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The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

The Plot Against America (2004)

by Philip Roth

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7,365170781 (3.72)406
  1. 100
    The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (ljbwell)
    ljbwell: Alternate history based in the US where WWII has had a different outcome.
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    Fatherland by Robert Harris (bertilak)
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    The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (ateolf)
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    It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (TLCrawford)
    TLCrawford: Similar plot written by a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature at a time when it could, in fact, have happened here. Lewis' wife, journalist Dorthy Thompson was stationed in Berlin during Hitler's early years.
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    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (TeeKay)
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» See also 406 mentions

English (142)  French (6)  Dutch (5)  Swedish (2)  Danish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  German (1)  Portuguese (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (164)
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
I love history but so often it is presented as static and inevitable. The heartbeat of history is entombed in a bloodless waxworks of names, dates and figures forgetting that people are the driving forces setting the whirly-gigs in motion. The best authors like Doris Kearns Goodwin (TEAM OF RIVALS) and David McCullough (1776) pump the blood back into those rendered lifeless by time. The pulse of America is palpable in both those author's works. As it is in Philip Roth's THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA. Part of loving history is asking the big "What If...?" questions. What if certain guns jammed, or bombs failed to detonate or certain people lived or died due to run of the mill happenstance either inserting into or deleting their appearances from history. Roth asks one of these questions. What if Roosevelt lost the 1940 election to Charles Lindbergh leader of AMERICA FIRST (isolationists) which fought to keep the US out of WWII. A young and handsome hero, Lindbergh was how America wanted to see itself--creating a kind of Camelot before the Kennedy's. Written during the Bush administration, it is easy to see a kind of template over which the novel was created. It was left vague, for example, just how much Lindbergh was even in control of his own administration versus the machinations of others making decisions for him. I think it is limiting to just assume it's goal is to bash Bush although I would consider it mission accomplished. Instead, I feel it succeeds in warning against allowing anyone the power to define right and wrong without the tempering hand of common decency. Before reading I anticipated history with a big "H"---seeing all the movers and shakers (Hitler, Lindbergh, Roosevelt, etc) at home and abroad running their paths through history but to alternate destinations. What I found instead was more fascinating--history with a small "h" (personal history). History does not just affect those who create it. History falls upon us all in trickles or downpours. Even upon the Roth family of Newark, New Jersey. The power of this novel is that it reads more like a memoir. Dramatic world events unfold but we view them from the perspective of a nine year old boy who's primary concerns are his friends, his stamp collection and his family. The author takes great care in lighting up the interior lives of his novel bound Roth family so that all the shadows thrown by that light are true to those characters. I was drawn into the family as if reading letters found in the long neglected closet of my own childhood. The family was real, which made the community real and thus the greater world felt real as it worked to marginalize, obliterate and absorb a unique culture in the name of protecting America. My only complaint about the novel would be the somewhat haphazard nature of it's conclusion. I understand it is likely a reflection of how an adult would look back at his childhood...after the bright burning memorable crisis has passed, events that follow are often jumbled puzzle pieces that one no longer cares enough about to piece together. Even so it was a tad jarring to be so involved personally with the characters to have such a vivid world allowed to dissolve in such a fashion. A small quibble however when I enjoyed the rest so thoroughly. ( )
  KurtWombat | Sep 15, 2019 |
Fascinating alternate history for World War II if American antisemitism was slightly more potent. ( )
  brakketh | Dec 31, 2018 |
i really really surprised myself by finding most of this book to be totally fascinating and quite incredible, in large part due to what is going on now. i think that had i read this prior to 2015, i probably wouldn't have been too interested and would have thought that it was mostly far fetched and a strange project evidencing how some people "can't get past history." but here we are, and he describes with incredible accuracy so many things that we never thought could happen. i didn't realize that an "america first committee" existed prior to world war ii, with much the same ideas of isolationism as is spouted today. over and over again when reading i couldn't believe how he had predicted things. ("Though on the morning after the election disbelief prevailed, especially among the pollsters, by the day after that everybody seemed to understand everything, and the radio commentators and the news columnists made it sound s if Roosevelt's defeat had been preordained." the details are different but there is so much truth of our current reality in this book. on trump supporters: "They live in a dream, and we live in a nightmare.") the speed with which things happen once they start; the underbelly of hate and racism that comes to the surface and is given credence by the administration. it's all so prescient.

toward the end it got a bit wild, but the truth is that once the foundation is set, anything is possible. it is scary to realize how close we are to anything happening, really. how once something is set in motion, it's hard to stop it, and how far along we are on this path already. really scary.

