Generations have been told that Aaron Burr was a betrayer: of Alexander Hamilton, of his country, of those who had nobler ideas. But that version has been shaped by historians and writers from the 18th century on who were blinded by tabloid reports and propaganda created by Burr's political enemies during his lifetime. It is time to discover the real Aaron Burr. Nancy Isenberg's eye-opening, painstakingly researched biography reveals a true patriot. A brave participant in the Revolutionary War and an Enlightenment figure as much as Jefferson, he was a feminist and an inspired politician, statesman, and legislator who promoted decency instead of the factionalism that threatened the solidity of the young nation. He was a brilliant orator and lawyer who served as New York's attorney general and senator, before his election as vice president. Burr was, in short, a loyal citizen who had the bad fortune to make a powerful enemy early in his career. Alexander Hamilton was preoccupied with Burr for more than a decade, and subverted his career at every turn through outright lies and slanderous letters. Hamilton and Burr's other political rivals successfully denounced Burr as a man of extreme tastes, but the facts show him to be a man of moderation and open-mindedness generations ahead of time. Isenberg shows the gritty reality of 18th-century America, with its cutthroat politics, partisan maneuvering, sexual indiscretions, financial fiascos, and media slander. A brilliant restoration of a figure who ran afoul of history, Fallen Founder is a stunningly modern story.More
"Striking." (Publishers Weekly)
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- Leigh A
The hero-worship gets sickening
The author seemed obsessed with making Aaron Burr out to be a hero in almost every way, and denigrating anyone who opposed him. She portrays him as a brilliant politician, who was mainly opposed because rival politicians saw him as a threat to their own ambitions. But the book does not give a strong sense of what Burr actually stood for, other than (1) his personal sense of honor, and (2) advancing his career. There is a lot of gushing about how Burr was an enlightened feminist ahead of his time, but only that that shaped his personal thoughts and interactions with his wife and daughter, not something he championed as a politician. The author seems to alternate between complaining that political rivals and biographers invented stories about Burr having an over-active (maybe deviant) sex life, then arguing that it's okay because everyone had an over-active (maybe deviant) sex life anyway, then almost bragging about how active his sex life was, and that he had a magnetism especially attractive to young men. Okay, that's not exactly what I was interested in learning about. Along the same lines, the author seems much too enthusiastic about letters Burr wrote to his adult daughter, making them sound like (sometimes lurid) romance novels. I bought the book wanting to know about Burr's political career and how his political philosophy and acumen compared or contrasted with some of the others from that era who are better known (Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, etc). This book does not help with that at all. On that topic, it is basically treated as "Hooray for Burr, he was great, people loved him, too bad the other politicians feared his popularity and saw him as a threat who had to be eliminated."
Burr is treated as a big-time hero in this book, but it is like a movie that get so over-the-top that you wind up rooting against the hero in the end.
The narrator Scott Brick was very good; the content of the book itself was very disappointing.
All the details about sexual innuendo in letters that Burr or his friends wrote; or about his sex life in general.
The author begins by making the point that although a lot has been written about Burr, not much has been written by serious, academically-trained historians like herself. I'm certainly not a serious or academically trained historian. IF this book is representative of what they do, it makes me lose respect for that profession. Listening to the book, eventually I got the sense that the author is trying to impress other historians by showing that she's learned the keys to Aaron Burr that everyone else has missed over the years (he was really a swell guy; he was so enlightened and ahead of his time as a feminist; he could have been a legendary romance novelist if he wanted to; those jealous politicians Hamilton, Jefferson, et al. were just jealous of the connection Burr had with people; and he has been completely misunderstood by history until now).
But I'm no historian, I just kind of wanted to learn more about the competing ideas and arguments that were around in the early days of the USA. This is not the book for that.