Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr

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Overview

Generations have been told that Aaron Burr was a betrayer-of Alexander Hamilton, of his country, of those who had nobler ideas. But in this painstakingly researched, eye-opening biography, Nancy Isenberg resurrects the Burr that time forgot: a loyal patriot, brilliant lawyer, and progressive Enlightenment intellectual who had the tremendous misfortune to make powerful enemies whose efforts ultimately damned his legacy. Exposing the gritty reality of eighteenth-century America and its haunting resemblance to our ...
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Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr

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Overview

Generations have been told that Aaron Burr was a betrayer-of Alexander Hamilton, of his country, of those who had nobler ideas. But in this painstakingly researched, eye-opening biography, Nancy Isenberg resurrects the Burr that time forgot: a loyal patriot, brilliant lawyer, and progressive Enlightenment intellectual who had the tremendous misfortune to make powerful enemies whose efforts ultimately damned his legacy. Exposing the gritty reality of eighteenth-century America and its haunting resemblance to our own time, Fallen Founder offers a fresh, provocative, and often surprising view of Burr and his fascinating era.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Founding Father, Revolutionary War hero, vice president, businessman, political strategist, adventurer, alleged murderer and traitor: The public personas of Aaron Burr (1756-1836) are almost too numerous to assess. In recent biographies, Ron Chernow, Joseph Ellis, and Gordon Wood have all disparaged him. Nancy Isenberg's Fallen Founder uses primary documents to restore the image of this complex man whose story has been mainly told to us through the words of his enemies. A major biography of a most vilified man.
Washington Post
Isenberg's meticulous biography reveals a gifted lawyer, politician and orator who championed civility in government and even feminist ideals, in a political climate that bears a marked resemblance to our own.
Boston Globe
[A] sterling biography.
New York Times Book Review
Full of insight and new research. It is an important and engaging account.
Jill Lepore
Isenberg’s call for a better, less fetishistic history of the founding fathers is eloquent and inspiring. And her study of Burr is full of insight and new research. It is an important and engaging account.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Does Burr belong in the pantheon of founding fathers? Or is he, as historians have asserted ever since he fatally shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel, a faux founder who happened to be in the right place at the right time? Was he really the enigmatic villain, the political schemer who lacked any moral core, the sexual pervert, the cherubic-faced slanderer so beloved of popular imagination? This striking new biography by Isenberg (Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America) argues that Burr was, indeed, the real thing, a founder "at the center of nation building" and a "capable leader in New York political circles." Interestingly, if controversially, Isenberg believes Burr was "the only founder to embrace feminism," the only one who "adhered to the ideal that reason should transcend party differences." Far from being an empty vessel, she says, Burr defended freedom of speech, wanted to expand suffrage and was a proponent of equal rights. Burr was not without his faults, she concludes, but then, none of the other founders was entirely angelic, either, and his actions must be viewed in the context of his political times. As this important book reminds us, America's founders behaved like ordinary human beings even when they were performing their extraordinary deeds. Illus. (May 14)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641988141
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/10/2007
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy Isenberg is the Mary Frances Barnard Chair in nineteenth-century American history at the University of Tulsa. She is the author of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, which was chosen as the best book in the field for 1999 by the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic.

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Table of Contents


Preface     vii
Acknowledgments     xi
List of Illustrations     xvii
A Man of Promising Parts     1
To Concert with my Brother Officers     19
Such are the Letters I Love     55
An Unprejudiced Mind     85
A Certain Little Senator     129
The Statesman and the Soldier     177
The Ruin of the Vice President     223
Little Quid Emperor     271
Will O' Wisp Treason     319
That Stranger was Aaron Burr     367
Epilogue: He Used no Unnecessary Words     405
Notes     415
Index     523
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 12, 2009

