Read Burr by Gore Vidal Online


Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire series spans the history of the United States from the Revolution to the post-World War II years. With their broad canvas and large cast of fictional and historical characters, the novels in this series present a panorama of the American political and imperial experience as interpreted by one of its most worldly, knowing, and ironic observGore Vidal's Narratives of Empire series spans the history of the United States from the Revolution to the post-World War II years. With their broad canvas and large cast of fictional and historical characters, the novels in this series present a panorama of the American political and imperial experience as interpreted by one of its most worldly, knowing, and ironic observers. Burr is a portrait of perhaps the most complex and misunderstood of the Founding Fathers. In 1804, while serving as vice president, Aaron Burr fought a duel with his political nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, and killed him. In 1807, he was arrested, tried, and acquitted of treason. In 1833, Burr is newly married, an aging statesman considered a monster by many. Burr retains much of his political influence if not the respect of all. And he is determined to tell his own story. As his amanuensis, he chooses Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, a young New York City journalist, and together they explore both Burr's past and the continuing political intrigues of the still young United States....

Title : Burr
Author :
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ISBN : 9780375708732
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 430 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Burr Reviews

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    2019-02-14 15:25

    ”In the half-light of the cemetery, Burr did resemble the devil--assuming that the devil is no more than five foot six (an inch shorter than I), slender, with tiny feet (hooves?), high forehead (in the fading light I imagine vestigial horns), bald in front with hair piled high on his head, powdered absently in the old style, and held in place with a shell comb. Behind him is a monument to the man he murdered.”Aaron BurrAaron Burr is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating figures in American history. He cuts his own swath, leaving a wake behind him that rocks the tender foundations of this newly minted country. He is honorable and dishonorable in equal measure. He is a highly skilled lawyer (he will need those skills to defend himself) and an accomplished politician. Today, he is not as well known as Benedict Arnold, but in a series of events that are more lurid than the plot of a dime novel, he nearly supersedes Arnold as the most loathed man in America. It is hard to believe that this controversial figure was nearly the third President of the United States. In 1800, one of those pivotal years in politics, Burr makes a deal with Thomas Jefferson to allow him to be president if he insures that Burr will be made vice president. Burr can bring the key New York votes to Jefferson. Interestingly enough, in the first ballot, they tie 73-73. With the way we venerate Jefferson (with a few reservations about his association with Sally Hemings), it is interesting to think about how close he comes to NOT being the third President of the United States. Really only because Burr upheld his promise, one of those times when Burr was maybe too honorable, did Jefferson achieve his ambition (though he insists in true Cincinnatus style that he never desired the Presidency). The Aaron Burr of this story is really a surrogate for the wicked wit of Gore Vidal. I’d like to think that Burr was exactly how Vidal portrayed, the enigma of charm and enticing, irreverent behavior. His observations on the founding fathers is frankly hilarious. He describes George Washington’s ”womanly hips” and other aspects of his character that are even less flattering. What did he think of Jefferson? ”Meanwhile, I presided over the Senate. I also dined quite frequently with the President who continued to delight and fascinate me with his conversation, not to mention his wonderful malice which was positively Shakespearean in its variety.”Or how about a description of an older Jefferson after two terms in the presidency.”The smile was a swift baring of yellow teeth; the lips were gray tending to blue where most men are pink or red. I suppose it was the winter season that made him look like the last ashes of a once-fierce fire---soft, fine, white, no trace remaining of the foxy, red-haired man he had been save for the tarnished bronze of freckles.”Ahh, yes, Mr. Vidal, you can most definitely write. This story is told through the eyes of Charles Schuyler (not of the prominent New York Dutch family, unfortunately), a young writer who has been granted access to Burr because Burr has taken a shine to him. We learn in the later chapters exactly why Burr was so forthcoming with the young lad. Charles is there to listen to the Burr stories, write them down, and organize them into some semblance of a biography. Burr cautions the reader, or is that Vidal? ”My side of the story is not, necessarily, the accurate one. But you flatter me. And I like that!” Burr is in his 70s and has weathered more than his share of scandals. He is more interested in not being forgotten than he is in being venerated. Bad press will work as well or better than good press. Even on the social front, he is rather debonair about potential impropriety. ”Whenever a woman does me the honour of saying that I am father to her child, I gracefully acknowledge the compliment and disguise any suspicion that I might have to the contrary.”A true gentleman, and yet; somehow still a cad!!!I love this badass statue of Aaron Burr at the Museum of American Finance.Vidal explores his growing conflict with Alexander Hamilton, which escalates under the spidery web of insinuations that Jefferson glibly whispers in the ears of those around him. Burr is defined by this brief moment in time, involving two pistol shots, leaving one mortally wounded and immortalized and the other disreputed and, in many measures, driven to more desperate acts when he finds himself on the run out West. Those actions lead to the term “treason” being associated with him, but really it is more about making him pay for the death of Hamilton. Vidal also explores the spurious comments that were made about President Martin Van Buren’s parentage. Politics have certainly reached a new low with our most recent election, but have no delusions; there was mud slinging, eye gouging, malicious slander, ankle biting, and generally unseemly behavior from the very beginning of our country. Gore Vidal looking very dapper in 1972.Vidal takes us behind the scenes and shows us a more tarnished view of the Founding Fathers. At times this book is irreverent, but under the guise of Burr’s memories, one does wonder if this isn’t closer to the truth than the idealized version of history we are spoon fed with the American flag draped over our shoulders and the Statue of Liberty sitting rather provocatively in our laps. I chuckled. I giggled. I gasped. The book is serious though. I don’t want to leave people with the impression that it is farcical or a spoof. Vidal does his research. He considered adding the long list of sources that he read and consulted to write this book for he wanted to stay out of the range of the rabid politicos who would not necessarily appreciate his interpretations of history. He elected to let them say what they will in true Aaron Burr fashion. Highly Recommended to those that want to experience an alternative view of our venerated Founders. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:

