Burr

A Novel (Narratives of Empire, Book 1)
Narrated by: Grover Gardner
Series: Narratives of Empire, Book 1
Length: 21 hrs and 20 mins
4.2 out of 5 stars (517 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

For listeners who can’t get enough of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, Gore Vidal’s stunning novel about Aaron Burr, the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel - and who served as a successful, if often feared, statesman of our fledgling nation.

Here is an extraordinary portrait of one of the most complicated - and misunderstood - figures among 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. But he is determined to tell his own story, and he chooses to confide in a young New York City journalist named Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler. Together, they explore both Burr's past - and the continuing civic drama of their young nation. 

Burr is the first novel in Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire series, which spans the history of the United States from the Revolution to post-World War II. With their broad canvas and sprawling cast of fictional and historical characters, these novels present a panorama of American politics and imperialism, as interpreted by one of our most incisive and ironic observers.

©1993 1993 by Gore Vidal. © 2012 by The Beneficiaries of Gore Vidal. (P)2019 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved.

What listeners say about Burr

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Finally! Vidal's Great Take on the Life of Burr

I began listening to audiobooks in the late 1990s when i moved to the mountains, adopted two dogs, and took them on daily walks of several miles. In those days you "rented" books on audiotape (or checked them out of the library) and played them on a Walkman (get it?) or similar device. That's how I first listened to this book. I loved it so much that I purchased a (used) set of the tapes and listened to it numerous times over 10 years or so. The walks continued, but the tapes stretched, the devices evolved, and when I joined Audible and eventually began listening with iPhone and Bluetooth I lost access to Grover Gardner's excellent rendition of this classic. I have more than once begged Audible to add it, and while I don't think they did it for me (smile) I am delighted and grateful to see it here today! I see that Audible will launch the companion novel Lincoln in a few weeks - also read by Gardner, also wonderful. After listening to (or reading) Gore Vidal's story of the Burr/Hamilton rivalry, Hamilton the Musical will likely seem more of a fantasy than ever. UPDATE (Nov 2019): I've now listened to Lincoln, 1876, and Empire -- and I'm about to begin Hollywood... all read by Gardner. Love the overlapping characters, Vidal's mastery of irony, and 100+ hours of storytelling.

136 people found this helpful

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An entertaining read both as a novel and of history but keep in mind

... it’s a novel not a history ...written by a terrific author with a (sometimes misguided, sometimes spot on) polemic axe to grind ... and it is a tale told through through the voices of two completely unreliable self-aggrandizing narrators. But it is great fun to read and Vidal delights in ravaging sacred cows and tearing down institutions. The sacred cows of history need periodic ravaging to remind us that they were living, breathing fallible men and women just like all of us, and the intellectual institutions of academia and literature need to be torn down and rebuilt periodically to stay vital and not ossified rituals worshiping the past.

81 people found this helpful

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Airy, Ironic, Historical Revisionism

Gore Vidal has long been a “name” whose work I didn’t really know. He seemed almost more famous for being famous than for any particular thing he’d written. So, when this one cropped up on sale, I figured I’d give it a shot. As a concept, I love this book. A young man and partisan of Aaron Burr is hired to write a scandalous hit-job on Martin Van Buren by claiming that the Presidential candidate is actually the son of the disgraced old man. The result is a novel told back-and-forth between a present of Charlie Schuyler as he navigates the United States of the middle 1830s and a past of Burr’s life. Burr’s voice, as Vidal gives it to us, is rich and ironic. He offers a view of American history that’s been buried by subsequent consensus, but that comes across as cutting and clever. His Alexander Hamilton isn’t the brilliant but flawed figure of musical fame, but rather an always conniving and striving upstart, jealous of Burr’s distinguished pedigree. (I hadn’t known it, but Burr was the grandson of the famous Jonathan “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Edwards as well as the son of the president of what would become Princeton.) His Thomas Jefferson isn’t the great, deistic sage we know, but rather a serial promise-breaker, a master politician, and a man capable of switching his philosophy as necessary. The Burr we hear is a voice of dissent who lives long enough to be among the last major participants in the Revolutionary moment. He comes to us as a curmudgeon, a scoundrel even, but an unapologetic one. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine anyone writing this book today. Forty-five years later, most of the references that seem essential to understanding it have simply fallen out of common knowledge. I found myself checking and re-checking Wikipedia for reminders of just who a whole host of secondary characters are. I remember Henry Clay and John Calhoun. But William Wirt? Samuel Swartwout? Some of these are colorful scoundrels in their own right, characters who must once have been near household names and who helped define American history. Today, well, they’re hyperlinks. I enjoy the history lesson – that’s much of what kept me in this – but it’s striking to think that Vidal must have been writing for an audience (perhaps imaginary even then) sufficiently saturated in American history to recognize the nature of the revisionism he was exploring. In other words, he had faith there were enough “patriots” (in his Burr’s ironic sense of the word) to follow his fundamental claim. As a consequence, there’s an airy elitism that pervades this, some of it Burr’s and some of it Vidal’s – himself the scion of a distinguished American family that history may have left behind. Vidal turns out to be every bit the master aphorist I’d heard he was. I didn’t write down any of the great one-liners he pulls off, but there are many turns of phrase that I wish I’d been clever enough to think of. Even so, that contributes to the sense that this is something that’s condescending to me, and to most of us reading it. We’re some of Jefferson’s great unwashed, products not of the openly cynical opportunism of Burr (who narrowly escaped execution as a traitor hoping to establish himself emperor of a region comprised of several of what are now some of our Southern states) but of the subtler hypocrisy of Jefferson and his “Virginia junto.” There’s much to enjoy here if you’re willing to double-check the history against Burr/Vidal’s version. It can drag in places since it takes a while to find Charlie’s story, but it’s a lot of fun too. I understand Vidal wrote a loose series of these histories, books that challenge our received version of the events that shaped who we are as a nation. I won’t rush onto the next, but I’ll be on the lookout for it sometime down the road.

