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.
©2007 Nancy Isenberg; (P)2007 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., and Books on Tape. All rights reserved.
"Striking." (Publishers Weekly)
Have you read John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Founding Fathers, 1776? If so Fallen Founder is a must read. It is a revelation if you consider Aaron Burr anything less than a peer of the great leaders of his time. I would also recommend it if you consider the politics of our time spiteful, vindictive, or petty. Our leaders are light weights in comparison. I had to give some thought as to why I did not enjoy this book as much as those above, in fact I stalled in some sections. I believe that the answer was outlined by the author. The others have volumes remaining of their own writings, and had champions willing to contribute to their legacy long after they were gone. Much of Burr was lost and no proponent survived to promote his standing. The author is forced to conjecture in many areas, which she readily states. Also I felt there was a sense of overly sympathetic presentation at times, but given forgivable given the starting block.
Scott Brick, brilliant as always, but his acting talents are wasted on this narrative presentation.
The author of "Fallen Founder" notes Hamilton left an "apologia" in case he was killed by Burr's shot, but Burr left no such note for posterity. There was no need; she has written a lengthy apologia on Burr's behalf. I found myself at times laughing aloud while listening to this book because of the biased nature of the text. Essentially, the thesis of the book is, "Hamilton, bad; Burr, good." An odd approach for an author whose prologue notes her disgust with all prior biased Burr scholarship. While the book is lengthy and comprehensive (especially post-youth), its pro-Burr bias becomes predictable and significantly detracts from the scholarship. This book was a huge disappointment; I would skip it and just read Joseph Ellis' account of the Burr/Hamilton duel in "Founding Brothers." Finally, though Burr may have been around at the time of the "founding," there is certainly nothing in this book to suggest that Burr was himself one of "the founders."
The narration itself is creditable, especially given the length of the book and the need to delineate historical quotations from the author's prose.
This is a very well-researched book that is well-written and presented with a flair that ensures interest from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the story of Aaron Burr’s life is presented through the lens of a Burr apologist. Nancy Isenberg goes to great lengths to damn Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, the entire Federalist party, and most of the Republicans – but spares one person from her scorn: Aaron Burr.
I very much enjoyed listening to the other side of many events that I have heard/read time and time again over the years – only presented in such a way as to always make Burr the hero and everyone else, save Theodosia, manipulative malcontents set on destroying the virtuous Burr. I think it’s critical to hear varied opinions, and this book succeeds at presenting several. If nothing else, the presentation was thought-provoking and has had me scouring the internet for tidbits of info to validate or disprove the notions presented by Isenberg as well as my own interpretation of 1787 through 1820.
One point of contention I do have with Isenberg is in the epilogue, where she literally calls out other authors. She specifically calls out, for instance, Ron Chernow for his 2004 Alexander Hamilton, for his decidedly unfair presentation of Burr. She references Hamiltonian’s as “Hamilton Apologists”, evidently because she believes Hamilton has so much to apologize for. Her attacks on Hamilton, both in the epilogue and peppered throughout the entire book, seem to be too personal for a historian – as if Hamilton had reached through the fog of time to insult her honor personally in some way. I must say this element of the book is distracting from a study of Burr.
Overall, I think this book is well done. If you are looking for a challenge that offers perspectives you may not have heard before on topics that relate to Aaron Burr in any way, this is your book.
A Hamilton Apologist
A well researched presentation of the some of the recorded incidences and events that Nancy Isenberg thinks will cast Aaron Burr in a new light. In this biography the author makes no attempt to hide her agenda of presenting a different Aaron Burr then we have come to know down through history.
I came into this book with an open mind but it seemed apparent to me that this agenda driven author was on a mission-- woe to anyone whose recorded words had anything bad to say about the poor unfortunate, misunderstood and unfairly portrayed Mr. Burr. Isenberg excoriates any and all detractors that get in the way of her recreating Burr, including Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton, George Washington, John Adams, past historians, present historians, etc. They are all wrong and Nancy is quite disgusted with them.