  • Howard
    2019-02-11 21:21

    I once read that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the erstwhile presidential candidate, said that once upon a time she had been a Democrat, even working for the election of Jimmy Carter. However, while riding on a train one day, she experienced a political conversion while reading Gore Vidal’s novel, "Burr." According to Rep. Bachmann, she became so upset with the way Vidal depicted our Founding Fathers – mocking them, she said – that she dropped the book into her lap and said to herself, “I must be a Republican.”I have owned two copies of that novel for years, and though I have read all of Vidal’s other historical novels, somehow I had never gotten around to reading this one. But after reading how it had exerted such a great impact on Rep. Bachmann’s life (and she didn't even finish the book!), I decided that I had to read it – and right away. After all, it might change my life, too.And now I have read it.If I had the opportunity to discuss the book with her, I would try to make the following points:1). The author is the late Gore Vidal. He always went over the top in everything he said and everything he wrote, fiction or nonfiction. Always provocative, he was very much prone to exaggeration, even when his point was a valid one.2). The book is written from the viewpoint of Aaron Burr. The man was a self-promoting scalawag. While he was vice-president of the United States, he shot and killed the very first secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel. President Thomas Jefferson later accused him of treason against the United States. He was prosecuted by the federal government, but was acquitted.Since the book tells the story from Burr’s viewpoint and presents his version of these events, it should come as no surprise that it places him in the best possible light and Hamilton and Jefferson in the worst possible lights. (Vidal even admitted in the afterword that he had a higher opinion of Jefferson than Burr did, and a lower opinion of Andrew Jackson.)3). The book is a work of fiction – not history.I am sorry to report that after reading this book, I have experienced no political conversion, no epiphany, and have reached no life-altering conclusions. None. Not yet.

  • Bill
    2019-02-20 15:30

    'Burr' is the lead novel in Gore Vidal's seven-book series on U.S. history. It's not the first book he wrote in the series, but in terms of historical chronology, everything begins right here. If you've never read Vidal, there are other places you might want to begin ('Julian' is a marvelous novel, as is 'Messiah.' You can't really go wrong with Gore.) But if you're a fan of history and turned off by textbook drudgery (and occasional misinformation), 'Burr' opens one writer's look at American history without all the usual hagiographic nonsense. The founders are not all here, but those whom Vidal uses in the narrative are treated as real humans, in all their flaws and missteps. This is history with a personality. (Not to mention Vidal is just a natural novelist, a man of letters who writes effortlessly.)The other six books, in order:'Lincoln' (acclaimed as the best novel in the series, and Pres. Lincoln is fully fleshed and a wonderful character)'1876' (Highlights the corruption of American politics with a stolen election at the center of the narrative)'Empire' (A titanic battle between Teddy Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst, and the media's role in the creation of political legacy, and of history)'Hollywood' (How the movies became tools for telling Americans how to think and what to do)'Washington D.C.' (The first novel written, it concerns FDR's rise to American Caesar-ship)'The Golden Age' (The late FDR years and the creation of the Cold War at the end of the 1940s)

  • Cinda
    2019-01-22 15:19

    It's the first novel I've read by Gore Vidal; an enthralling alternative view for Hamilton fans. History is truly a network of stories told from different points of view. Great fun!

  • Ned
    2019-02-05 23:36

    Oh my, this was brilliant and entertaining. I needed to know about Aaron Burr and the history of our nation, and this was a riveting expose of the people, the petty politics, the smells and sins of our nation’s creators. It was also my first by Vidal, and will read many more if I have that much time. The plot was of the type that works well for me, a young man on a mysterious journey to uncover the enigmatic (and magnetic) statesman who was nearly president. Burr’s intellect and talent for governing were nearly unmatched, save his nemesis, Hamilton. The account of the plodding figurehead, Washington, the man who wanted to be king, was hilarious. The shifty Jefferson, the great hypocrite, who was a far greater politician than statesman, is laid bare.Nearly all the characters are real, and scholarship is impressive. Many events seemed over the top and incredulous, yet when I googled them they were all true. Incredible that Vidal wrote this in 1973, well before Jefferson’s fatherhood of multiple children by Sarah Hemmings was well known. This book must have been absolutely scandalous for its time, and took great courage to write. This book changed my view of history, made it come alive in a way that history books rarely do. It may not- no it is not – “factual” yet like great literature seemed truer than those other accounts. Washington (and in fact the colonists) rarely won any direct conflicts in the revolutionary war (except those aided by the French). Here’s an account of the “military” (p. 54): “But difficult it was, always, for Washington to maintain an army. The rich tended to be pro-British, while the poor were not interested in whether or not American merchants paid taxes to a far-away island. The truth is that except for a handful of ambitious lawyers, there were very few “patriots” in 1775.” Heresy!On Jefferson (p. 207): “It was Jefferson’s conceit that he alone represented democracy and that all the rest of us from Washington to Adams to Hamilton wanted to wear crowns and tax his cup of tea”. (p 209) “…Jefferson was so beautifully human, so eminently vague, so entirely dishonest but not in any meretricious way. Rather it was a passionate form of self delusion that rendered Jefferson as president and as man (not to mention as writer of tangled sentences and lunatic metaphors) confusing even to his admirers. Proclaiming the unalienable rights of man for everyone (excepting slaves, women, Indians and those entirely without property), Jefferson tried to seize the Floridas by force, dreamed of a conquest of Cuba…”. George Clinton referred to him (p. 289) as a “..Frenchified trimmer from that atheist from Virginia… Massa Tom”. His countrymen considered him cowardly, according to Burr reciting his memoirs, as (p. 297) “….like so many bookish men who have never been in battle, Jefferson enjoyed the threat of bloodshed”. Of course, this all from Burr’s account. Once in office (p. 305) “…the public is always relieved to find….once elected the officials do not really want change”. Does this sound familiar in 2016? Burr expounds loquaciously (p. 520) “Although Americans justify their self interest in moral terms, their true interest is never itself moral. Yet, paradoxically, only Americans- a few, that is- ever try to be moral in politics”.I really, really enjoyed this. The New York riots of that time, the 5 points debauchery of whores, drink, organized crime, fiery abolitionists and Tammany hall was original and colorful. The story of a young journalist intent struggling with his moral duty as a reporter vs the love of his fatherly subject (Burr) worked beautifully as brilliant yet aging octogenarian unlayers his remarkable past and his many peccadillos come to light. The finish is lovely, as the young reporter watches his idol become ill and fade away, along with his cronies, including the irascible Andrew Jackson, and a few surprises emerge. This was a most pleasurable way to read history. My only complaints is that this publisher (Bantam) produced a rather low-quality volume with numerous typos. But I've been carrying this around for many years, so it is near and dear.Finally, a friend of mine, upon learning I was reading this, recounted his one story of Gore Vidal. Apparently he was visiting his midwest university as the featured guest. A student, showing up as part of a course obligation, was interrogated rather aggressively by an elderly gentleman regarding his views on the schedule speaker. They had a nice chat and then the emcee introduced the speaker who was... you guessed it... that very same elderly gentleman who scrambled to the podium.

