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Burr

(Narratives of Empire #1)

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  7,859 ratings  ·  572 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 observ ...more
Paperback, First BallantineBooks Edition: September 1982, 564 pages
Published August 12th 1982 by Ballantine Books (first published 1973)
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Susie Yes, I do. I also am having a problem with his opinion about "The Father of Our Country" Perhaps I have just not read a dissenting opinion of him, are…moreYes, I do. I also am having a problem with his opinion about "The Father of Our Country" Perhaps I have just not read a dissenting opinion of him, are there others who felt that way?(less)
Phillip Always been a Hamiltonian. Though, I don't think I'm THAT elite, but ... certainly not the idealized yeoman farmer of Jefferson's view. And what does…moreAlways been a Hamiltonian. Though, I don't think I'm THAT elite, but ... certainly not the idealized yeoman farmer of Jefferson's view. And what does meaning a Burrite mean? It's hard to know what he stands for, other than his own advancement and always being right. Not that Hamilton doesn't have those qualities, but usually they have a purpose of building up the country. Not sure what firm principal Burr holds onto.(less)
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Jeffrey Keeten
”In the half-light of the cemetery, Burr did resemble the devil--assuming that the devil is no more than five foot six (an inch shorter than I), slender, with tiny feet (hooves?), high forehead (in the fading light I imagine vestigial horns), bald in front with hair piled high on his head, powdered absently in the old style, and held in place with a shell comb. Behind him is a monument to the man he murdered.”

 photo Aaron20Burr_zpsi4qwwjhl.jpg
Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating figures in American history. He cuts his own swath, leaving a wake behind him that rocks the tender foundations of this newly minted country. He is honorable and dishonorable in equal measure. He is a highly skilled lawyer (he will need those skills to defend himself) and an accomplished politician. Today, he is not as well known as Benedict Arnold, but in a series of events that are more lurid than the plot of a dime novel, he nearly supersedes Arnold as the most loathed man in America.

It is hard to believe that this controversial figure was nearly the third President of the United States. In 1800, one of those pivotal years in politics, Burr makes a deal with Thomas Jefferson to allow him to be president if he insures that Burr will be made vice president. Burr can bring the key New York votes to Jefferson. Interestingly enough, in the first ballot, they tie 73-73. With the way we venerate Jefferson (with a few reservations about his association with Sally Hemings), it is interesting to think about how close he comes to NOT being the third President of the United States. Really only because Burr upheld his promise, one of those times when Burr was maybe too honorable, did Jefferson achieve his ambition (though he insists in true Cincinnatus style that he never desired the Presidency).

The Aaron Burr of this story is really a surrogate for the wicked wit of Gore Vidal. I’d like to think that Burr was exactly how Vidal portrayed, the enigma of charm and enticing, irreverent behavior. His observations on the founding fathers is frankly hilarious. He describes George Washington’s ”womanly hips” and other aspects of his character that are even less flattering. What did he think of Jefferson? ”Meanwhile, I presided over the Senate. I also dined quite frequently with the President who continued to delight and fascinate me with his conversation, not to mention his wonderful malice which was positively Shakespearean in its variety.”

Or how about a description of an older Jefferson after two terms in the presidency.

”The smile was a swift baring of yellow teeth; the lips were gray tending to blue where most men are pink or red. I suppose it was the winter season that made him look like the last ashes of a once-fierce fire---soft, fine, white, no trace remaining of the foxy, red-haired man he had been save for the tarnished bronze of freckles.”

Ahh, yes, Mr. Vidal, you can most definitely write.

This story is told through the eyes of Charles Schuyler (not of the prominent New York Dutch family, unfortunately), a young writer who has been granted access to Burr because Burr has taken a shine to him. We learn in the later chapters exactly why Burr was so forthcoming with the young lad. Charles is there to listen to the Burr stories, write them down, and organize them into some semblance of a biography. Burr cautions the reader, or is that Vidal? ”My side of the story is not, necessarily, the accurate one. But you flatter me. And I like that!” Burr is in his 70s and has weathered more than his share of scandals. He is more interested in not being forgotten than he is in being venerated. Bad press will work as well or better than good press. Even on the social front, he is rather debonair about potential impropriety. ”Whenever a woman does me the honour of saying that I am father to her child, I gracefully acknowledge the compliment and disguise any suspicion that I might have to the contrary.”

A true gentleman, and yet; somehow still a cad!!!

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I love this badass statue of Aaron Burr at the Museum of American Finance.

Vidal explores his growing conflict with Alexander Hamilton, which escalates under the spidery web of insinuations that Jefferson glibly whispers in the ears of those around him. Burr is defined by this brief moment in time, involving two pistol shots, leaving one mortally wounded and immortalized and the other disreputed and, in many measures, driven to more desperate acts when he finds himself on the run out West. Those actions lead to the term “treason” being associated with him, but really it is more about making him pay for the death of Hamilton.

Vidal also explores the spurious comments that were made about President Martin Van Buren’s parentage. Politics have certainly reached a new low with our most recent election, but have no delusions; there was mud slinging, eye gouging, malicious slander, ankle biting, and generally unseemly behavior from the very beginning of our country.

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Gore Vidal looking very dapper in 1972.


Vidal takes us behind the scenes and shows us a more tarnished view of the Founding Fathers. At times this book is irreverent, but under the guise of Burr’s memories, one does wonder if this isn’t closer to the truth than the idealized version of history we are spoon fed with the American flag draped over our shoulders and the Statue of Liberty sitting rather provocatively in our laps.

