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Burr (Narratives of Empire #1)

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  6,082 Ratings  ·  417 Reviews
Gore Vidal's Narratives of Empire series spans the history of the United States from the Revolution to the post-World War II years. With their broad canvas and large cast of fictional and historical characters, the novels in this series present a panorama of the American political and imperial experience as interpreted by one of its most worldly, knowing, and ironic ...more
Paperback, 430 pages
Published February 15th 2000 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1973)
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Richard D. did anyone find the first person narrative confusing?

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I once read that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the erstwhile presidential candidate, said that once upon a time she had been a Democrat, even working for the election of Jimmy Carter. However, while riding on a train one day, she experienced a political conversion while reading Gore Vidal’s novel, "Burr."

According to Rep. Bachmann, she became so upset with the way Vidal depicted our Founding Fathers – mocking them, she said – that she dropped the book into her lap and said to herself, “I must b
Dec 07, 2013 Bill rated it it was amazing
'Burr' is the lead novel in Gore Vidal's seven-book series on U.S. history. It's not the first book he wrote in the series, but in terms of historical chronology, everything begins right here. If you've never read Vidal, there are other places you might want to begin ('Julian' is a marvelous novel, as is 'Messiah.' You can't really go wrong with Gore.) But if you're a fan of history and turned off by textbook drudgery (and occasional misinformation), 'Burr' opens one writer's look at American ...more
I knew next to nothing about US history when I began reading Gore Vidal's Burr. So, I was, and still am, in no position to assess the historical accuracy of the numerous events recorded in his fictional biography of Colonel Aaron Burr (1756-1836).

During the American Revolutionary War, Aaron Burr was involved in an expedition to attack the British forces in Quebec. Although this was not a success, it was during this campaign that Burr became known a military hero. He rubbed shoulders with George
Dec 23, 2012 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jonfaith by: Jeffrey Keeten
"Although Americans justify their self-interest in moral terms, their true interest is never itself moral. Yet, paradoxically, only Americans - a few, that is- ever try to be moral in politics."
-- Gore Vidal

Vidal takes full responsibility for his perjury. Okay he only admits to errors and anachronisms, but sides himself with Richard Nixon in the process. Burr is a wonderful tale, finding delight in skewering the reputations of the Founding Fathers and all the hypocrisy which didn't make its way
Dec 08, 2011 Sam rated it it was amazing
Re-reading actually. I loved this tale of our hapless 2nd Vice President so much I named my youngest son after him. I love Gore Vidal's writing and have read so many of his wonderful historical novels, bursting with history and personality. Possibly my all time favorite writer, though he has only written one scifi story.

I admire Aaron Burr more and more as I see how the insanity that is American politics continues to appall and astound. But it reminds me also of just how flawed and human were ou
Perry Whitford
Aug 18, 2016 Perry Whitford rated it really liked it
Aaron Burr is perhaps the most contentious of all American politicians. A contemporary of the founding fathers and a mover and shaker in the first years of the union, his name is now a byword for betrayal and devilry due to killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel and being brought to trial for suspected treason.

Who better than to re-tell history with Burr as the hero but Gore Vidal?

This is the fifth of the seven Narratives of Empire series that I have read and the first in the series chronologica
Christopher Carbone
Apr 14, 2009 Christopher Carbone rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who likes the villian
There has been no greater shadow in American History, no greater enigma than the US's 3rd Vice President, almost President, and near King of Louisiana, Aaron Burr. Mostly known for killing Fmr. Treasury Secretary and opposition party leader, Alexander Hamilton, Burr is also known, less so, for invading Louisiana shortly after it was purchased by the US, getting caught, tried for treason and beating every charge easily.

This ficticious look at Burr's history is a dramatic telling of the absurdity
Jul 24, 2012 Andrewh rated it really liked it
This is the first of Vidal's Narratives of Empire (though the second one he wrote in the series) and is the most enjoyable and scurrilous of all (though I've not yet read the follow-up 1876). Aaron Burr was a war hero, a Vice-President, and, infamously, killed Hamilton in a duel. He is here presented as an irresistible rogue, a gambler, brilliant lawyer, ladies man, and military genius, who was tried for treason for allegedly wanting to split off the Western states from the Union. All this is ...more
Jan 19, 2009 Marin rated it it was ok
I'm trying. I really am. My brother and SIL really loved this book, but I'm finding it irritating.

In all fairness, I'm stuck about 50 pages in and reluctant to continue.

