Gore Vidal, shot by Carl Van Vechten, 1948/Van Vechten Collection, The Library of Congress

Gore Vidal was at best a snob, at worst a snot, depending on how you assess his patronizing demeanor. He looked and sounded patrician, but stopped short of being a dandy (witness his perennial gray pants and blue blazer). He was, however, a lot of other things, as two new biographies attest.

They are Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal by Jay Parini, his friend and literary executor, a responsible, solidly researched, traditional biography; and Michael Mewshaw’s Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of...

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