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Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery
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Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery

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3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,278 Ratings  ·  232 Reviews
Duel with the Devil is acclaimed historian Paul Collins’ remarkable true account of a stunning turn-of-the-19th century murder and the trial that ensued – a showdown in which iconic political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr joined forces to make sure justice was done. Still our nation’s longest running “cold case,” the mystery of Elma Sands finally comes to a clos ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 4th 2013 by Crown (first published January 1st 2013)
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Community Reviews

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Louise
Oct 11, 2015 Louise rated it really liked it
While the title doesn’t promise much in this regard, I chose this book to learn more about Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. There isn’t a lot on them (they make their appearances after 1/3 of the book), but author Paul Collins gives you a very readable a glimpse of New York 1799-1800 along with a murder mystery.

The book opens with a body found in a well owned by the Manhattan Company, a water utility founded by Aaron Burr. The victim was a resident of a Greenwich Street boarding house, where t
...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
(Note: I won a copy on Library Thing.)

It took a while (nearly a third of the book) for Collins to get to the actual murder; but the details of daily life in New York City at the opening of the 19th century were fascinating. And the payoff for the slow build was worth it, to me anyway.

I enjoyed this as much as Collins' The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars, set in a very different historical New York City, which I also gave four stars
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El
Jul 26, 2014 El rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review is of a book won from Goodreads First Reads Giveaway program.

Most people know about the slight disagreement between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804. It was no big secret that these two were the biggest frenemies around. What is slightly less well known is a few years prior to their duel, they made waves by defending a murder suspect. Together. As a team! Like Batman and Robin. Except without the capes.

In 1799 a young woman was found dead at the bottom of the Manhattan Well.
...more
Brian
I won this book as part of Goodreads' First Reads program in exchange for my honest review.

Bad nonfiction books are dry and read like a history textbook; the good ones read like a fiction novel. This book is one of the later as Collins weaves the historical tale of one of the country's first major murder mystery. He does such a good job with the narrative that it is easy to forget that he is not making up the story as he goes along. The facts are presented in a straight forward manner and it doe
...more
Larry Bassett
May 20, 2016 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been reading quite a few books about the post revolutionary history in the US. This book fits right in happening around 1800 and shortly thereafter. The first 25% of the book is mostly about the history of New York City in 1800. You get a good sense of what life was like in NYC in that period. If you haven't read much about that era of the Big Apple (no they didn't really call it that then!) this will be especially interesting. The next 25% is basically taking you through the details of a ...more
Kerissa
Jan 26, 2016 Kerissa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
A friend & I were reading this at the same time, so we were sending each other photos/screenshots as we went along. We kept having to double check to make *absolutely sure* this was non-fiction. An intensely fascinating read, it is the first book of 2016 that I'd recommend to everyone. Not only because you learn more about Hamilton/Burr, but get a vivid picture of life in the late 1700's/early 1800's. I really loved this read.
Jean Poulos
The book opens with a vivid description of life in New York City with the water unfit to drink, problems with sewage and yellow fever is raging not only in New York City but all along the Atlantic coast.

The case is about Levi Weeks, a carpenter accused of strangling Elma Sands, a young Quaker women and dumping her body in the well. She went missing on December 31, 1799 and the body was found on January 2, 1800. The case was politically charged because of the Manhattan water supply problems and t
...more
Lady♥Belleza★✰
Something happened while I was reading this book that has never happened before. I was so engrossed in reading that I missed my stop. Seriously I have never done that before. That is how fascinating and interesting I found this book to be. This crime happened in 1799 in what is now known as SoHo. The site of the murder was a well known as the Manhattan Well. A young Quaker woman was murdered and a young man, referred to as one of her suitors, who lived in the same boardinghouse as she did was ac ...more
Nancy
Apr 30, 2013 Nancy rated it it was amazing
A Murdered Gill: Hamilton and Burr for the Defense

The mysterious death of Elma Sands created a furor in 1800s New York. The young girl disappeared from the boarding house where she lived with her cousin and her husband. The body was recovered days later from a well, dug as part of the Manhattan Water Project, the brain child of Aaron Burr. A young carpenter, Levi Weeks, was immediately arrested for the crime. He lived in the same boarding house as Elma and had shown interest in her, but did he k
...more
Rose
Jun 15, 2013 Rose rated it it was amazing
No sooner had Manhattan's municipal water system come into effect when one of its wells became a crime scene.