I don't like any of the characters, and when that's the case, it's hard for me to like a book (or movie or play). I have to have someone to root for. The clerk/narrator is stupid and superfluous. Everybody is smug and droll to the point of Oscar Wilde.

Now, there are memoir portions of the book in which Aaron Burr relates, via let
A great read for rendering a satirical and jaundiced view of the Founding Fathers, with a focus on Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson. Vidal portrays Burr in third person from the perspective of an invented biographer interviewing his subject as an old man in the 1830's while inserting many long sections in first person from fictional memoirs. We get a nice account of Burr's role in Benedict Arnold's heroic Revolutionary War assault on Quebec City and fuel for a cynical vision of Washington as ...more
Apr 11, 2009 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
430 concise pages. Aaron Burr was vilified by Thomas Jefferson but this book tells us the story of the American revolution and early politics all the way to Martin Van Buren's presidency. Burr was critical of Washington and Jefferson and wasn't afraid to stand up for the division of power in government. It is interesting how much history is covered in one man's life. Vidal's handling is even handed and thorough.
Jun 30, 2008 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing
Vidal. That name says it all. Hey, I'm a poet? Geesssh! I loved him years ago when I read him. Think my father was reading this one, and like a lot of my early picks, I read it too. Also, read lots of my sisters books. They were a great help in getting my love for books going. But back to the books, the man . . . Want to learn about history in an interesting way? Read him!
Another found, another to read again. At twenty-one, I would have been spellbound by the drama surrounding Burr, and romanticized the era, being Canadian. Now with greater background and considerably more years beneath me, Burr by Gore Vidal would be a much different experience.
Aug 21, 2016 Tova rated it really liked it
Aaron Burr, sir. I think you are incredible. Review to come

Description: Burr is a portrait of perhaps the most complex and misunderstood of 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. Burr retains much of his political influence if not the respect of all. And he is determined to tell his own story. As his ama
Dec 20, 2013 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am guessing that Vidal wanted to do some sort of send up of our normally romantic images of the Founding Fathers and chose the least sympathetic of them with which to do it. And then achieved his goal.

My favourite moment in the novel occurs when Burr has gone for dinner to Monticello, and he and Jefferson are walking afterwards. Burr sees a young child, obviously Jefferson's grandson, precariously playing in a tree and says, "Your grandson is about to fall." At which Jefferson blushes and says
Jun 18, 2016 Myles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historish, literary
Like scandalous gossip about celebrities? This is the novel for you.

Burr is fiction, but I love a good story. Vidal's superbly researched novel brings Aaron Burr to life and this reader was willingly swept up into the romance of an anti-hero. Burr shrewdly picks apart the myths and legends surrounding the men who founded the United States, reveling in their flaws and, despite any cries of 'disrespect!', making me admire their achievements all the more. This country was created by contentious com
May 02, 2011 Tracie rated it liked it
I started to re-read Lincoln, then Sarah pointed out that Burr is actually the first book in the American Chronicle series, and it makes sense to read them in order, so let's read this instead.

I didn't like this anywhere near as much as I liked Lincoln, but it's still enjoyable, and Burr's a great character. But that's part of the problem, he seemed the whole time a lot more like a character in a novel to me than an actual historical figure. The fictional first person narrator annoyed me a lot,
Mar 12, 2011 Stacia rated it it was amazing
I'm not very far into this dense work of fiction, but it's my first Vidal novel and I am FLOORED by his style. It's not at all what I expected. Five or ten years ago it would have sickened me to read it because his writing is so damn good, but I'm over my own artistic hangups now and can enjoy it.

Done now. Although I got a tad bored at times (mainly due to my own ignorance of America's history), I cannot get over how much I loved this book. When I describe it to people who've never heard o
Jul 15, 2016 Maurya rated it it was ok
Hi - I DNF this book, I read 80+ pages. I found it difficult to follow, especially in comparison his book Lincoln, which I loved. I decided I would rather spend my time reading a book I am enjoying.

