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American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  312 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
American Emperor Aaron Burrs Challenge to Jeffersons America by Stewart, David O.. Published by Simon & Schuster,2011, Binding: Hardcover
Hardcover, 411 pages
Published October 25th 2011 by Simon & Schuster
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Community Reviews

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Before reading this excellent biography of Aaron Burr biography, the sum total of my knowledge regarding this enigmatic figure was that he "popped a cap" in Alexander Hamilton during their famous duel.

Turns out that dropping Mr. Hamilton was a mere peccadillo compared to the boldly treasonous ruckus he tried to stir up out west in the early 19th century. Even more shocking to me was that Burr was Vice President under Thomas Jefferson during a large chunk of his traitorous doings, and was open a
Lauren Albert
I found this really interesting. I only vaguely remembered that Burr had been charged with treason. Like many people, my strongest association with Burr was his killing of Alexander Hamilton in a duel. One thing puzzles me though. Stewart seems to make the case so clear that his later statement that Jefferson charged him with only weak evidence was confusing. But obviously the difference between knowledge and proof are different.

For those of you who like me before I read the book know nothing a
Jan 13, 2013 Katherine rated it liked it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
So, the only reason I started reading this book is because I grew up believing that we were related to Aaron Burr through my maternal grandmother's ancestor Marietta Burr, and I have always wanted to know more about him. I made it about halfway through, and the book was interesting, but kind of dry, and I have other things on my urgent reading list, so I wanted to know if I really should finish it in order to feel more simpatico with my great-uncle Aaron. Well, a quick internet search showed tha ...more
Jan 13, 2014 Jimmy rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
One of the reasons I read this book was to find out more of the duel between Burr and Alexander Hamilton in which Hamilton was killed. Hamilton had been a constant critic of Burr, whereas Burr has no record of any negative comments against Hamilton. Duels were considered "demonstrations of manner, not marksmanship; they were intricate games of dare and counterdare, ritualized displays of bravery, military prowess, and, above all, willingness to sacrifice one's life for one's honor. Each man's re ...more
Jul 12, 2012 Troi rated it really liked it
After getting over the initial reservation I had about devoting so much of my limited time to understanding an American sociopath, I found the book incredibly engaging. Given there was so little documentation left behind by Burr, this biography is incredibly well-documented. There was even less documentation left behind of the whole episode that led to the treason trial itself, yet the events leading up to the trial(s) were clearly and convincingly presented with just the right amount of analysi ...more
My problem isn't the book or the author. It's the detestable subject. Before page 50, Burr has already done two of the three things for which we remember him. The rest of the book covers his treasonous plans and the trial before Chief Justice John Marshall. No doubt fans of our early political history and lawyers similarly inclined will find much of interest in this account. I simply did not want to waste any more time reading about this specific loathsome individual. Modern politics gives us so ...more
This is the second book by David O. Stewart that I have brought, and the third that I have read. Detailing the rise and fall of Burr, Stewart’s work is more a political look at the young United States as opposed to a life of Burr. Stewart shows Burr warts and are, and if at times a bit too much repetition or minute looking at issues, it is a pleasant enough way to discover more about Burr than the famous duel.
Aug 09, 2013 Bruno rated it really liked it
Like many of you out there who are now closer to their seventh decade than to the beginning of their sixth, I am always amazed when I manage to learn something new. It is the prize that I hope for every time I pick up another book on our founding, like that elusive decoder ring at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jack. I always want to learn more about our road to greatness as a nation among nations. “American Emperor” delivered on this promise in a number of ways. As a boomer, like many boomers, ...more
Apr 01, 2014 Joe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Mention the name Aaron Burr and many of us remember him as the man who shot Alexander Hamilton – who subsequently died of his wounds - in a duel. A smaller number also recollect he ran as Thomas Jefferson’s “running mate” in the Presidential election of 1800; which resulted in an Electoral College tie, a long drawn out battle in the House of Representatives and a subsequent amendment to the Constitution to prevent such future dead-locks. And even less of us remember that during Jefferson’s secon ...more
Jun 05, 2015 Clarice rated it liked it
Shelves: history, reviewed
Stewart did an impressive job organizing the information on Burr's expedition into a coherent narrative, especially considering how inherently messy an issue Burr's time in the west has always been. Obviously I came away without a clear picture of just what was transpiring out there, but considering that's how Burr designed it, I doubt it's possible to illuminate it any further. Nonetheless, I think it would have been beneficial to bring up a few alternative perspectives or theories at times, as ...more
Jun 03, 2014 Owen rated it liked it
I knew Aaron Burr had shot (and killed) Alexander Hamilton in a duel. I did not know he had done it while he was the sitting Vice President of the United States! In New Jersey of all places. I also didn’t know that there was an entrenched culture of dueling (the ‘code duello’), particularly in New York state politics, and that they went across the river to a little spot in New Jersey (Weehawken?!). There were specified ways to stand and hold the pistol along your body in what were really futile ...more
Keith Thompson
Nov 29, 2012 Keith Thompson rated it it was amazing
In March 1805, Aaron Burr was the outgoing Vice President of the United States. He was also a fugitive from two states for the "murder" of Alexander Hamilton. His political future finished in the United States, he left Washington City and at the behest of his good friend James Wilkinson, the commanding General of the U.S. Army, went west to seek his "destiny". What were his plans exactly? This question has engaged historians for two centuries. Some claim he intended to separate the states west o ...more
Grady McCallie
Jul 23, 2016 Grady McCallie rated it really liked it
This book takes a close look at Aaron Burr's scheming to create a new career for himself in the American West of the early 1800s. The core canvas of the book runs from Burr's notorious duel with Alexander Hamilton in the summer of 1804 to the end of Burr's trial for treason in November 1807. Burr had a much longer life, on both ends; this is not the biography to read for that. Instead, it offers a close study of the people Burr met, the multiple and mutually exclusive plots he hatched, and the J ...more
Oct 30, 2016 Jack rated it liked it
Incredibly researched, the book seems to cover everything one could possibly want to know about Burr and then some. I learned so much, including the details of Burr's break with Jefferson as Burr tried to steal the election of 1800; Hamilton's provocation of the duel and the claim that he intended to shoot in the air; Burr's elaborate scheming to provoke an insurrection around New Orleans and the West, to then march into Spanish Mexico and Florida and make himself head of a new government; and t ...more
Stephen Escalera
Oct 11, 2011 Stephen Escalera rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mention Aaron Burr’s name and the first thing that comes to a person’s mind will most likely be his infamous duel with Alexander Hamilton. What might not be so well known is the path Burr took after he fled New York or the fact that, even during his tenure as vice-president under Jefferson, he was plotting to build his own empire in the western half of the United States. In American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America, David O. Stewart masterfully sheds light on this lesser-kn ...more
Tony Laplume
Dec 04, 2015 Tony Laplume rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An utterly fascinating book featuring only one real failure: that it opens American history wide enough for the reader to want more. Burr has remained a key figure of American history despite being reduced to the trivial role of the man who shot Hamilton. The fatal duel itself is mere precursor in this rendition of Burr's life journey, somewhat glossed over, though not in the way its true subject tends to be for most historians. Burr considered the Founding Fathers to be far more human than even ...more
Chris Bauer
Dec 07, 2011 Chris Bauer rated it liked it
I have to admit a touch of disappointment in this book. I had very little knowledge of Aaron Burr, aside from his infamous duel with Hamilton, but wanted to learn a little bit more about his place in history. Overall the book puzzled me by starting with the events after his duel and onto his death in 1836. I felt like there was a lot more of his youth I wanted to read about. The writing itself is very detailed (too detailed at times) but interesting nonetheless. There were a number of aspects I ...more
This is probably the highest rating I will ever give to a book I am not going to finish.

