Nancy Isenberg has a valid argument that Aaron Burr has been grossly misjudged by history. However, her restoration is tainted by her devotion to theNancy 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 somewhere between Chernow's version and her own version of history.
At some point, I realized that I no longer trusted the credibility of Isenberg's version of the facts. This started when she described the Jay Treaty. The Jay Treaty was widely criticized at the time but the majority of recent scholars have recognized the pragmatism behind it. The young republic had to make certain tough concessions to Great Britain but it was worth it in the end. Eventually, a large segment of the contemporary American populace recognized the benefits of the treaty, and the Jeffersonians were actually hurt by their continued denunciation of it. Isenberg does not attempt to delve into any sort of nuance whatsoever. Instead, she accepts Jeffersonian propoganda for what it is, using it to highlight Burr as a hero of the masses, and his opponents as craven elites. This type of sloppy history persists throughout the book. Isenberg's Federalists are villains, except when they are supporting Burr. Whenever Burr dirties his hands he is being a rational, whenever his opponents do they are playing dirty politics.
Fallen Founder seems at times to be more devoted to restoring Burr's reputation than being solid history. For example, Burr went from being a consensus Republican vice presidential candidate in 1800 to being blacklisted completely and humiliated in the New York Governor's race in 1804. There must be more to this than Isenberg's attribution of scheming of Dewitt Clinton and Thomas Jefferson. She also whitewashes Burr's activities in the western frontier that led to his treason trial. While his actions may not have justified the government's prosecution, he was definitely up to something not completely legal and legitimate. Isenberg paints Burr as a great progressive, years ahead of his time in woman's rights, but she only glosses over the fact that he was a slave-owner for the majority of his life. Sure, many of the founders owned slaves but their modern biographers don't attempt to make them out to be modern defenders of liberty.
Isenberg also never really proved that Burr belongs with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton and others in any supposed pantheon. Burr served with decent distinction in the Revolutionary War but played no part in the debate over the Constitution. Burr seems to be no more or less principled than any other politician in that era. Like most politicians, he seemed to let his principles fluctuate with the times. His greatest accomplishments, other than his treason acquittal and his duel with Hamilton, seem to be his coalition building efforts, which invite comparisons with Martin Van Buren. The argument could be made that, if anything, Burr was a politician ahead of his time and a less successful Van Buren.
There are some joys in the book. If condition yourself to look past some of Isenberg's apparent biases, there is some interesting stuff, particularly about 1790s New York politics. But Isenberg lets her affinity for her subject get in the way of solid history. It really is a shame, because Burr's story at least deserves a balanced, objective telling. ...more
The Village Green Preservation Society is a very English album people say. It makes sense. Although the themes of small-town living and nostalgia forThe Village Green Preservation Society is a very English album people say. It makes sense. Although the themes of small-town living and nostalgia for past times are universal themes, the album exudes a certain sense of Englishness. Similarly, for some reason, I think of Fitzgerald's writing as somehow viscerally American. I can't think of another novelist who is so intertwined in his or her American identity. Faulkner writes about the American South, Bellow and Roth write about the Jewish-American experience, ect. ect. Perhaps it is a product of his Midwestern background but the Fitzgerald I've read all exudes a certain sense of American-ness. Mark Twain does this too, but a 19th century American-ness as opposed to Fitzgerald's modern strain.
I think this is why I enjoyed this novel as much as I did. Sure, This Side of Paradise is sometimes reminiscent of American versions of superior foreign films. It is obvious that Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man greatly influenced this book. In fact, you could argue that Amory Blaine is a richer, less-religious, American, Stephen Daedleus. Also some of this book is kind of outdated. My argument that Fitzgerald writes from an overall American perspective is weakened by the fact that all the characters are upper class WASPs.
I'm alright with this though. Fitzgerald's ruminations on the meaning of American identity are still surprisingly insightful. ...more
After reading On the Road last year I created a 'guilty disappointment' shelf. Guilty disappointments, according to me, involve the similar feelings oAfter reading On the Road last year I created a 'guilty disappointment' shelf. Guilty disappointments, according to me, involve the similar feelings of shame involved in indulging a guilty pleasure. It all involves not living up to a arbitrary and self-imposed standard. With a guilty pleasure, at least you get to enjoy the second half of the term. Yeah, you may be infringing on some expectation of personal taste by watching American Ninja Warrior or buying tickets to the new Jerry Bruckheimer explosion-fest, or hesitating to change the dial when that teen-pop song you hate, but secretly like comes on, but at least there is some kind of enjoyment going on. The only things from keeping guilty pleasures from being just plain pleasures are somewhat ridiculous notions of our perceived integrity. I mean, maybe there is a scenario out there where Hall & Oates murdered someone's family but they can't help themselves from singing along whenever they hear "Kiss on My List," but guilty pleasures are in reality somewhat silly and wholly artificial.
A guilty disappointment, while perhaps equally artificial, is more sinister. That's because not only are you feeling guilty, you are actually deriving no o r little enjoyment from the activity that is causing you guilt. Now this is the more familiar and crushing sense of Irish Catholic guilt I'm used to! Guilty disappointments have you constantly thinking "Maybe I'm missing something, maybe I lack the patience, maybe I'm not smart enough, Oh Christ! I'm just a dull speck of oblivion who will never accomplish anything, attain any sort of happiness, and when I die, I'll either vanish into nothingness or burn in hell for the rest of eternity because I masturbated." Uh, sorry, bit of a tangent there.
Under the Volcano might now be my quintessential guilty disappointment. Yet, I still can't give any less than three stars. This isn't out of reverence for one of the sacred cows of 20th century literature.* Reading Under the Volcano was a similar experience to reading On the Road, and I didn't hesitate to slap one star on the latter. What separates Lowry from Keroauc is that, and this is going to sound ridiculously arrogant but bear with me, Under the Volcano is actually quite good. I don't mean to denigrate Keroauc fans by saying that. While I personally didn't get anything out of On the Road**, I wouldn't dare quibble with it's place on whatever hypothetical pantheon you want to put it on. Sure, it's not my cup of tea, but I also don't think Jefferson wasn't that great of a president but that doesn't mean we should take a chisel to Mount Rushmore.*** Now, Under the Volcano was a somewhat tortuous reading experience for me. I moved along this book at a glacial pace. Not once did I feel any sense of anticipation in picking up the book. Not once did I get swept up in the story, or the prose, and knock off 50 pages in a sitting. Even when the going was good, and I was in a sort of flow, I had to continuously fight off urges to play with my iPad.**** This lack of engagement didn't keep me from appreciating the novels brilliance. It bored the tears out of me, but the whole time I was thinking this is really good. The best analogy I can think of is that it's like listening to Terry Riley's In C on loop for several hours; while it's great, and would dismiss it, at some point could really go for a little Watch the Throne.
So, if you're wondering, you absolutely should read Under the Volcano. It's one of the acknowledged great books of the 20th century for a reason, it doesn't read like a relic of past ages, and Lowry's prose can put you in revelries of aesthetic bliss. I feel no hesitation in making any of the previous claims, but I can't really recommend the book, and kinda hated reading it.
* Well, maybe it is, a little.
** Outside of a better understanding of the historical development of the form. Kind of like how listening to Daydream Nation gives you a better understanding of In Utero
*** However, Reagan National Airport is absolute horseshit. It was already named after a perfectly good president.
**** An example of the distractions I faced was an inclination to picture the Consul as the Cookie Monster, beer as gingerbread men, tequila as sugar cookies, mescal as chocolate chips ect....more