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Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  992 Ratings  ·  154 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 geniusesFranklin, Washington, Adams, Jeffersonversus the villainous Aaron Burr. Generations have been told Burr was a betrayerof Hamilton, of his country, of those who had nobler ideas. All untrue. He did not t
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
Jul 26, 2011 Meg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tom Meyer
Jul 23, 2016 Tom Meyer rated it it was ok
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 him. 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 comple
Carl Rollyson
Jun 21, 2016 Carl Rollyson rated it it was amazing
"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
Jun 09, 2008 Stuart rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
David Eppenstein
In the course of my readings of the early history of our country the name of Aaron Burr has popped up several times. I admit that prior to reading this book I didn't know much about this man other than what most others knew. I knew that he almost stole the presidency from Jefferson in 1800 and that he killed Hamilton in a duel. I believed, from my reading, that he had been something of a vain political opportunist and a scoundrel. I recently ran across his name again and decided that I had to kn ...more
Mark Desrosiers
Jan 04, 2015 Mark Desrosiers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, history
One of the most interesting -- and overlooked -- aspects of Aaron Burr's life is his deep and abiding friendship with philosopher Jeremy Bentham -- an intellectual kinship that led to Burr lodging in Bentham's London residence, the "Bird-Cage", after Burr's public disgrace and legal exoneration in 1807. Hell, Burr even crawled through Bentham's attic to retrieve and read some manuscripts, such was his interest in the utilitarian's work and thought.

Burr's lodging with Bentham is a perfect window
David Longo
Jun 13, 2016 David Longo rated it it was ok
Only about one year ago I logged onto Goodreads. So occasionally I go back and write a review of something I read many years earlier. This is the case with "Fallen Founder" by Nancy Isenberg.

Overall, I did not enjoy this book. I found Isenberg's take on Aaron Burr having been misjudged by historians rather incredulous. I have read countless books on the Revolutionary Era, the Founding Fathers, the duel between Burr and Hamilton, three separate biographies on the man who died as a result of said
Nov 17, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it
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
Andrew Murch
Mar 23, 2016 Andrew Murch rated it did not like it
Aaron Burr is often seen as the villain of the founding generation. Most people don't realize that the man who killed fellow founder Alexander Hamilton in a duel was also the grandson of famed preacher Jonathan Edwards, as well as the 3rd Vice President of the United States. If things fell a little differently in the election of 1800, Burr's name would have forever been cemented among the legacy of the founding generation of Presidents.

Isenberg seeks to rescue Burr's reputation, laying out a ca
Doug DePew
Apr 30, 2011 Doug DePew rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 12, 2009 E.M. rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 16, 2013 Christopher rated it liked it
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
Josh Duggan
Dec 02, 2011 Josh Duggan rated it really liked it
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
Christopher Carbone
May 04, 2009 Christopher Carbone rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 31, 2014 Mr rated it liked it
What a butthead, that Aaron Burr! Fellow founders Adams, Washington, Madison, Jefferson and Hamilton (whom he fatally shot in the hip in that infamous 1804 duel) could not abide him and never trusted him a bit. Nevertheless, he grumpily served as Jefferson’s first vice-president following the messy & corrupt 1800 national election. After a crazy separatist adventure out West, Burr stands trial for treason in 1807 and is acquitted--except in the court of public opinion, where his sexual mores ...more
Ann Marie
Jan 30, 2012 Ann Marie rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Oct 05, 2008 Rick rated it it was ok
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
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
Nov 20, 2007 Andres rated it really liked it
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
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
Nov 13, 2015 Eschargot rated it really liked it
A second reading of this book - first read it back in 2007. Shows the depths people in power will stoop to in order to destroy a potential rival. Well written book by Nancy Isenberg as she tries to revive the fortunes of a much maligned but popular and charismatic founder. Hounded by Hamilton and relentlessly persecuted by President Jefferson - he was probably one of the first victims of nasty press rumor and outrageous slander in early US history. Though he outlived all his rivals - he left ver ...more
Rick Hautala
Sep 28, 2012 Rick Hautala rated it really liked it
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!
Oct 30, 2010 Gary rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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.
Craig Bolton
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg (2008)
Rory O'Connell
Apr 17, 2011 Rory O'Connell rated it really liked it
I love rooting for the underdog. Honestly, there are two sides to every story. Read this book!
Feisty Harriet
Aaron Burr is infamous and most of us only kind of know why. I mean, yes, he killed Hamilton, was a womanizer (WHAT OF THE REVOLUTIONARY LEADERS WASN'T!?) and was Vice Pres to Jefferson, and he was eventually tried for treason, but...why? Isenberg attempts to redefine Burr's life and put it back in a positive light, however she falls short because it seems she is so obsessed with him she can't give space to his negative qualities. (Also? Anyone who thinks the Founding Father's were without fault ...more
Michael A
Aug 11, 2015 Michael A rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
I usually do my best to avoid bad books, but here I accidentally ran across one and I recommend that you stay away.

The only thing I agree with the biographer about is that Aaron Burr deserves a fresh, balanced treatment -- he is indeed so poorly and, at times, so one-sidedly mentioned in other books that this is not fair to him and to us as readers of popular history books.

But I have to agree with some of the other lower-star reviewers here -- there is just too much subjectivity and idiosyncrati
Nov 14, 2016 Sarah rated it it was ok
This biography of Burr reads like a fan girl's defense of her favorite boy band. I appreciate that Burr has been the victim of character assassination since he lived, but Isenberg takes the entire opposite approach, without any semblance of fair-mindedness. Often, she says something is "clearly" so, without offering the evidence that led to the assumption. And she HATES Hamilton. Unreasonably. Unwaveringly. It does not lend any authority to her already weak assumptions. It really is too bad, bec ...more
Oct 25, 2016 Caleb rated it really liked it
For all you Hamilton fanatics out there, this is a must-read. It's amazing how the image that persists of Aaron Burr even today is still shaped by the Hamiltonian's vitriol from the early 1800s. The real Burr was not the Burr of Broadway; he was not the scheming villain throwing tantrums for not being "in the room where it happened." Read the book. It will help calibrate your perception not only of Burr, but of Hamilton as well. Thanks, Professor Isenberg for standing up to the mainstream histor ...more
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Nancy Isenberg is the author of New York Times bestseller White Trash, and Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in Biography and won the Oklahoma Book Award for best book in Nonfiction. She is the coauthor, with Andrew Burstein, of Madison and Jefferson. She is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at LSU, and writes regularly for S ...more
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“What separates history from myth is that history takes in the whole picture, whereas myth averts our eyes from the truth when it turns men into heroes and gods.” 1 likes
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