In January 1800, the body of Gulielma `Elma' Sands was found floating in the frozen water of a well in Lispenard's Meadow (now located in SoHo). She had left her Greenwich Street boardinghouse on December 22, 1799 after telling confidants that she intended to be married to carpenter Levi Weeks, who was a fellow boarder. Instead of a bride, Elma became a corpse in a watery grave.

The trial
...more
Melanie Goetz
Why did I read this? Well, first things first: There is exactly one verse in the musical HAMILTON which deals with this murder trial:


Hamilton: Gentlemen of the jury, I'm curious, bear with me
Are you aware that we're making history?
This is the first murder trial of our brand-new nation
The liberty behind deliberation
Chorus: Non-stop!

I am meant to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt
With my assistant counsel—

Burr: Co-counsel. Hamilton, sit down
Our client Levi Weeks is innocent, call your first witness
...more
A Bookworm Reading (Plethora)
Hamilton and Burr could be the best of friends and the worst of enemies with each other. Both highly respected legal counsel, and well-connected what mingling of dealings brought these two together to fight for the freedom of a young man the locals all felt was guilty of a heinous murder?

Collin’s has brought the first fully transcribed murder case in America to life in Duel with the Devil. Reading along I would have to remind myself I was reading a non-fiction book and not historical fiction, wh
...more
Amy Sturgis
I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.

In Duel with the Devil, Paul Collins tells the story of the death of the young Quaker woman Elma Sands in 1799, the discovery of her body in the newly constructed Manhattan Well, and the sensational murder trial that followed in 1800 - a trial that united political rivals Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in defense of Elma Sands' alleged lover, Levi Weeks. The trial, "the first fully documented murder trial in U.S. history," form
...more
Sally Smith
Dec 18, 2014 Sally Smith rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating read on a sensational murder trial that teamed up two men that hated each other - Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. One gets a real sense of what life was like in New York City around 1800. If you are a history buff, this is a good one to read.
Susan Ferguson
Nov 20, 2014 Susan Ferguson rated it really liked it
An interesting book. The enmity between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr is explored in this story of a murder case where they are joined by Brockholst Livingston to defend Levi Weeks. Levi has been accused by murdering Elma Sands, the cousin of the woman who ran the boarding house where he lived. She left the house and was never seen again until her body was discovered in a well on property owned by a company set up by Aaron Burr. The trial is the first that was published verbatim, with questi ...more
Alex
Aug 16, 2014 Alex rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Still reading this one, but thought I'd give my thoughts so far. I'm about halfway through and I find this to be a fascinating, well-researched true crime story from the early 19th century. The way Collins writes the trial is gripping and makes you feel like you are there, which I always appreciate.

Two things that are currently preventing me from giving it a fifth star (subject to change on completion):

1. I don't quite feel like he's set up the murder victim all that well. Part of what I'm used
...more
Biblio Files
Jun 01, 2013 Biblio Files rated it really liked it
American history around 1800 is a blank spot for me. I have never spent much time on it and consequently, am fairly ignorant on the topic (among many others). But Paul Collins always tells a pretty good story, so I had to give Duel With the Devil a shot. And there was the promise of a murder mystery, another point in its favor.

The first part of the book has Collins setting the stage for the story, and he does it well, making the Manhattan of 1800 seem lively and yes, interesting. Aaron Burr and
...more
Leah Angstman
Aug 08, 2016 Leah Angstman rated it it was amazing
Some of the best and most fascinating books I've read in the past few years have been nonfiction, and this is one of them. Great research and a great look at the time period. The actual trial coverage is rather slim; the bulk of the book talks about atmosphere, environment, and set-up of the trial characters. That's the sort of stuff I love, so I was thrilled. It's light on actual courtroom documents, though; and it has a little speculation, although it's written rather neutrally, considering th ...more
Sheila
Nov 04, 2015 Sheila rated it it was amazing
Great scene-setting, my gosh, there was so much detail about the people and the place - New York is a character in any good book set there, and this even more so.