Anyway, the bottom line is that even despite her cherry picking of various views and events to paint Burr in a positive light I still came away not liking the Aaron Burr she presents. Even Nancy’s amoral adulation for his sexual prowess with women or her admiration for his bravery in killing Hamilton didn’t make me like him more. No not even her presentation regarding his endearing little habit of sharing his sexual exploits stories with his daughter. Neither was I won over to appreciating AB for his manly pursuit of an unauthorized war with Mexico. Nancy wants us to just believe this is what the boys did back in those days. Really…?
I guess I am not as open-minded as Nancy. You see Nancy claims that Aaron Burr was a great feminist, so c’mon if you don’t like Aaron you must be a bigot. It seems to me that Burr was certainly some type of feminist, but more of the type that told women what they want to hear in order to have his way with them--seduction seems to be the major theme of his life. It also appears that this great seducer has claimed another victim…. the author of this biography.
I found this book very interesting and informative. As the author notes, Aaron Burr is usually dealt with as a small footnote in history and then whatever is said is usually damning. One would think with such an infamous list of "crimes" more attention would be paid to him by historians. Many of the most interesting things I found in this book were corroborated by other authors. Alexander Hamilton's sheer ambition and callous regard for any sense of decorum in the political and other arenas is evinced by his irrational attacks on Burr. Thomas Jefferson's duplicitous attitude toward a fellow party member is an indictment of his own character flaws. Above all though the author's treatment of Burr and his contemporaries paints a holistic picture. We see the founders not as just two dimensional icons, either paragons of virtue or vice, but as human beings. After reading this book I had a much greater appreciation for American history and find that "politics as usual" have been around for a very, very long time.
This book was wonderfully written and wonderfully narrated. I recommend it to anyone interested a multi-faceted look into our nation's history that left me enriched, entertained, and surprised at how different the truth is from the lessons learned in school.
I'm a community volunteer who loves Kansas, history, listening to audio books and cheering the Kansas City Royals!!!!
As I usually find, there are always multiple perspectives on the same events. To know Alexander Hamilton, you must fully consider Aaron Burr.
Book gives excellent insight into the flaws of America's founders. also well read by the narrator.
Strip away the soaring rhetoric of "The Declaration of Independence" and "The Federalist Papers," and you are left with the ugly, sleazy, embarrassing reality of politics as they really were in the 1790s-early 1800s, with scenes that would be more appropriate to the caricatures of Thomas Nast than the heroic paintings of John Trumbull. The life of Colonel Burr is worth reading for this reason. He didn't write anything lasting or memorable, unlike his rival Hamilton. He just played hardball politics, like a prototype Boss Tweed or LBJ. It was Burr who helped lay the foundation for the otherwise strongly southern Democratic Party in New York City, and it was his influence in that city that helped Jefferson get elected President in the election of 1800 (a scandalous affair that is covered in-depth by the author). Though the author tries hard to give Burr the benefit of the doubt in every scenario, he never really comes across as an underdog unfairly treated, by either his peers or historians. I wouldn't trust him, though he had his admirers, such as Andrew Jackson. The only interesting thing about Burr was his attitude toward women -- he was a champion of Mary Wollstonecraft's then-radical ideas, such as allowing women to vote -- but even this has a dark side to it, as his countless sexual trysts show. He was hooking up with women shortly after his duel with Hamilton, even.
The reader seems to think he's performing "Hamlet." The over-dramatic vocal performance made this a lot harder to slog through.
Before I read this, all I knew about Burr was that he had fought duel with Alexander Hamilton. The author points out that having no children or surviving family, there was no one to give voice to Burr's thinking and his multitude of achievements during the establishment of the nation. The book is an intriguing look at how a man's reputation is shaped by "winners" in the telling of history.
I suggest this book if you love history and quietly enjoy knowing things that most others don't know. You may not end up liking Burr or siding with him, but you will probably have a better understanding of the challenges facing the early nation from this portrait that paints him as a multi-dimensional human rather than a cardboard figure.
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