Like others, I knew very little about Aaron Burr. I have been reading nonfiction books re: Jefferson, Washington, Adams, the Revolution, etc, and in each of these books, Burr is mentioned as one of the key players, but never have I read anything from his point of view. So when I saw this book, I knew I needed to read it, because I felt like he was important enough that I needed to view history through his eye
Robert Morrow
Dec 18, 2011 Robert Morrow rated it it was amazing
David Stewart relates the amazing tale of our renegade Vice President: the tragic duel with Hamilton; the strange, twisted plot with unclear intentions that might have made Burr Emperor of Mexico or King of New Granada; the just-as-frustrating-as-today's-legal-system trial for treason; and a brief overview of Burr's post-headline years. Stewart is an exceptionally talented writer who has pieced together a complex and sometimes murky set of facts into an eminently readable and exciting tale. He i ...more
Mar 07, 2015 Brianna rated it liked it
Recommended to Brianna by: Library display
The first time I read that Burr had wanted to become Emperor of Mexico was in Gore Vidal's novel and I promptly spat out my drink and went to Google whether that was true. I was delighted to find that it was although, of course, the truth is much more complicated than that. (Not, in Burr's case, because there were better reasons, but because it seems he mostly hoped to Make Things Happen and get the most out of it he could)

This book isn't a complete biography but, in my opinion, so much the bett
Dan Downing
Apr 20, 2016 Dan Downing rated it it was amazing
While reading this mini-biography of Burr I was beset by feelings that I had been dropped down Alice's rabbit hole, or that someone was playing a grotesque joke. I kept thinking of "Our Man in Havana" and the film "The Mouse That Roared": was I to take the book seriously?