  • Adam
    2019-01-29 23:30

    I knew next to nothing about US history when I began reading Gore Vidal's Burr. So, I was, and still am, in no position to assess the historical accuracy of the numerous events recorded in his fictional biography of Colonel Aaron Burr (1756-1836).During the American Revolutionary War, Aaron Burr was involved in an expedition to attack the British forces in Quebec. Although this was not a success, it was during this campaign that Burr became known a military hero. He rubbed shoulders with George Washington, for whom Vidal has a low regard, and with Thomas Jefferson, also much disliked by Vidal, who was to become his greatest foe. Burr, who was favoured by many to become the President of the USA, stepped aside to allow Thomas Jefferson to take the 'throne'. He became Jefferson's vice-president. General Alexander Hamilton, another Revolutionary War hero and an important US politician, was antagonistic to Burr for a number of reasons. When Burr learnt that he had been slandered by Hamilton, he demanded an apology. Hamilton denied all knowledge of this. The situation worsened, and Hamilton challenged Burr to a duel in 1804. This took place in Weehawken, New Jersey. Burr was a far better shot than his opponent. Hamilton died of his wounds a few days later.Following Hamilton's death, Burr moved out of New York and went westwards to the Mississippi, where he began collaborating with others in plotting the conquest of Mexico. Thomas Jefferson, learning of this, deliberately misinterpreted Burr's planning as evidence of plotting treason against the United States. Jefferson, keen to eliminate Burr, his rival and critic, arrested him and staged a show trial. Unlike those that Stalin was to stage manage years later in the USSR, Burr was acquitted. For the rest of Burr's life, he worked in his law practice in New York City.The above is a very sketchy summary of Burr's life, but provides the background to Vidal's book.Vidal uses two narrators in Burr. One of them is Charlie Schuyler, a young lawyer and an aspiring writer. Schuyler works in Burr's law office. The other is Burr himself.Schuyler wants to write a biography of Burr, and is encouraged to do so by his subject. Burr supplies Schuyler with substantial sections of his unpublished, unedited memoirs. Excerpts from these memoirs alternate with Schuyler's own accounts of his daily life in New York during the election campaign the brought Martin Van Buren to the White House in 1837. Enemies of Van Buren pay Schuyler to dig up the dirt on him during his candidacy. They are particularly keen to try to prove that Burr was Van Buren's father. Schuyler is torn between the money they offer him and his high regard for Burr.Vidal uses the excerpts from Burr's (fictional) unpublished memoirs to write his idiosyncratic version of the history of the American Revolution. The result is a delightful riot of iconoclastic ideas and cynical views of the ideals of the founders of the USA.I look forward to reading more of Vidal's historical novels, despite their great length!PS Throughout the book, there is talk of the rights of states to secede from the union, and also there are numerous references to the continuing arguments between the slave-holders and abolitionists. The USA was far from being as united as its name suggests.

  • Jonfaith
    2019-01-31 16:36

    "Although Americans justify their self-interest in moral terms, their true interest is never itself moral. Yet, paradoxically, only Americans - a few, that is- ever try to be moral in politics." -- Gore VidalVidal takes full responsibility for his perjury. Okay he only admits to errors and anachronisms, but sides himself with Richard Nixon in the process. Burr is a wonderful tale, finding delight in skewering the reputations of the Founding Fathers and all the hypocrisy which didn't make its way into elementary school textbooks. Well, the ones I was exposed to during the late 70s. It was also written at the height of Watergate.Unlike most historical fiction, Burr breathes. The sighs it emits are laced with bourbon. I loved this book, though the royal ear grew weary with too many notes. That remains my problem, not Vidal's..

  • DeB MaRtEnS
    2019-02-13 23:34

    Another found, another to read again. At twenty-one, I would have been spellbound by the drama surrounding Burr, and romanticized the era, being Canadian. Now with greater background and considerably more years beneath me, Burr by Gore Vidal would be a much different experience.