    A Fascinating Portrait of a Much Maligned Historical Figure

    Before reading Nancy Isenburg's biography of Aaron Burr, neither my father nor I knew much about the man beyond his duel with Alexander Hamilton. Well, this author's reconsideration of Burr's life and career was superb, a real pleasure to read and very informative! Isenburg's writing style is very accessible and literate, and the amount of research she has done for this book is impressive. She herself notes that many of Burr's personal papers were lost during his lifetime, thereby making him a more indistinct figure than Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson. But her extensive use of Burr's surviving correspondence reveals previously ignored facets of this man's life. He was an intellectual who was a strong believer in the progressive feminist views of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (and he provided his daughter with a thorough education in accordance with those views). He was a dedicated and skilled lawyer. As a New State politician, Burr actively worked for internal improvements and a taxation system that was fairer to the lower classes. He was a tireless campaigner for the Republican Party in the northern states. Isenburg carefully and methodically analyses the slander and gossip Burr's reputation was blackened by. His political rivals (like George and DeWitt Clinton and Alexander Hamilton) used the partisan press of the time and their own private letters to attack Burr's character and honesty on the basis of outright lies. Jefferson did nothing to support or defend his vice-president once he had attained the White House. Burr's trial for "treason" is excellently deconstructed and the "evidence" logically analysed by Isenburg, (very weak and circumstancial, at best) revealing the self-serving political motives of the men who accused Burr of wanting to overthrow the government. The reader will get an incisive look into the vicious partisan politics of the 1790s and see just how ambitious and manipulative some of our "Founding Fathers" really were. Isenburg also examines how Aaron Burr has been portrayed by historians and novelists, not on the basis of facts, but through the image the yellow journalism of Burr's time created of him. One is left with the image of a man who might have become a great politician if the pettiness of others had not runied his chances. We also see a man who never lost his sense of humor and always tried to be as publically impartial and gentlemanly as possible. Nancy Isenburg has done an excellent job in revealing more of the facts and dispelling the myths regarding Aaron Burr. I highly recommend this biography to anyone interested in learning more about this man and the political culture of his time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 24, 2009

    Sinners and Saints

    Isenberg gives a fine though sometimes overly sympathetic work on Burr. Clearly he was not a Saint but he was not exactly the sinner, assassin or traitor either. Burr is a product of his time. Ambitious and greedy, his actions are no better or worse than those of his contemporaries.

    His tragic fall is made worse by the fact that he was Vice President of the United States. He is a product of an emerging political party system. If Alexander Hamilton lived and Burr died, would Hamilton be so revered today or would we be lamenting the loss of a patriotic Vice President?

    I don't see any apologies in the book. I think the author's treatment of Burr's contemporaries is consistent with other history books. She does portray a more sympathetic view of Burr rather than the agressive lawyer that he was. That does not detract from the book.

    I would have enjoyed more details on Burr's later life.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    A wast of money!!

    To GPA and Anonymous - you hit the nail right on the head!! Nancy Isenberg's work is that of a groupie. She seems to think all of the other historians who wrote unflattering or negative works about Burr were knotheads, that a cabal of them were out to get him just because he was a liberal. It seems that no historical person of that period - Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, among others - were the mental or political equals of Burr. I can't begin to list my problems with this work. Suffice to say that I'm 63 and have been reading and studing history for almost 50 years and this is the most biased work I have ever read!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Not Impressed, to say the least.

    It is amazing to me that the resurrection of this mysterious political figure exists entirely on the destruction of other historical characters. Isenberg relied primarily on destroying, discrediting and debauching the excellence of established forefathers so as to make room for the political basket case, Aaron Burr. Such an analysis included deliberately manipulative rhetoric aimed at promoting a vision of the "Fallen Father" that seems to have been entirely devoid of merit and deduced solely through the prodigious conjurings of an imaginative mind.
    I have always been fascinated with Aaron Burr, ever since I first read of him in my high school history class (a V.P. who shot a guy & tried a Coup d'état?!), but to be quite frank, this book completely discouraged my intrigue and former admiration. Aaron Burr's character is one best left to the whims of those whose imaginations care to dwell on his subject. He is a person best left in the shadows of doubt, and it is by this "shadow" that he has managed to keep somewhat in the historical consciousness. Due to Ms. Isenberg's manipulated, half-thorough attempt at clearing his image, she has done a tremendous disservice to Aaron Burr's lasting memory by exposing (less than well), the lack of brilliancy we all fancied might have existed behind Burr's veil of secrecy.
    As a final testament to Burr's mediocrity, Nancy Isenberg wrote a mediocre book, filled with mediocre fact-finding and mediocre self-control against an obvious tendency to favor her subject. Ron Chernow's 'Hamilton' is an exquisite biography/history, and Isenberg would do well to take notes from it. Chernow, though slightly sympathetic towards Hamilton, presents portrait of a man full of Juxtapositions, Hypocrisy and absolute brilliance. At times it seems as if Isenberg read Chernow's book, quoted the same passages (to decidedly different conclusions), and simply said the opposite of every word that Chernow (or any Hamilton, etc. biographer) might have said, then touted Aaron Burr's tremendous contributions as pinnacled in raising a well educated woman.
    Though absolutely noble, though in possession of uncommon intellect, Isenberg's Burr fails to convince me that The "Fallen Founder" deserves merit because he might have been great. HIs inability to cope with the tremendous pressures of political limelight successfully, his inability to accomplish all that Hamilton accomplished, organize as Jefferson organized, or think as Madison thought, render him valueless historically, and Isenberg absolutely failed to provide him any worth.
    If you want a phenomenal read with some of the greatest research I have ever seen in a biographical history, go read Ron Chernow's "Alexander Hamilton"

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 31, 2010

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