17 people found this helpful

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  • PD
  • 08-01-19

A welcome addition to the world of Audible

I have been waiting for years for Gore Vidal's historical novels to come to Audible. These were some of my favorite books when I was in my 20's. His irreverence to our founding fathers appealed to me. 30 years later the snark got a little too much. Poor George Washington takes a beating as does Jefferson (who I still feel deserves it). That said, what a great book. Vidal's play with words and his erudition make listening a treat. Grover Gardner captures all of the characters with his different voices. Looking forward to the rest of Gore Vidal's historical sagas!

44 people found this helpful

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Delicious

Yep, I'm a self-avowed Vidal groupie: have read "Burr" about five times over the past 20 years and was thrilled to see Audible finally added it to its catalog. You either get Vidal or you don't: he was acerbic, exacting, scholarly, bitchy and enormously entertaining. Our politics don't always line up, but his insights into the paths by which the U.S. arrived at its current point-in-time on the world stage are spot-on. Listen carefully: rewind and review, if need be. However, you'll not consider America's Founding Fathers (and a few of its Mothers) as you had previously after listening/reading "Burr." You GO, Gore!

62 people found this helpful

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One of the best books on Audible.

This is an elegant book, narrated to perfection. Gore Vidal wrote this masterpiece in the early 1970s. Its relevance to today is even stronger than it was during the Watergate era. America has never changed. It was always corrupt, decadent, and ridiculous. It's kind of comforting, in a perverse way. What is fading is the wit, charm, and elegance. Vidal is the end of an era.

42 people found this helpful

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Dificult to follow at times

Even though I thought I understood early American history, I had to independently read a great deal of Burr's life in order to make this book flow. I am glad I read it, but would not choose to do it again. Chernow is much better.

3 people found this helpful

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Thoroughly delightful

I thoroughly enjoyed Vidal’s irreverent depiction of Colonial times and the rascal Aaron Burr. I will definitely continue my education of the times with his next book in the series.

2 people found this helpful

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Pretty thought provoking “history”

I didn't much care for the author’s self-appointed roll as "critic" (remaining cognizant of Mark Twain's admonition that "the trade of critic is the most degraded of all") and keeping in mind it is easy to skewer the personalizes and motives of patriots from the safety of 200 years hindsight… Nonetheless, if we can accept the supposition that people "ain't no damn good" this book is well worth reading. I say reading because given the in and out transition from narrator to memoir, it is sometimes difficult to follow. But Grover Gardner is his usual excellent self. The scholarship is excellent, the writing terrific. I also see Shakespeare's line "done to death by slanderous tongues" to have a particular applicability in today's proceedings against Trump as well as Yesterdays proceedings against Burr. Without getting too political, Nancy Pelosi and company very much resemble the conniving, hypocritical Jefferson cabal of the early 1800s. The Man from Monticello does not fair in this historical novel. Anyway the writing remains excellent… For me, Vidal does not have the genius of Samuel Clemens…or the latter’s subtle panache when delivering a barb…Vidal’s observations tend to be more direct and therefore mean spirited rather than innocent (rendering them less effective). Nor (my opinion) are his sentences quite the masterpieces of satirical construction (like Ambrose Bierce or Winston Churchill) but he is head and shoulders above most writers, and certainly this reviewer. So his wit is evident and his indictment of accepted sacred cows cannot be ignored. I will have to read Lincoln.

2 people found this helpful

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  • 02-28-20

Painfully tedious

After reading the many positive reviews, I was looking forward to a good piece of historical fiction set around the American Revolution. I made it 1/3 the way through, not counting the times I fell asleep and had to rewind before I simply could not continue on. Burr's views of the world did not make sense. Burr comes off as pretentious and not likeable. The perspective he shares concerning other prominent figures of the time, only make sense if you consider them from Burr's own delusional and egotistical perspective, Sorry, not for me.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Andrew William McCallum
  • 06-30-19

brilliant

a tour de force. Couldnt believe when this was released on audible. absolutely fantastic! a w

3 people found this helpful