  • Elizabeth (Alaska)
    2019-02-21 23:21

    What I knew about Aaron Burr was that in a duel he shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury and pictured on the $10 bill. That is a pitiful amount of knowledge and if I had ever been told more about Burr, it is in that part of the brain marked "irretrievable." For pete's sake, Elizabeth, Burr was Vice President of the United States. Further, the electoral votes in the 1800 election were tied between Jefferson and Burr and the election was decided by the House of Representatives. Burr is not just this obscure fellow about whom there is likely a trivia question.There are two first person narrators: 1) Charlie Schuyler, the only fictional character in the novel, is a clerk in Burr's law office; and 2) Burr himself. Burr dictates his memoirs to Charlie, which begin in the Revolutionary War, carry us through the 1800 election and the duel, and for a few years after. They are dictated in the mid-1830s, long after Burr was a mover and shaker in US politics. Charlie also has a life and through him we get to see a bit of New York City of the period, and to a lesser extent, Washington DC (called Washington City). Our introduction to Burr is on the day of his second marriage in 1833. The astonishing day began when Colonel Burr came out of his office and asked me to accompany him to the City Hotel where he was to meet a friend. As usual, he was mysterious. He makes even a trip to the barber seem like a plot to overthrow the state. Walking down Broadway, he positively skipped at my side, no trace of the stroke that half paralyzed him three years ago.I came to understand the plot reference. Politics is a dirty business and we should disabuse ourselves that it is dirtier now than then. Burr definitely had a perspective not taught in schools - at least not when I was in school. For example, Burr thought Washington not an especially good general and that he had a big butt. He also did not think highly of Jefferson. Vidal himself, in the afterword, says All in all, I think rather more highly of Jefferson than Burr does; on the other hand, Burr’s passion for Jackson is not shared by me. Although the novel’s viewpoint must be Burr’s, the story told is history and not invention. I was glad to read this latter, that this is not invention.Vidals' prose is quite readable, but I must admit this reads somewhere between fiction and nonfiction. Some of Burr's "memoirs" are dense and even tedious in parts. Politicians have such egos! Chronologically, this is the first in Vidal's Narratives of Empire series. This was interesting enough that I want to read the others, though I have no immediate plans to do so. For historical interest, this gets 4-stars, but for readability it is more like the top of my 3-star group, not quite crossing that 4-star threshold.

  • Christopher Carbone
    2019-02-12 22:42

    There has been no greater shadow in American History, no greater enigma than the US's 3rd Vice President, almost President, and near King of Louisiana, Aaron Burr. Mostly known for killing Fmr. Treasury Secretary and opposition party leader, Alexander Hamilton, Burr is also known, less so, for invading Louisiana shortly after it was purchased by the US, getting caught, tried for treason and beating every charge easily. This ficticious look at Burr's history is a dramatic telling of the absurdity of the history we remember (Washington was great....), the history we chose to forget (... even though he lost nearly every battle he was in and was, at best, a laissez-faire Executive), and the history we refuse to remember (like the stuff about the US wanting to invade Mexico since the pre-Revolution days, leading to Hamilton wanting to do it under Adams, Burr trying in 1805, then the problems with Texas, culminating in the war of aggression by the US taking large chunks of Mexico because it could). All the while, a story unfolds that the America we remember is not necessarily the America that was. Burr is the perfect foil for this as he remembers what many American chose to forget- most notably Burr himself. A man of vigor, passion, ability, charisma, skill and ambition (heavens forbid) who came close to greatness on many occasions. And who was so blatant about what so many others were so hypocritical about- the need to invade Mexico. When Mexico lost Texas shortly before Burr's death, he only commented, "What was treasonous in my day is patriotism now; I was just 30 years too soon."

  • Sam
    2019-01-30 16:22

    Re-reading actually. I loved this tale of our hapless 2nd Vice President so much I named my youngest son after him. I love Gore Vidal's writing and have read so many of his wonderful historical novels, bursting with history and personality. Possibly my all time favorite writer, though he has only written one scifi story.I admire Aaron Burr more and more as I see how the insanity that is American politics continues to appall and astound. But it reminds me also of just how flawed and human were our founding fathers, not the demi-gods we learn of in school, but fully fleshed out humans with conceits and greed and lust. Thomas Jefferson lived a life antithetical to the virtues he espoused, not only keeping a concubine slave but refusing to free her until his death. The intrigues, the scandals, the back-room deals are as old as this nation, nothing new to see here! If only we could rid government of politics.

  • Perry Whitford
    2019-01-24 21:44

    Aaron Burr is perhaps the most contentious of all American politicians. A contemporary of the founding fathers and a mover and shaker in the first years of the union, his name is now a byword for betrayal and devilry due to killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel and being brought to trial for suspected treason. Who better than to re-tell history with Burr as the hero but Gore Vidal? This is the fifth of the seven Narratives of Empire series that I have read and the first in the series chronologically, covering the period 1775 - 1840. Burr dictates his memoirs to a would be biographer, Charles Schuyler, a fictional character. The memoirs are framed by the events of both of their lives in the mid 1830's, the final years of Burr's life, and a time of transition and revelation for Schuyler (who was to return in a later book of the series, 1876).We get to see a Washington who couldn't fight his way out of a pair of leggings and whose chief character traits are dullness and vanity; a Jefferson who is endlessly mendacious and completely without principle; and a Hamilton who is sparkling but reckless, at every turn the architect of his own downfall. Against these titans - the reputations of whom history has decided to honour - we see a Burr who is eminently more noble and trustworthy than all three, but who becomes manipulated into infamy by the Virginian junto that ruled the time. This is not only the way Burr tells it in his memoirs either, Vidal has a substantial number of supporting testimonies from his contemporaries to back him up. As this is a Gore Vidal book, 500+ plus pages can glide smoothly by without once becoming bogged down. All the characters can converse glibly in the cleverest of aphorisms, epigrams and paradoxes, all laced with the sweetest or bitterest of ironies. But what really floats Vidal's boat is debunking the accepted versions of history. The below example, about Washington, is typical of this tendency, and something of a manifesto: "Ultimately, I think, he must be judged as an excellent politician who had no gift for warfare. History, as usual, has got it all backward." I will make sure I read the last two books in the series by the end of this year. The next one, Washington D.C. (which was actually the first one written) I believe sticks it to F.D.R.

