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Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  556 ratings  ·  101 reviews
This definitive biography of the revolutionary era villain overturns every myth and image we have of him

The narrative of America�s founding is filled with godlike geniuses�Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson�versus the villainous Aaron Burr. Generations have been told Burr was a betrayer�of Hamilton, of his country, of those who had nobler ideas. All untrue. He did no...more
Hardcover, 540 pages
Published May 10th 2007 by Viking Adult (first published January 1st 2007)
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A.J. Howard
Nancy Isenberg has a valid argument that Aaron Burr has been grossly misjudged by history. However, her restoration is tainted by her devotion to the man. Isenberg's Burr is a brilliant, progressive, selfless hero who deserves a spot on the pantheon of America's founders. His enemies were small, vainglorious, hypocrites who only served their own interest. She attacks other writers, such as Ron Chernow, for upholding the standard story. Isenberg may have a point, but I think the truth lies somewh...more
Meg
Spent a lot of this wanting to give Nancy Isenberg a hug. It's okay, Nancy, I would say to her. It's okay. I know all those people who wrote all those other books said mean things about Aaron Burr. I know. It's okay. But look! You have this opportunity here to tell me all about him in clear and precise language! And sometimes you totally are accomplishing that, and sometimes you are being awfully reactionary and shadowboxery. I did not write the lousy things about Aaron Burr, after all. I actual...more
Stuart
Yes, Aaron Burr was scheming a lot to invade Mexico and Florida, but the author makes the point that there was a lot of that going around. During Polk's presidency we did end up annexing Mexico. And Andrew Jackson went into Florida, creating the crisis that allowed us to buy it. Burr may have been just as interested in claiming Mexico or Florida for the US as setting up a new Republic. But there was no truth to the charge that he also was going to invade Washington and take over the US governmen...more
Carl Rollyson
"It is time to start over," contends Nancy Isenberg in her iconoclastic "Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr." Burr is, of course, infamous for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. But historians have also branded Burr a Machiavellian villain who schemed to deny Thomas Jefferson the presidency and most likely committed treason, even though he escaped conviction.

Ms. Isenberg faults historians and biographers for not examining Burr's papers — although many were lost, thus obscuring the man, sh...more
Doug DePew
Apr 30, 2011 Doug DePew rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in early US history
Recommended to Doug by: History Book Club
"Fallen Founder" by Nancy Isenberg is probably the first time anyone since the 19th century has seen the real Aaron Burr. He has become a parody and most historians ignore his important, nearly unique voice in the founding of our country. He was good looking, intelligent, and passionate. The book is very meticulously researched with massive notes in the back. It is well written and covers Burr's professional, political, and private life as completely as will probably ever be done. It provides a...more
Evan
If Nancy Isenberg's research, premise and conclusions are all correct, then Arron Burr is the most maligned man in American History. He's also the grandson of Jonathan Edwards...what a crazy small country we used to have!


Political history is written by political victors, and Aaron Burr had many successful political enemies, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. No wonder people thinks so badly of Burr today.
Ann Marie
This book says that the things we have all thought about Aaron Burr are wrong and shows why and how he got the reputation he did. I like the Aaron Burr she talks about. It is a bit difficult to read because she uses a lot of quotes from letters and they did write in a very different way than we do.

To describe my feelings about Aaron Burr I am going to use a quote from the author. "Burr was, in fact, the odd man out, but not because he lacked character. He was odd because he was the only founder...more
Tom Meyer
This was a very irritating biography.

To her credit, Isenberg is less credulous than other Burr biographers and generally brings a healthy level of skepticism to some of the more fantastic claims made about Burr. Her discussions of Burr's marriage and parenting of the younger Theodosia are also good.

Isenberg is significantly less successful in her treatment of Burr's politics. Though her description of Burr's political niche is excellent, her attempt to portray him as politically principled compl...more
Mardel Fehrenbach
I enjoyed this book. It was well written and fascinating. I admit that I have long been an admirer of Burr and also long been aware that he had his warts as did Hamilton and Jefferson. That, I suppose is one advantage of being the daughter of a historian who felt it was his duty to disabuse me of false impressions garnered from the simplistic views of history taught during my public school days.

That said, I am not a historian my nature or design but I do enjoy reading about history and I found t...more
Rick
This book was not worth the read. Although it wasn't long Isenberg provided a good level of detail, I continually felt like the author was writing about her secret love. Burr has been a 'his and a byword' in political circles and indeed he did great things although he is defined by his dual with Hamilton and as a result he doesn't get a fair shake from most historians. I felt like Isenberg was making up for this by leaning too far in support of Burr. She portrayed him as a victim not of his own...more
Josh Duggan
Not being an historian of any sort myself (I haven't taken a proper history class since my junior year of high school in 1996-'97), I have to admit that I am no authority on the American Revolution.

With that admittance out in the open, Nancy Isenberg's thoroughly researched 2007 biography of the controversial Aaron Burr is absolutely convincing in painting its portrait of a man who has been short-changed in the larger eye of history. Taking into account the hyper-partisan press, the Alexander Ha...more
Christopher Carbone
May 04, 2009 Christopher Carbone rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those Who Like Second Chances
This book is a very compelling guide to the life, personality, and times of Aaron Burr, the most mysterious and most vilified of the founding fathers. Isenberg's portrayal is both realistic and forgiving. At times, the author does seem to be apologizing for Burr's many historical idiosyncrasies, but overall the book does a great job in defining why Burr:

-Acted as he did during the election of 1800, the closest election in American history (there was a tie between Burr and Jefferson); how Burr di...more
Mary
It has not been too often in the history of our country that the Vice President of the United States kills the former Secretary of the Treasury and gets away with it. But then, rancorous as our current political scene might be, it barely holds a candle to the extreme partyism of the era when political parties - in this case the Federalists and the Democratic Republicans - first appeared. The truth is that the toxic enmity between the Vice President (Aaron Burr) and the former Secretary of the T...more
Christopher
How you approach a biography of one of the truly mysterious figures of America's Founding Era?