as to the book itself, i was a bit disappointed in the wildness at the end, but more than that it's like there was no ending. it literally reads like my copy is missing another 50 pages or so. i wanted (especially with our current situation) an actual ending and don't like how he did this at all. i also would have liked a personal history in the back; since he included information about the real lives of the people he uses in the book, i think he should have also included a small bit about himself and his family members since they are the main characters in the book. as far as that goes, i generally find his insertion of self in his books as too much navel gazing, but here i thought it worked so well because he was taking real history and overlaying an alternative history on top of it. so the more real it was, the more believable it could be. (still, without our actual history that is happening now, i probably would have felt this was completely outside the realm of possibility.)

if the ending had been an ending this would have gotten more stars from me because i thought it was excellent right up until near the end. maybe having an ending matters so much right now because i need to see how our current situation could end, and he didn't give me that. ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Dec 28, 2018 |
In 1940 Charles A. Lindbergh, heroic aviator and rabid isolationist, is elected president. Shortly thereafter, he negotiates a cordial "understanding" with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy antisemitism.
  JRCornell | Dec 8, 2018 |
In 2004 Philip Roth, having twice won the National Book Award and a Pulitzer among many others, published an alternate historical novel starring none other than himself and his family. Set in Newark, New Jersey as were several of his earlier novels, including American Pastoral, this genre was a departure for the author. It is an alternative history in which Franklin D. Roosevelt is defeated in the presidential election of 1940 by Charles Lindbergh. The novel follows the fortunes of the Roth family during the Lindbergh presidency, as antisemitism becomes more accepted in American life and Jewish-American families like the Roths are persecuted on various levels. Roth based his novel on the isolationist ideas espoused by Lindbergh in real life as a spokesman for the America First Committee, and on his own experiences growing up in Newark, New Jersey.

In Roth's story, as the decade of the thirties nears its end, many Americans are so afraid that President Franklin D. Roosevelt is leading the country into the war in Europe that, rather than Wendell Wilkie, the Republican Party nominates Charles A. Lindbergh, the hero who was the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo. Surprising many, especially concerning American Jews, Lindbergh wins the election. Jews are concerned because Lindbergh not only has admired the German Luftwaffe but also has accepted a medal from Adolf Hitler himself, a clear sign of his pro-German sympathies.

A nine-year-old Philip Roth narrates events centering on the Roth family -- his father and mother, Herman and Besse, and his older brother, Sandy. They and their friends in the Jewish section of Newark, New Jersey, are terribly upset by the election and fear the worst. They suspect that the kinds of anti-Semitism that Hitler has propounded and is rapidly carrying out in Germany and in the parts of Europe that he has conquered will, under Lindbergh’s administration, begin to happen in the United States. The first experience that they have of this intolerance comes during a trip to Washington, D.C., where they are expelled from their hotel despite their confirmed reservations. They are instead sent to a hotel that will accept Jews. This outrage is followed by a scene in a cafeteria where the family experiences anti-Semitic slurs.

Not all Jews believe as Herman Roth believes in the growing danger. A rabbi, Lionel Bengelsdorf, supports the new administration and soon becomes head of the Office of American Absorption. This new office is established to promote Lindbergh’s plan to disperse Jews from enclaves, such as the one in which the Roths live in Newark, to other parts of the country, presumably promoting their assimilation into the American mainstream. After years of working for an insurance company in Newark, Herman Roth is reassigned to Danville, Kentucky under this plan, but rather than accept the assignment, he resigns and goes to work instead for his brother’s produce business. Sandy Roth, meanwhile, is enticed into a program called “Just Folks,” another attempt to foster Jewish assimilation, and spends the summer on a farm in Kentucky with a typical “American” family. He comes back with a southern accent and views quite opposed to those of his father. A neighbor’s family, the Wishnows, is forced to accept the reassignment and also goes to Danville, Kentucky. Later, Mrs. Wishnow is killed in a violent attack against Jews as she tries to drive home one night.

The novel includes several noted historical characters: Father Coughlin, the extremist Catholic priest who fulminates against Jews; Walter Winchell, the Jewish newspaper reporter and media celebrity whose Sunday night radio broadcasts the Roth family and their friends dutifully listen to each week, and who at one point runs for president against Lindbergh, only to be assassinated for his efforts; the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, who is honored by a state dinner at the White House by President and Mrs. Lindbergh; Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York City, who is an eloquent spokesperson and a champion of civil rights; and many others. The picture of the United States under the Lindbergh administration is a very grim, even terrifying one. Although Roth insists he intended no allusion to politics in the twenty-first century, his novel clearly posts a warning for what might happen should American civil liberties suffer increased depredations.