  • Michael
    2019-01-26 16:20

    A great read for rendering a satirical and jaundiced view of the Founding Fathers, with a focus on Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson. Vidal portrays Burr in third person from the perspective of an invented biographer interviewing his subject as an old man in the 1830's while inserting many long sections in first person from fictional memoirs. We get a nice account of Burr's role in Benedict Arnold's heroic Revolutionary War assault on Quebec City and fuel for a cynical vision of Washington as a poor general and crafty politician. In his law career and political climb in New York State politics, he intersects a lot with Hamilton, whom he respects but slowly comes into conflict with along Federalist vs. Republican political lines. Burr's ability to harness the Tammany Hall political machine helps him almost win the Presidential election, ending up as Vice President with Jefferson. He detests Jefferson for his vanity and duplicity and for pretending to be anti-imperialist and humanistic while working on the one hand toward the goal of acquiring much of North America for the Republic and fathering many children with his female slaves. The famous duel in which Burr kills Hamilton is not given much focus in this self serving account, although he makes sure to play up his courage in standing up to the smearing of his reputation in the aftermath. The novel's coverage of Burr's involvement in a harebrained attempt to take Mexico away from Spain was fascinating. The scheme was stopped at an early stage by Jefferson, who believed it to be part of a larger treasonous plot to lead the western states to secede from the union (which ironically was a state's right in his anti-Federalist view). The trial of Burr and associates for treason was a nice high point of the book, as the interplay between Jefferson's prosecution and the Supreme Court Justice Marshall set many precedents about executive privilege and the independence of branches of the government. Vidal breathes life into history by portraying a plausible version of dialog, thought, and motivation; that he goes 'over the top' and leans toward a cynical viewpoint does not detract from being entertained by his imagination and educated away from simplistic heroic views of our history.

  • Andrewh
    2019-02-01 19:43

    This is the first of Vidal's Narratives of Empire (though the second one he wrote in the series) and is the most enjoyable and scurrilous of all (though I've not yet read the follow-up 1876). Aaron Burr was a war hero, a Vice-President, and, infamously, killed Hamilton in a duel. He is here presented as an irresistible rogue, a gambler, brilliant lawyer, ladies man, and military genius, who was tried for treason for allegedly wanting to split off the Western states from the Union. All this is but a smoke screen for Vidal's exquisite skewering of American historical pieties about the founding of their country, and, in particular, of the reputation of Great Men such as Washington (a useless general, who lost every battle, here) and Jefferson (a pedantic tyrant, here, who fabricated a case against Burr). As in the later novels, the shadow of imperial ambition hangs over the book, and here it is Jefferson who is the main driver of this, with his wish to annex Mexico and Canada. Hugely entertaining and beautifully written, this is a brilliant piece of writing, and may even be educational.

  • Marin
    2019-01-29 15:32

    I'm trying. I really am. My brother and SIL really loved this book, but I'm finding it irritating.In all fairness, I'm stuck about 50 pages in and reluctant to continue.I don't like any of the characters, and when that's the case, it's hard for me to like a book (or movie or play). I have to have someone to root for. The clerk/narrator is stupid and superfluous. Everybody is smug and droll to the point of Oscar Wilde.Now, there are memoir portions of the book in which Aaron Burr relates, via letter or diary, to the clerk some of his history. Those I lke. Brother assures me the book eventually becomes about 70% memoir, so perhaps I will grow to appreciate it more.

  • Jeffrey
    2019-01-31 20:42

    Vidal. That name says it all. Hey, I'm a poet? Geesssh! I loved him years ago when I read him. Think my father was reading this one, and like a lot of my early picks, I read it too. Also, read lots of my sisters books. They were a great help in getting my love for books going. But back to the books, the man . . . Want to learn about history in an interesting way? Read him!

  • Jenni V.
    2019-02-01 17:25

    This book was highly recommended by my dad as something he's read "cover to cover multiple times". So I went into it both looking forward to reading the book and also getting to see another side of my dad. He's passed books on to me before but there's something special about reading a book that someone you love loves and imagining their take on it and what exactly makes them react so strongly to it.Okay, putting my psychology degree away for the rest of the review before I get completely off track...It was a little slow for me at the beginning but once it got into Burr's recollections it really picked up. I'd never heard the main rumor for the premise of this book, that Aaron Burr secretly fathered Martin Van Buren. I'm always surprised when an author reminds me that historical figures (the Founding Fathers in this case) are not the perfect, loyal people they've been portrayed as in our textbooks. Of course they're human and can be petty and would be upset if passed over for a promotion they felt they'd earned.The sentence, "This insensitivity to other people's religion and customs has been a constant in the affairs of the republic and the author of much trouble...", applied back then and unfortunately continues to apply today.I also learned a new word for snowbanks -- "snow-bitches" (thought to be derived from beaches/bitches made of snow).Overall, this is probably not a book I would've picked up without the recommendation but I'm glad I read it and plan to continue the author's "Narratives of Empire" series (In order of course, even though the author said they don't have to be read that way...I'm not a monster).A Few Quotes from the Book"It has been my fate to be the centre of a thousand inventions, mostly of a disagreeable nature. I never deny these stories. People believe what they want to believe. Yet I do think that my name has in some mysterious way been filched from me and used to describe a character in some interminable three-volume novel of fantastic adventure, the work of a deranged author whose imagination never sleeps - although this reader does when he reads for the thousandth time how the hellish Aaron Burr meant single-handedly to disband the United States when a voyage to the moon would have been simpler to achieve, and a good deal more interesting.""Curious to think that we would almost certainly have been friends had we not been two young "heroes" at the beginning of a new nation, each aware that at the summit there is a place for only one. As it turned out, neither of us was to reach the highest place. I hurled Hamilton from the mountain-side, and myself fell.""I know the effect a good lawyer can make on a jury. The sun at noon can become the moon at midnight if Colonel Burr has decided that such a replacement is in the interest of his client.""It was about this time that I learned exactly what it was that Hamilton had said of me, and knew that this world was far too narrow a place to contain the two of us."Find all my reviews at:

  • Bettie☯
    2019-01-24 23:28

    Description: Burr is a portrait of perhaps the most complex and misunderstood of the Founding Fathers. In 1804, while serving as vice president, Aaron Burr fought a duel with his political nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, and killed him. In 1807, he was arrested, tried, and acquitted of treason. In 1833, Burr is newly married, an aging statesman considered a monster by many. Burr retains much of his political influence if not the respect of all. And he is determined to tell his own story. As his amanuensis, he chooses Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, a young New York City journalist, and together they explore both Burr's past and the continuing political intrigues of the still young United States.Opening: 1833: One: A Special Despatch to the New York Evening Post: SHORTLY BEFORE MIDNIGHT, July 1, 1833, Colonel Aaron Burr, aged seventy-seven, married Eliza Jumel, born Bowen fifty-eight years ago (more likely sixty-five but remember: she is prone to litigation!). The ceremony took place at Madame Jumel's mansion on the Washington Heights and was performed by Doctor Bogart (will supply first name later). In attendance were Madame Jumel's niece (some say daughter) and her husband Nelson Chase, a lawyer from Colonel Burr's Reade Street firm. This was the Colonel's second marriage; a half century ago he married Theodosia Prevost. The ingenue narrator of this fictionalised biography is one Charles Schuyler. There is energy and a strong didactic oppositional stance to the narrative that will indubitably appeal to state citizens and USAphiles.The curtain-raiser to Leggett's continuing drama occurred when he was cashiered from the navy for fighting a duel. At the court-martial he insulted his commanding officer with a tirade of quotations from Shakespeare. (p. 15)[heh]3* BurrWL Julian3* Myra Breckinridge5* Creation

  • Scott
    2019-02-05 22:20

    I am guessing that Vidal wanted to do some sort of send up of our normally romantic images of the Founding Fathers and chose the least sympathetic of them with which to do it. And then achieved his goal.My favourite moment in the novel occurs when Burr has gone for dinner to Monticello, and he and Jefferson are walking afterwards. Burr sees a young child, obviously Jefferson's grandson, precariously playing in a tree and says, "Your grandson is about to fall." At which Jefferson blushes and says it is one of the children of the plantation workers.When the novel was published in 1973 it was still not accepted history that Jefferson fathered children through his slaves, so this must have been quite diabolical fun for the first readers. I still enjoyed it.I now want to read more about Burr, as I know little about him. And also about some of the other figures in this book, which, while telling the stories from Burr's earlier years, is set in the 1830's as the founding generation is dying. I'd like to know more about that second and third generation.The novel illustrates how for many of the young men of the founding generation, ideological commitment to republican ideals was not necessarily the driving force. Many were ambitious and adventurous and admired Napoleon. Here they were in a wide-open new continent filled with possibilities. It was their dream to conquer Mexico, establish Texas, maybe even California! In this novel Washington comes across as an incompetent, ambitious dullard, Adams as petty, Jefferson as malicious, Monroe as deceptive, Madison as unfaithful, etc. In the afterward, Vidal states that he does not share Burr's opinions of all the characters, but that he, of course, had to write from the opinion of Burr.If you like Founding Father biographies, but want a fun, quick read that satirizes those, then I recommend this book.

  • Nooilforpacifists
    2019-02-10 19:22

    One of the most enjoyable historical novels ever written. None of his other works, especially his "American series" (1876, Lincoln, etc.) measure up. Its genius is a historical inversion: the hero: Aaron Burr; the villain: Thomas Jefferson. Most who didn't go to the University of Virginia should be honest enough to admit that Vidal has caught the dark side of Jefferson--the starry-eyed philosophy that contrasted with the ruthless conduct of his politics. And, Vidal devises a plausible reason for the famous dual with Alexander Hamilton (Hamilton's insult to Burr has been lost to history). Be sure to read to the end.

  • Andrew
    2019-02-19 15:29

    430 concise pages. Aaron Burr was vilified by Thomas Jefferson but this book tells us the story of the American revolution and early politics all the way to Martin Van Buren's presidency. Burr was critical of Washington and Jefferson and wasn't afraid to stand up for the division of power in government. It is interesting how much history is covered in one man's life. Vidal's handling is even handed and thorough.

  • Tova
    2019-02-05 21:21

    Aaron Burr, sir. I think you are incredible. Review to come

  • Jim
    2019-02-19 15:24

    Of late, I have been listening to (taking?) lectures from The Great Courses that deal with America's revolutionary times and the individuals we usually refer to as 'Founding Fathers. I have augmented these lectures with biographies of the usual suspects. I then was recommended Gore Vidal's "Burr" by a folksy, philosophical friend who called it a 'hoot'. And a hoot is was!I started the book while listening to "America’s Founding Fathers" by Professor Allen C. Guelzo, giving an almost immediate test of the veracity of Vidal's historical content...he scored very well, particularly in the outline of the charges of treason that Jefferson leveled at Burr. I found it interesting how we could see the mind of Vidal's John Marshall, as he presided over the treason trail, establishing the powers of the Supreme Court that were being attacked at that time by the Jefferson administration. One of the conclusions I reached at the close of Dr Guelzo's lectures was that our country was really founded less on virtue and more likely on self-interest. Maybe some of the self-interest could be interpreted as virtuous, but the founders constantly argued and fought about things and policies that were not for the common good, but for regional, and even personal benefit. Slavery is the most obvious, followed by religious intolerance and suspicion of government. And so it remains today. Gore's characters...especially Aaron Burr himself...exemplifies this self-interest quite clearly.Many of the other reviewers...and there are some really great reviews of this book here...have noted that the book starts slowly and doesn't really kick-in until Charlie (Schuyler), our narrator, gets comfortable with the most hated man in America, so be patient. When Vidal hits his stride, his characters come alive, showing their virtues and vices, bad teeth and bad manners, honor and dishonor. After a while 'The Duel' really does become unimportant...I wonder how "Burr" would play on Broadway.This is a very good book and I highly recommend it...particularly those who have read a bit of early American (political) history.

