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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2007 Nancy Isenberg; (P)2007 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., and Books on Tape. All rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

"Striking." (Publishers Weekly)

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  • Overall

Correct your history

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.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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A well-rounded human portrait

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Ray
  • Groves, TX, United States
  • 05-22-12

Very interesting, great reader.

If you could sum up Fallen Founder in three words, what would they be?

Very interesting, great reader. Different view of how history protrays him and his life.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, then again to make sure I heard every word.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


I think I might like the book very much but after an hour and a half i can not listen to Scott's exagerated inflections any longer. I loved him in The Company and he was a large part of my wanting to listen to this one. But his tone here doesn't match the text so it is just annoying.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Derek
  • West Jordan, UT, USA
  • 11-11-07

Very Burr-Centric

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

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


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.

16 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Oh, wasn't he handsome!

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.

9 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fallen Founder, a new perspective

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.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • daniel
  • Athens, Alabama
  • 11-29-16

The hero-worship gets sickening

What disappointed you about Fallen Founder?

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."

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

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.

Have you listened to any of Scott Brick’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

The narrator Scott Brick was very good; the content of the book itself was very disappointing.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Fallen Founder?

All the details about sexual innuendo in letters that Burr or his friends wrote; or about his sex life in general.

Any additional comments?

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Good research; biased writing

I was surprised to read these biased writings of a scholar, researcher and historian. Burr, as a young man, is portrayed as capable, intelligent and a sense of honor. In doing this, Isenberg reduced Hamilton and Jefferson to petty jealousy. Burr, by every account except this one, was not trustworthy and a scoundrel. He certainly associated with scoundrels and misfits, trusting them because reputable individuals would not associate with him. Interesting read with long descriptions of his many times in court. I now feel, more than ever, that Burr deserved the disgrace and distrust. I only felt for his loss of family, although he claimed 4 children later in life that could have written his story. Isenberg tries hard to give him legitimacy and blame the many others who turned their back on him. She gives no reasons for his being refused a passport back to US or being kicked out of England. On these facts, she is brief and direct but she takes liberties to presume Hamilton, Jefferson and others were uncomfortable with him because of his brilliance rather than his chicanery.