I picked this up over a year ago and then...never got around to it, cough...and then when I got re-invested in Alexander Hamilton thanks to the AMAZING musical/soundtrack (LISTEN TO IT) I remembered I had it. I really enjoyed the Hamilton & Burr relationship - we have dinner together but trash each other in the papers! We go to cou
...more
Jeanette
May 25, 2016 Jeanette rated it liked it
It's ok. To me the historical context and details of New York City circa 1800 and the general sensibilities within its 60,000 occupants were the most interesting portions of the book. The trial was a trial. And the eventual outcome in July 1804 was a waste.
Marley
Dec 11, 2014 Marley rated it it was amazing
History that reads like a novel. That must because Paul Collins is a professor of English, not an historian. (Not that historians can't write well. I'm an historian by training and I know a lot can.) Collins has taken a now obscure murder and the now forgotten legal partnership of longtime political enemies Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr to free the alleged killer, and turned it into a tour d' force of historical writing. And it's not only about the murder and trial, but about NYC and its lif ...more
Nina
Aug 02, 2016 Nina rated it it was amazing
I hadn't expected this bit of history to be a page-turner, but it was! I knew that Burr had shot Hamilton in a duel in 1804, but did not know that they had been co-counsel in a sensational murder case in NYC just four years before, despite the fact that they were bitter rivals even at the time. The author paints a terrific picture of NYC at the turn of the 19th century in addition to telling the court case in a suspenseful manner. This was in day when the concept of "reasonable doubt" was still ...more
Cara
Jul 21, 2016 Cara rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I enjoyed this history of an early American murder trial (1800), and, apparently, the first--or one of the first--trials where the stenographic record was reproduced in full. Collins tells the story well and does a nice job bringing out some of the personalities. I also appreciated the history lesson regarding Burr's business interest in the Manhattan Water Co., his machinations to create the Manhattan Bank (today, Chase-Manhattan Bank), and his own personal life at the time. Similarly, there wa ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 02, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Review title: No meddling kids--and he got away with it, too
Manhattan in 1800 was a small town, and there was one event then that everyone was talking about: the Elma Sands murder and trial. When the young single Quaker girl's body was found in the Manhattan Well dug for.a new city water supply, the young single carpenter boarding at her cousin's boarding house was suspected, arrested and tried for the murder. But Levi Weeks was defended by an all-stars team of lawyers: Republican party leader A
...more
Victoria
Jun 28, 2014 Victoria rated it really liked it
I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.

Elma Sands, a lovely young Quakeress, was thrown into the Manhattan Well in a meadow at the edge of New York City on December 22, 1799. When her body was found a couple of weeks later, the city went mad, calling for the blood of the young man alleged to be her suitor and accused of being her murderer. The story of America's "First Sensational Murder Mystery" is a gripping read, a quickly-moving narrative that not only pulls the re
...more
Jack Cheng
First off, I have to say I think Paul Collins is a master of non-fiction narrative.

Then, I have to admit, I found the beginning slow going, but by the end of this short book (just over 200 pages plus endnotes) so many elements were paying off that I really enjoyed it.

This is the story of the first sensational American murder. In 1799, Elma Sands' body was found in a well; Levi Weeks, a boarder in the rooming house where she lived was suspected. A mob was ready to lynch Weeks, but his brother was
...more
Caroline
Mar 25, 2015 Caroline rated it it was ok
The discovery of Elma Sands' body in a Manhattan well in December 1799 marked the start of perhaps the first murder-mystery in American history. The unsolved murder of a young, attractive Quaker girl; the new adversarial trial system, with its introduction of cross-examination and a real role for the defence lawyer; the recent invention of court transcription allowing a full and detailed account to be published; and the presence together at the defence table of two heavyweights of the era, Revol ...more
rosalita
Nov 14, 2015 rosalita rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery is a headline that is nearly longer than the story it has to tell. For all its length, the title is a bit misleading as to the overall subject of this historical nonfiction, as the actual murder trial is but a small fraction of Paul Collins’ otherwise well-researched and interesting work.

Collins does a very good job of giving the reader a sense of time and
...more
Janet Eshenroder
Feb 20, 2016 Janet Eshenroder rated it it was ok
Collins had not only done a lot of research for this book, but he had available an unusual 'quality' of period accounts of the trial and the people involved. The extra research, though it eventually circled back and showed some relevance to the story, slowed the reading. Was there a better way to work in this background info without continually stopping and starting the story flow? The trial really served as a loose thread to hold together a plethora of facts collected from period records.

The au
...more
Sara
Mar 26, 2016 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was remarkable. I picked it up because as a history major, Alexander Hamilton was my main academic focus. Naturally, I was drawn to the idea of him and Burr working together and though I did know about the case, I hadn't really read about it in detail. If you're wanting an education on Hamilton and Burr, this isn't exactly what you're looking for. While they are in it, are quoted in it, and play their roles, the book focuses in on the actual murder trial and those involved. Generally, ...more
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Paul Collins is a writer specializing in history, memoir, and unusual antiquarian literature. His nine books have been translated into eleven languages, and include Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (2003) and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars (2011).

A frequent contributor to the "Histories" column of New Scientist magazine,
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“Back then, Manhattan was the infant country” 0 likes
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