  • Faith Justice
    2019-02-12 18:48

    Vidal is a master of his craft. This novel starts from the point of view of Charles Schuyler, a young law clerk working in an aged Aaron Burr's law office. His employer inexplicably invites him on a mysterious carriage ride which ends in Burr's wedding to a notorious rich widow. Charles, who prefers journalism to the law, writes an article about the wedding for a local newspaper--which gets rejected. But the editor, who is deep into New York and national politics, has an offer the penniless young man can't refuse: a lucrative contract to write an anonymous pamphlet accusing Martin Van Buren (current vice-president and future presidential candidate) of being Aaron Burr's illegitimate son and thus handing the presidency to likely contender Henry Clay. The author just has to come up with some "proof" which, in those times before DNA testing, was pretty thin. This sets up the story in which young Charles struggles with his conscience over hurting a man he admires and helping a man whose politics he abhors win an election. Charles sets to work getting his evidence by interviewing Burr. Along the way, Burr decides to give Charles his notes for his own biography, so we have parallel stories: the end of Burr's life as seen from the eyes of Charles, and Burr's youth and political career in Burr's/Vidal's own words. Of course Burr has a totally different slant on the past events and characters than what we've been told in the history books. Washington was a dull man who never won a battle, Hamilton and Adams were monarchists, and Jefferson was the devil incarnate who did his best to enshrine slavery and states' rights (the supremacy of a state to nullify any federal law and ultimate secede if they chose) into the federal system. Vidal intersperses this colorful narrative with corrupt officials, political riots, a couple of murders and several affairs. In the background is the sneaking suspicion that our founding fathers were deeply flawed men and the early republic a fragile construction built on the evil compromise of slavery. The country could have easily broken apart at several times and in different configurations before the Civil War. Was the ugly moral compromise worth it? Vidal leaves it up to the reader to decide.I knew little of Arron Burr before reading this novel: he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, fled to "the west" (of the Alleghenies), and beat a treason rap. I had forgotten he was vice-president during Jefferson's first term and didn't know he returned to an active political/social life in New York and lived to the ripe old age of eighty. I had thought he died in the west from the shame of killing one of our beloved founding fathers (Hamilton wasn't as beloved in his own time). I'll definitely want to check out some biographies on this interesting and complicated man.Editorial Note: Even masters occasionally weave an error into the fabric of their creations, so the gods don't get jealous of perfection. Vidal's was an annoying tendency to describe Burr's desk as "baize-covered" in every single scene in which it is mentioned (which were MANY). A tiny flaw, but it jumped out at me.

  • Mark
    2019-02-19 16:45

    The Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783. Revisionism and mythologizing about it began practically the next day. Some stories are so deeply embedded into our national subconsciousness that any attempt at telling a "true" version is likely to be met with utter disbelief if not derision.Everyone believes they know the story of Aaron Burr. What they know basically are three things: one, he was Thomas Jefferson's first term vice president; two, while VP he challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel and killed him; and three he was put on trial for treason a few years later for a presumed plot to separate the western states from the union.Virtually nothing else is popularly known about him. Which makes him, one would think, an ideal subject for new research and a second or third look. What is astonishing is that, with all the documentary evidence available, such a look has only recently been undertaken, most notably by historian Nancy Isenberg.Basically, though, when it comes to received wisdom of the stories, things simply do not add up.What Gore Vidal did in this novel (and he explains why a novel instead of a straightforward afterword which I recommend reading first) is to take things at face value based on the contemporary accounts available and applying a little logic to the history of this most interesting of the Founders to try to portray a "fair"portrait.The result is shocking, grounding, and immensely informative.Of late (and I stress that this is nothing new) the reputations of the Founders have been locked in amber as if they were demigods. Treating them as human beings is simply not to be tolerated in certain circles. Well, you will find no demigods in this novel. What you will find is a fascinating portrayal of the early republic as it quite likely was---a place and time in which literally they were making it all up as they went along. In such circumstances, men of ambition and ego and newly-acquired power often act irresponsibly and good people (as well as bad) often get crushed in the midst of the contest. Once the brilliant work of drafting the constitution was done, what remained were people bent on shaping the new country as they saw fit, and would often get very annoyed when they realized that the new framework they had just signed off on got in their way. Seeing this in play is the grist for this novel's mill. It is sobering and I would recommend it to any serious student of American history. Even if one disagrees with certain interpretations, it is a grounding work and would serve as anodyne against the glorious paeons to lost genius that comprise so much of "popular" American history.

  • Inese Okonova
    2019-02-02 22:20

    Izcils stils un liberāli politnekorekts (dažkārt pastāv arī šāds savienojums) skatījums uz ASV kā neatkarīgas valsts pirmsākumiem. Romāna titulvaronis Ārons Burrs (vai Barrs - īsti neesmu pārliecināta) ir Amerikas trešais viceprezidents, kas pamanās sabeigt savu karjeru, nogalinot divkaujā politisko pretinieku. Vēl viņu tiesā un attaisno apsūdzībās par valsts nodevību. Turklāt Burra karjera sākusies jau Neatkarības kara laikā. Tādēļ viņš ir lielisks tēls, kura acīm ļoti kritiski un no tuvplāna paskatīties uz "Nācijas tēviem". Īpaši asa kritika tikusi Tomasam Džefersonam.Darbu grūti lasīt neamerikānim, jo ļoti daudz un smalki stāstīts par agrīnajām ASV politiskajām partijām, tādām kā demokrātiskie republikāņi un federālisti, kas noteica politisko toni pirms tradicionālās sistēmas izveidošanās.Interesanti aprakstīts, kā burtiski tukšā vietā tiek celta Vašingtona, cik nabadzīgs un pieejams ir Baltais nams un kā apķērīgākie prāti sapērkas pagaidām nevērtīgo Vašingtonas putekļaino, neapbūvēto zemi.