Well, if you're Nancy Isenberg, you make it clear to the reader in the Introduction that you are the first PROFESSIONAL historian to write a biography of Aaron Burr and that everything you've read about him is WRONG. How do we know this? Because this book was written by a PROFESSIONAL historian. And being written by a PROFESSIONAL historian, you know what's you're about to read is PROFESSIONALLY writte...more
Andres
Very interesting take on Aaron Burr, who most famously killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Most writings on Burr have been critical, and of course, written by his detractors.

The author of this book researches his life and gives us a more factual and unbiased view of Burr's life. She doesn't paint him as an angel, but neither is he the villain and traitor that the Jefferson and Hamilton crowd paint him out to be.

It's a shame that these types of books are rarely read by people nowadays. I'm a hug...more
Chris Yorgason
I learned a lot about Aaron Burr, which was why I bought the book. But I only give the book two stars because I felt the author tried way too hard to justify Burr's decisions. I felt like I was reading something written by his daughter or granddaughter and found it tiresome. I would have been happy just reading about Burr, the life he led, the decisions he made, etc., without the constant attacks on Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and other Founding Fathers. Further, the constant references to p...more
C Baker
This biography of Aaron Burr unsuccessfully tries to resurrect his sullied reputation. While as a biography it provides an excellent account of his life, its interpretation of his role and character in the founding era is utterly unconvincing. To give an idea of just how biased the biography is, its title "Fallen Founder" astounds me. While Burr was an officer during the Revolutionary War, seeing most of his action in Canada, he had no hand in the drafting of the Constitution. His primary role d...more
Iain
Aaron Burr is one of the most controversial characters in the founding generation of American revolutionaries. To say the third vice president who is most famous for shooting Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804 has his fair share of detractors would be a mighty understatement. Burr was a rogue character who rubbed many powerful people the wrong way but not not to be dismissed because of this. Nancy Isenberg views Burr as a man the was misunderstood in his time and perhaps made into a scapegoat...more
Flora
Maybe I'm coming at this from the wrong angle, but I've got a meh vibe about this book. This is an extremely sympathetic view of Aaron Burr, and that's fine, but it also all comes off as a bit too defensive. He was misunderstood. Nobody bothered to read his papers and get his side of the story. History really let him down. Look at what a great guy he was! And just look at the character of his detractors! The nerve of Jefferson, throwing him under the bus like that!

After a while it sounds like sh...more
Rick Hautala
At times a little too much about the politics and legal stuff, and not the real life ... you know, daily life. Still, though, a fascinating and unique take on a much-misunderstood man ... Really good stuff!
Gary
a very good resource, but the author discounts all prior study of burr in the introduction, and at times she comes off as infatuated with him.
Mike
This was a good book, and I learned a lot from it, but I still think Burr was a scoundrel and a rascal.
Rory O'Connell
I love rooting for the underdog. Honestly, there are two sides to every story. Read this book!
Craig J.
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg (2008)
Lauren Donoho
I had always assumed that Aaron Burr, the scoundrel who shot Alexander Hamilton, had just...quietly drunk himself to death, or something, after his disgraced exit from politics. When I learned that, in fact, he had been tried by the Jefferson administration for conspiracy to treason just a few years after leaving the Vice Presidency, I was totally fascinated. Nancy Isenberg's book tells a completely different story about Aaron Burr than the narrative I anticipated, but the truth (as usual) is so...more
Brian
Eisenberg presents a controversial look at the life of Aaron Burr in an attempt to resuscitate this founder's life and context in history. For many historians Aaron Burr is one of the great villains of the revolution behind Benedict Arnold and is a great enigma due to the lack of documents that survive about the man's life. He was the target of not only Hamilton but the Republicans making him the most hated politician in early America. He never appears to have developed his own splinter party in...more
Preston
All school-children are taught the scandalous story of Aaron Burr. He was a vicious opportunist who attempted to ruin the grand plans of our esteemed founding fathers. He was licentious in his personal conduct and a corrupter of youth. He had no core principles and would go to any lengths -or depths- to win a political battle. Eventually, he wrongly shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the revered American statesman, in a duel. Fleeing to Europe to escape punishment for his crime, he returned to...more
Kris Fernandez-everett
There's always a need for revisionist history, if only to play the role of devil's advocate and keep us honest in our assessment of people and events in time. However, what there is never a need for -- and is always a danger in biographical writing -- is an apologia. It's almost cliche that it's impossible not to fall in love with the object of your biography -- and yet, the author has fallen very far foul of this very fact. I love the idea that perhaps Aaron Burr wasn't all about sleeping with...more
Christine
I was concerned when I first started reading this that the author was going to try so hard to overturn our current view of Burr as villain and scoundrel that she was just going to push it too far. I was pleasantly surprised. Isenberg presents Burr as he was--a person with both flaws and redeeming qualities, one who made some brilliant decisions and some monumental mistakes. Aaron Burr emerges from this work as a fully formed personality, instead of a one-dimensional cartoon character. In additio...more
Evan Bolick
First off, Aaron Burr is a fascinating guy. He rose from the middle class, served as a Revolutionary War General, became Vice President, shot and killed the man on the $20 bill, attempted to invade Mexico, was on trial for treason, subsequently claimed British citizen, was exiled Scandanavia, and then returned to the U.S. to resume his law practice until he died. Burr is probably a man who has received undeservedly poor treatment from historians as he was an enemy of both Hamilton and Jefferson....more
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