Buoyed along on surreal pages, I never-the-less found the story fascinating and extremely pertinent to our modern world. Many issues we face with national security and national identity were being addressed at the turn of the 1
Jul 17, 2016 Harold rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
I had been searching for a book on Aaron Burr for years. He seemed like one of the most fascinating leaders of the young country. What could have caused the Vice President -- within a hair of being the third president of the country -- to choose off Alexander Hamilton in a duel, while he was Vice President. That is just the prologue to the story. Unfortunately in this book it is barely that. Usually I get antsy with the deep background part of biographies where we learn about the subject's histo ...more
May 19, 2015 Ben rated it liked it
Aaron Burr is a fascinating historical figure and this book does well to place him in context. At the end of the day, only a nudge at the wrong time would have made Andrew Jackson or William Henry Harrison (both Burr supporters) into Burr-like figures. This book is excellent at capturing the America of Aaron Burr, its instabilities but also its strengths and how it could generate a figure like Burr and then destroy him. Ultimately this is a classically tragic story of a man who chose his vain am ...more
Ian Racey
Jul 27, 2015 Ian Racey rated it liked it
An entertaining read, neither wholly biography nor history: it's a chronicle of Aaron Burr's life from the presidential election of 1800 until his trial for treason in 1807, concentrating, of course, on the Alexander Hamilton duel and Burr's planned expedition of conquest to New Orleans and Mexico. I liked the book and I learnt a few things (I didn't know, for instance, that Winfield Scott was the doorkeeper at the Richmond treason trial), but I also found the book too willing to believe allegat ...more
Mark Valentine
Jan 16, 2016 Mark Valentine rated it really liked it
Shelves: aaron-burr
What I now can picture after having read this biography/history of Burr shows early America as still very fluid and transitional. For a former Vice President to kill in a duel Alexander Hamilton, then flee New Jersey and New York for charges of murder only to spend two years raising money and arms to rouse an improvised army in order to seize New Orleans and move on Spanish Mexico but be routed by a double and triple-crossing U. S. General of nefarious reputation and stand trial for violating th ...more
Deanna Against Censorship
Apr 07, 2012 Deanna Against Censorship rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Like so many I knew little of Aaron Burr. I knew of the duel with Hamilton; that Burr was VP and a vauge memory of some charges of treason. This book was filled with information of Burr and his schemes. Sometimes too detailed. Not as well written as some other histories I have read (i.e. My Thoughts Be Bloody; Team of Rivals; Washington's Crossing to name my 3 favorites.) It was interesting. It immediately caught the reader's interest. Althought I think Hamilton was equally at fault in the duel, ...more
Aaron Burr is most remembered for having shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel. But there is always more to the story. Turns out that Hamilton had been slandering Burr in the news for close to 15 years. As in Hamilton would say something. Burr would object and Hamilton would apologize. Only the last time, he didn't. He just told a couple of people that he was feeling bad and so he wouldn't fire the first shot. The public seized on that comment, and not the past 15 years and a villain is born.

Why I s
Feb 21, 2012 Adam rated it liked it
I found it interesting enough. The premise being that the territory sought out by Burr was more "up in the air" than most American historians would like us to believe. That Aaron Burr's objective was to usurp his own empire from the Americans. Setting up his capitol in New Orleans and stretching westward and southward into present day Mexico. The idea of this book I think is that those lands in the west were still up for control from any willing empire, whether the Americans rightly paid for cer ...more
Jan 15, 2012 Randy rated it it was ok
A difficult read. Normally I enjoy historical non-fiction quite a bit and do a lot of reading of this genre - but this book was just difficult to get through. Not sure if it was the author's style, or just the fact that there is a limited amount of journal or other time period material about Burr that writing a book about him is tough. And apparently that is the way that Burr wanted it, purposely having destroyed most of his own writings so history could not judge him. How ironic, that history h ...more
Sep 19, 2013 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
That Aaron Burr! He was there at the beginning of our history and Vice President under Thomas Jefferson. While Vice President, he had a duel with Alexander Hamilton and killed him. You probably know this--it was bad for his reputation.

What he did after that is hard to believe. He tried to have the western territories (i.e., the Louisiana Purchase) revolt against the US Government, and from that platform, he wanted to invade Mexico and free it from the Spanish. It's amazing he got the plot moving
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