for certain sectors of our population, i.e. the poor, the elderly, [...] Americans, etc. It's a long enough list. And it's as that metaphor that makes this a brilliant book, and one of Roth's most powerful. Certain lines could be lifted out of today's discussions:
p 65: "... now they think they can get away with anything. It's disgraceful. It all starts with the White House..."
p 101 the narrator, asking his father why no one is doing anything about the creeping madness: "What about the Democrats?" I asked. "Son, don't ask me about the Democrats. I'm angy enough as it is."
p 229 (a Winchell speech) "There the right-wing saboteurs of democracy -- the so-called patriots and the so-called Christians -- can be turned against these isolated Jewish families overnight."
On and on it goes. One of the major points of Roth's book is how dangerous a nation can become when those in power rule only for their own special interests, at the price of those who are not in power. It happened in Germany; in Roth's book, it happened in America. But left unchecked, it can happen anywhere, anytime.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Roth's latest Dec 10 2004
First the good news: the "what if" concept of a Nazi sympathizing American government led by Charles Lindbergh is wonderfully executed and eerily plausible. Roth's Lindbergh is clearly intended to evoke George W. Bush (compare the laconic, simplistic rhetorical styles of the real and fictional politicians; also, Lindbergh's aerial campaigning seems intended to remind us of Dubya's notorious aircraft carrier "Mission Accomplished" stunt). Roth has found a way in this book to use an alternative past to comment pointedly on the present, and the book is ultimately a cautionary tale about the fragility of American Democracy in times of crisis.
Roth's use of radio personality Walter Winchell as the lone media voice speaking out against the fascism of the Lindbergh government also creates an interesting, disturbing historical irony in this reader's mind. Today, in the reign of George W. Bush, we have no powerful rabble-rousing opposition voices in the major media. Indeed, Winchell's modern descendents are the reactionary demagogues of right-wing radio and TV, the Limbaughs, Coulters, Hannitys (I hope I mis-spelled that) and O'Reillys of our own low dishonest decade.
Now the downside (and the reason I'm only giving the book 3 stars): after a wonderful start and an interesting, surprising midsection, the novel falls apart at the end. Seemingly losing the thread of his great theme of history as "the relentless unforeseen" that assaults us as we move slowly into the future, Roth tells us the outcome of the novel's alternative history in the penultimate chapter BEFORE he shows us the effects of that history on the Roth family. This is a very poor narrative choice that greatly detracts from the final chapter's power.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Moving Metaphor for the European Jewish Experience
The Plot Against America is a fictional device that provides American readers with a mental exercise to help understand what it was like to be a Jew during the rise of the Nazis in... Read more
Published on Dec 6 2008 by Donald Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars AS THE WORLD TURNS...
I loved this book, as it was a wonderful melding of two genres, that of alternate history to that of family drama. Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2008 by Lawyeraau
5.0 out of 5 stars We Live In A Nightmare
Charles Lindbergh is best known as the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. However, he was also a noted isolationist and, prior to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour,... Read more
Published on Aug. 12 2008 by Craobh Rua
5.0 out of 5 stars Creepily Plausible
The premise of this book is unusual, and did not appeal to me before I read the book. Roth invents an alternate history where Charles Lindbergh is elected President of the United... Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2008 by Oliver
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but lacking in some areas also
It's taken me a long time to sit down and write this review. Opinions are divided on this book, and I wanted to think through how I really felt. Read more
Published on June 23 2005 by Ondre
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic!
This is truly a wonderful surprise and the second best purchase I made this year after THE LOSERS CLUB: Complete Restored Edition. In THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, Mr. Read more
Published on May 28 2005 by Dillon
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed yet educated
This is the first time I had read anything by Mr. Roth. I found the book to be very slow almost trying to read. Many times I almost put the book away however I chose to continue. Read more
Published on April 27 2005
4.0 out of 5 stars America and the great plot
I should have read the jacket flap before buying this, but nevertheless enjoyed it. I've read two other books by Roth previously and liked them. Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2005 by Randy States
5.0 out of 5 stars America the . . .
I should have read the jacket flap before buying this, but nevertheless enjoyed it. I've read two other books by Roth previously and liked them. Read more
Published on Jan. 14 2005 by Randy States
4.0 out of 5 stars Roth is at it again
Of the three books our book club recently read, we were most impressed with this latest Roth work (the other two were "Reading Lolita" and "Bark of the Dogwood). Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2005 by Robert Crandle, Jr.
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