  • Lisa Burgess
    2019-02-07 22:29

    Ich lese Bücher selten grundlos: ich hatte die Wahl zwischen Hamilton von Chernow oder Burr von Vidal. Da die Taschenbuchversion (haha im Nachhinein, ein KOLOSS ist es trotzdem) von Hamilton im September noch nicht erschienen war und ich außerdem Leslie als Burr im Musical GROSSARTIG finde (und somit auch unweigerlich eine stärkere Verbindung zu Burr aufbaute), wollte ich unbedingt mehr über Burr erfahren. Alles, was ich über die Amerikanische Revolution wusste, kannte ich vom bis dahin nur 2x komplett gehörten Hamilton Musical - also nicht besonders viel. Ich hatte erst Sorge, dass ich durch meinen Mangel an historischem und vor allem politischen Wissen dem Verlauf des Buches nicht folgen können würde...aber das war überhaupt nicht der Fall! Ich behaupte mal, dass ich selbst dann Spaß am Buch gehabt hätte, wenn ich noch weniger Ahnung gehabt hätte. Das Buch ist als Roman geschrieben und zwar aus der Sicht von Charlie Schuyler (nein, nicht SO ein Schuyler), der im Verlauf des Buches in Burrs Anwaltskanzlei arbeitet und mit Burrs Hilfe dessen Biographie schreibt. Über 20 solche Biographie-Ausschnitte sind im Buch drin, die dann die Geschehnisse von Beginn der Revolution bis nach Burrs Anklage auf Verrat enthalten - alle dann natürlich aus Burrs Perspektive geschrieben. Mich hat besonders beeindruckt, was für ein Chaos and simply a mess gerade der Beginn der Revolution gewesen ist, mit Washington vorn dabei. Ich hatte es mal getwittert, aber ich wiederhole es hier nochmal: Ich habe mich zeitweise gefragt, wie die es überhaupt geschafft haben, einen Staat zu gründen. Bei diesem Chaos, every person involved had their flaws. Faszinierend.Das Musical noch im Kopf, hatte ich gedacht, dass das Duell zwischen Burr und Hamilton DAS Ereignis des Buches sein wird und fragte mich (als der Abschnitt dann vorbei war), was denn jetzt noch kommen sollte? Ich wusste zwar was von einer Anlage bezüglich Verrat an den US und einer geplanten Invasion von Mexiko, aber dachte nicht, dass es SO SPANNEND war. Seriously, ich fand den ganzen trial so cool beschrieben, dass ich das gern als Theaterstück oder Miniserie gesehen hätte. Jefferson und Burr, ey, meine Fresse. I can't. Ich habe die letzten drei Tage von Jefferson geträumt, okay?Also, dieses Buch war kurzweilig, informativ, spannend, toll, awesome wow und ich kanns nur empfehlen.

  • Myles
    2019-02-03 15:26

    Like scandalous gossip about celebrities? This is the novel for you.Burr is fiction, but I love a good story. Vidal's superbly researched novel brings Aaron Burr to life and this reader was willingly swept up into the romance of an anti-hero. Burr shrewdly picks apart the myths and legends surrounding the men who founded the United States, reveling in their flaws and, despite any cries of 'disrespect!', making me admire their achievements all the more. This country was created by contentious compromise - it should never be seen as a perfect body. This book is the antidote for the hero-worship we used to see in textbooks.Before reading the novel I had had a very limited picture of Burr's life, in fact the only thing I could have told you about him with certainty was that he had killed Hamilton in a duel. But taking it all in: his belief in the mind of his daughter, his ambitions in the west, the sheer amount of time he was given, makes his life a fascinating one, even stripped of the more colorful assertions of this novel. It makes me more interested in the time period. New York was only just losing its Dutch identity, the powers of the three branches hadn't been tested against each other yet, and before the Louisiana Purchase the country had a much different outlook. One of these days I'll have to read (actual) memoirs of the early republic to compliment the pictures given in Early American Travel Narratives. I'll never think of the founding fathers in the same way again.

  • Tracie
    2019-01-22 17:32

    I started to re-read Lincoln, then Sarah pointed out that Burr is actually the first book in the American Chronicle series, and it makes sense to read them in order, so let's read this instead.I didn't like this anywhere near as much as I liked Lincoln, but it's still enjoyable, and Burr's a great character. But that's part of the problem, he seemed the whole time a lot more like a character in a novel to me than an actual historical figure. The fictional first person narrator annoyed me a lot, and I think I got lost a few times with the non-linear plot. Also, I don't know anything about the Revolutionary War, nor about the early years of the United States, so maybe Lincoln was just more approachable to me because I knew more of the context? But, man, Vidal loves to use French phrases in this book, and there's nothing that pulls me out of a story more than a phrase I can't understand. But these are details that might just be annoying to me because everything is annoying to me.But, yeah, three stars still. Even though I basically just did nothing but bitch about the book, I actually wish it had been longer. I could have used a little more information and context, and I felt like large sections were sort of left out. But maybe that's bc most of Burr's memoirs and notes were lost at sea. Glad to have read it, but also glad to move back on to Lincoln.

  • Stacia
    2019-02-15 21:24

    I'm not very far into this dense work of fiction, but it's my first Vidal novel and I am FLOORED by his style. It's not at all what I expected. Five or ten years ago it would have sickened me to read it because his writing is so damn good, but I'm over my own artistic hangups now and can enjoy it. =====Done now. Although I got a tad bored at times (mainly due to my own ignorance of America's history), I cannot get over how much I loved this book. When I describe it to people who've never heard of Vidal's historical fiction series, aren't familiar with Vidal, or aren't familiar with Aaron Burr - nobody seemed to understand what I could like about this book. It sounds weird. And it might be weird. But it's wonderful and timeless. America has changed little since Charlie was documenting Burr's life. Still politicians never admit to partisanship but are often accused of it. The same games are still being played. Vidal humanizes these worshiped heroes, and regardless how much is true, it's a step American must take to "win the future."