To me, this book does not flow well, seems to jump all over the place and is hard to follow. I had to go back and check (too often) to see who was speaking - was it the 'narrator', 'Burr' or others. In addition, it is not a story that tells all about Burr. It tells stories about a variety of others in
Sep 10, 2015 Evan rated it really liked it
Vidal wants it both ways, to be both an historian and a novelist. When I read this book upon its publication, it was enjoyable and impressive. I'm re-reading, and the seams show through more. His prose is able. But like many a history, the book loses power as the text long outlives the story's most dramatic moment. Vidal catches his subject's character and poetry much of the time. His portraits of others are sharp. In the end his Burr is very much like Vidal himself, a failed politician, living ...more
Apr 29, 2012 Jonathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you want to read about American history but don't want to read non-fiction then read this series of books, 'Narratives of Empire'. This is the first, deals with the War of Independence and the first 40 years of the 19th Century, through the experiences of Colonel Aaron Burr, one time Vice-President who took part in a duel and fatally wounded his opponent during his term in office, and was later accused of treason. Vidal always writes entertainingly, full of sly humour and often provocative ...more
This is the first book in Gore Vidal's American Chronicle series. I read the entire series a few years ago and really enjoyed it. However, Burr was my favorite in the series so I decided to re-read it. It follows Charles Schuyler who is a young author trying to write Aaron Burr's memoirs. (Schuyler or his descendents appear in every one of the American Chronicle books.)

Vidal has a gift for bringing boring dead guys to life. Vidal's Burr is a fascinating character and his interpretation of our na
Apr 11, 2014 Nooilforpacifists rated it it was amazing
One of the most enjoyable historical novels ever written. None of his other works, especially his "American series" (1876, Lincoln, etc.) measure up. Its genius is a historical inversion: the hero: Aaron Burr; the villain: Thomas Jefferson. Most who didn't go to the University of Virginia should be honest enough to admit that Vidal has caught the dark side of Jefferson--the starry-eyed philosophy that contrasted with the ruthless conduct of his politics. And, Vidal devises a plausible reason for ...more
Aug 04, 2013 Monica rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
I am not a fan of US colonial history, but I enjoyed this book. Vidal makes these historical figures very human and doesn't mind taking a jab or two at them. He also made me very sympathetic toward Aaron Burr and less so toward Thomas Jefferson. This is a first in his series of historical fiction focusing on the US that goes up to the 20th century. I enjoy it so much I periodically re-read it and took it with me to Mexico City when I was there doing research.
Jul 14, 2016 Micah rated it really liked it
Drags a bit in the last 100 pages or so, but still absolutely fantastic.
Sep 19, 2016 Linda rated it liked it
I wanted to like Gore Vidal as a writer so much more! I had an impression that he was quite literary, but that impression was quickly proven false once I started reading this novel. I was a surprised by how dull the story was: pretty straight forward retelling by Mr. Burr of his life to a young apprentice lawyer. Because, in fact, history tells us that Burr fought in battles along side Washington! He debated with the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton! He had numerous wives and ...more
Aug 16, 2015 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
High 4. Vidal proves himself once more a true master of historical narrative with this illuminating and gripping portrayal of the Founding Fathers of the American nation. Among this impressive cast of historical heavyweights, the author sets out to provide a compelling portrait of their contemporary, Aaron Burr, whose name has become synonymous with treason and murder. While Vidal treats his central character with a more balanced portrayal of a man of great presence and courage, he expertly ...more
Seth McGaw
Aug 17, 2008 Seth McGaw rated it really liked it
Actually more like 4 1/2 stars... certainly one of the most vivid depictions of early-19th century New York and Washington societies that I've had the opportunity to read. Apparently based on actual facts, characters, and occurrences, Vidal goes about setting the record straight in Aaron Burr's own (supposed) words with this historical fiction based during the presidential election of 1836, and told in historical snippets ranging from the early years of the American Revolution until Burr's trial ...more
May 27, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing

To appreciate this novel you have to know the issues surrounding Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson. I suggest reading Chernow's "Alexander Hamilton" and "Isenburg's Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr". Vidal put it all together 30 years before these biographies, that is without the advantage of new research and contemporary thinking. This novel also, notably, predates DNA and the confirmation of Jefferson's "bright" children.

Vidal's cleverly grafts his outlook and sensibility onto Burr. We will
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Eugene Luther Gore Vidal was an American writer known for his essays, novels, screenplays, and Broadway plays. He was also known for his patrician manner, Transatlantic accent, and witty aphorisms. Vidal came from a distinguished political lineage; his grandfather was the senator Thomas Gore, and he later became a relation (through marriage) to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Vidal ran for political office twi
More about Gore Vidal...

Other Books in the Series

Narratives of Empire (7 books)
  • Lincoln
  • 1876
  • Empire
  • Hollywood
  • Washington, D.C.
  • The Golden Age

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“Although Americans justify their self-interest in moral terms, their true interest is never itself moral.” 11 likes
“For the average American freedom of speech is simply the freedom to repeat what everyone else is saying and no more.” 7 likes
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