Roth even brings into The Plot Against America the notorious kidnapping case of the 1930’s, in which the Lindberghs’ infant son was stolen. In his imagined reconstruction of events, the baby is not killed (as he was in actual fact) but taken by the Nazis and brought up in Germany as a good member of the Hitler Jugend. Events at the end of the novel culminate with the disappearance of Lindbergh himself and subsequent anti-Jewish riots in many cities across the United States in which 122 Jews lose their lives. Lindbergh, however, has not been kidnapped but has fled to Germany, using the Spirit of St. Louis for his escape, and is never seen again. Eventually, law and order are restored (thanks in part to the efforts of Mrs. Lindbergh), the Democrats take over Congress, and Roosevelt wins his unprecedented third term as president.

Using young Philip as narrator and central character in the novel gives it a compelling perspective. The care with which his confusion and terror are rendered makes the novel as much about the mysteries of growing up as about American politics. I thought the narrative presented a realistic portrayal of the fears, both psychological and physical, of the close-knit Jewish community. However the themes of confusion and a fear in the face of the growing evil in Europe heightened by the isolation and change within America are universal as they mirrored similar feelings during our own very real history of Cold War and subsequent events. This is a very good novel from the pen of one of the great literary lions of our lifetime. ( )
  jwhenderson | Sep 20, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
Philip Roth has written a terrific political novel, though in a style his readers might never have predicted — a fable of an alternative universe, in which America has gone fascist and ordinary life has been flattened under a steamroller of national politics and mass hatreds.
added by danielx | editNew York Times, Paul Berman (Dec 29, 2014)

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roth, Philipprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kooman, KoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Línek, JosefTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mantovani, VincenzoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Silver, RonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zwart, JannekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618509283, Hardcover)

"What if" scenarios are often suspect. They are sometimes thinly veiled tales of the gospel according to the author, taking on the claustrophobic air of a personal fantasia that can't be shared. Such is not the case with Philip Roth's tour de force, The Plot Against America. It is a credible, fully-realized picture of what could happen anywhere, at any time, if the right people and circumstances come together.

The Plot Against America explores a wholly imagined thesis and sees it through to the end: Charles A. Lindbergh defeats FDR for the Presidency in 1940. Lindbergh, the "Lone Eagle," captured the country's imagination by his solo Atlantic crossing in 1927 in the monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis, then had the country's sympathy upon the kidnapping and murder of his young son. He was a true American hero: brave, modest, handsome, a patriot. According to some reliable sources, he was also a rabid isolationist, Nazi sympathizer, and a crypto-fascist. It is these latter attributes of Lindbergh that inform the novel.

The story is framed in Roth's own family history: the family flat in Weequahic, the neighbors, his parents, Bess and Herman, his brother, Sandy and seven-year-old Philip. Jewishness is always the scrim through which Roth examines American contemporary culture. His detractors say that he sees persecution everywhere, that he is vigilant in "Keeping faith with the certainty of Jewish travail"; his less severe critics might cavil about his portrayal of Jewish mothers and his sexual obsession, but generally give him good marks, and his fans read every word he writes and heap honors upon him. This novel will engage and satisfy every camp.

"Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear. Of course, no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn't been president or if I hadn't been the offspring of Jews." This is the opening paragraph of the book, which sets the stage and tone for all that follows. Fear is palpable throughout; fear of things both real and imagined. A central event of the novel is the relocation effort made through the Office of American Absorption, a government program whereby Jews would be placed, family by family, across the nation, thereby breaking up their neighborhoods--ghettos--and removing them from each other and from any kind of ethnic solidarity. The impact this edict has on Philip and all around him is horrific and life-changing. Throughout the novel, Roth interweaves historical names such as Walter Winchell, who tries to run against Lindbergh. The twist at the end is more than surprising--it is positively ingenious.

Roth has written a magnificent novel, arguably his best work in a long time. It is tempting to equate his scenario with current events, but resist, resist. Of course it is a cautionary tale, but, beyond that, it is a contribution to American letters by a man working at the top of his powers. --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:38 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Roth 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 Rippentrop to the White House, etc.), enact new laws and create an atmosphere of religious hatred that culminates in nationwide pogroms.

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