I chuckled. I giggled. I gasped. The book is serious though. I don’t want to leave people with the impression that it is farcical or a spoof. Vidal does his research. He considered adding the long list of sources that he read and consulted to write this book for he wanted to stay out of the range of the rabid politicos who would not necessarily appreciate his interpretations of history. He elected to let them say what they will in true Aaron Burr fashion. Highly Recommended to those that want to experience an alternative view of our venerated Founders.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
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Howard
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
...more
Paul Bryant
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned, novels
- Oh, Gore Vidal? I thought he was a hairdresser.

- No, that's Vidal Sassoon.

- That sounds wrong. Vidal Sassoon was a poet. I think he drove an ambulance and collected arms and legs.

- You're thinking of Siegfried Sassoon. Actually, I may have mixed him up with Wagner. Didn't he marry someone called Siegfried? Is that a woman's name in Germany? Doesn't sound like one.

- Oh yes, I remember now, Wagner was one of the top Nazis. He was the guy who parachuted into E
...more
Bill
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'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 hi ...more
Dan
Dec 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed 'Julian' which was written by Vidal about the most consequential of the last Roman emperors. I wholeheartedly loved Vidal’s non-fiction compilation 'Essays on America' that won the Pulitzer and displayed the wit and precision of arguably the best essayist of our modern era. However I did not love 'Burr' the novel nearly as much.

'Burr', published in 1973, was a very popular historical fictional novel. Aaron Burr, the central character, was a minor revolutionary hero, first rate politic
...more
Cinda
It's the first novel I've read by Gore Vidal; an enthralling alternative view for Hamilton fans. History is truly a network of stories told from different points of view. Great fun!
Ned
Nov 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh my, this was brilliant and entertaining. I needed to know about Aaron Burr and the history of our nation, and this was a riveting expose of the people, the petty politics, the smells and sins of our nation’s creators. It was also my first by Vidal, and will read many more if I have that much time. The plot was of the type that works well for me, a young man on a mysterious journey to uncover the enigmatic (and magnetic) statesman who was nearly president. Burr’s intellect and talent for gover ...more
Adam
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
...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
What I knew about Aaron Burr was that in a duel he shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury and pictured on the $10 bill. That is a pitiful amount of knowledge and if I had ever been told more about Burr, it is in that part of the brain marked "irretrievable." For pete's sake, Elizabeth, Burr was Vice President of the United States. Further, the electoral votes in the 1800 election were tied between Jefferson and Burr and the election was decided by the House of Repres ...more
Jonfaith
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
DeB MaRtEnS
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.
Christopher Carbone
Apr 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Sam
Jul 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 h
...more
Perry Whitford
May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 chronologically, c
...more
Michael
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
Henry
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Did you know that George Washington lost most of his battles as a General...or that he had a big butt? These background asides make Vidal's "Burr" a fascinating read. Recommended!
Tracie
Apr 10, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 annoye
...more
Andrewh
Mar 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 bu ...more
Marin
Jan 19, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Nooilforpacifists
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
Jeffrey
Jun 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Hadrian
Aug 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting tale about one of American history's most conflicting figures. The stories and intrigues about Burr are almost too fantastical to believe, but a surprising amount of them are based on historical fact.
Quo
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers interested in the American Revolution &/or the Hamilton/Burr controversy...
Shelves: reviewed
Near the beginning of Burr by Gore Vidal, Aaron Burr is narrating his life & times to Charles Schuyler & suggests that he "has a lingering desire to tell the true story of the Revolution before it is too late." Beyond that & while speaking of himself, Burr declares: "he is a labyrinth". Most are familiar with "The Duel" that had Aaron Burr strike down Alexander Hamilton with whom he'd had a long-running feud, establishing Burr as an arch-villain within the shadows of American history but ...more
Jenni V.
Jan 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was highly recommended by my dad as something he's read "cover to cover multiple times". So I went into it both looking forward to reading the book and also getting to see another side of my dad. He's passed books on to me before but there's something special about reading a book that someone you love loves and imagining their take on it and what exactly makes them react so strongly to it.

Okay, putting my psychology degree away for the rest of the review before I get comple
...more
Mark
Feb 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783. Revisionism and mythologizing about it began practically the next day. Some stories are so deeply embedded into our national subconsciousness that any attempt at telling a "true" version is likely to be met with utter disbelief if not derision.

Everyone believes they know the story of Aaron Burr. What they know basically are three things: one, he was Thomas Jefferson's first term vice president; two, while VP he challenged Alexander Hami
...more
Bettie


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
...more
E.
Nov 12, 2012 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 blus
...more
Nate
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unbelievable from start to finish! Aaron Burr, remembered in history primarily for killing Alexander Hamilton has a rich history that spans the revolutionary war all the through the Andrew Jackson presidency. All of these characters, especially Thomas Jefferson, are brought to light through Burr's perspective. Gore does an incredible job of separating his own politics and how he views these men, as he mentions in the afterward, from how Burr viewed them. This historical novel (not a biography) i ...more
Andrew
Apr 07, 2009 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.
Tova
Aug 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aaron Burr, sir. I think you are incredible. Review to come
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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 politica
...more

Other books in the series

Narratives of Empire (7 books)
  • Lincoln
  • 1876
  • Empire
  • Hollywood
  • Washington, D.C.
  • The Golden Age
“Although Americans justify their self-interest in moral terms, their true interest is never itself moral.” 15 likes
“For the average American freedom of speech is simply the freedom to repeat what everyone else is saying and no more.” 15 likes
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