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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 observers.

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 amanuensis, he chooses Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, a young New York City journalist, and together they explore both Burr's past and the continuing political intrigues of the still young United States.

430 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 1973

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About the author

Gore Vidal

209 books1,650 followers
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 twice and was a longtime political critic. He was a lifelong isolationist Democrat. As well known for his essays as his novels, Vidal wrote for The Nation, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The New York Review of Books and Esquire.

Through his essays and media appearances, Vidal was a long time critic of American foreign policy. In addition to this, he characterised the United States as a decaying empire from the 1980s onwards. Additionally he was known for his well publicized spats with such figures as Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Truman Capote.

Vidal's novels fell into two distinct camps: social and historical. His best known social novel was Myra Breckinridge; his best known historical novels included Julian, Burr and Lincoln. His third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), outraged conservative critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality.

At the time of his death he was the last of a generation of American writers who had served during World War II, including J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller. Perhaps best remembered for his caustic wit, he referred to himself as a "gentleman bitch" and has been described as the 20th century's answer to Oscar Wilde

Also used the pseudonym Edgar Box.

Gore Vidal é um dos nomes centrais na história da literatura americana pós-Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Nascido em 1925, em Nova Iorque, estudou na Academia de Phillips Exeter (Estado de New Hampshire). O seu primeiro romance, Williwaw (1946), era uma história da guerra claramente influenciada pelo estilo de Hemingway. Embora grande parte da sua obra tenha a ver com o século XX americano, Vidal debruçou-se várias vezes sobre épocas recuadas, como, por exemplo, em A Search for the King (1950), Juliano (1964) e Creation (1981).

Entre os seus temas de eleição está o mundo do cinema e, mais concretamente, os bastidores de Hollywood, que ele desmonta de forma satírica e implacável em títulos como Myra Breckinridge (1968), Myron (1975) e Duluth (1983).

Senhor de um estilo exuberante, multifacetado e sempre surpreendente, publicou, em 1995, a autobiografia Palimpsest: A Memoir. As obras 'O Instituto Smithsonian' e 'A Idade do Ouro' encontram-se traduzidas em português.

Neto do senador Thomas Gore, enteado do padrasto de Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, primo distante de Al Gore, Gore Vidal sempre se revelou um espelho crítico das grandezas e misérias dos EUA.

Faleceu a 31 de julho de 2012, aos 86 anos, na sua casa em Hollywood, vítima de pneumonia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 780 reviews
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 2 books247k followers
June 28, 2020
”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
Profile Image for Howard.
325 reviews227 followers
December 16, 2020
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 onto her lap and said to herself, “I must be a Republican.”

I have owned two copies of that novel for years, and though I have read all of Vidal’s other historical novels, somehow I had never gotten around to reading this one. But after reading how it had exerted such a great impact on Rep. Bachmann’s life (and she didn't even finish the book!), I decided that I had to read it – and right away. After all, it might change my life, too.

And now I have read it.

If I had the opportunity to discuss the book with her, I would try to make the following points:

1). The author is the late Gore Vidal. He always went over the top in everything he said and everything he wrote, fiction or nonfiction. Always provocative, he was very much prone to exaggeration, even when his point was a valid one.

2). The book is written from the viewpoint of Aaron Burr. The man was a self-promoting scalawag. While he was vice-president of the United States, he shot and killed the very first secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel. President Thomas Jefferson later accused him of treason against the United States. He was prosecuted by the federal government, but was acquitted.

Since the book tells the story from Burr’s viewpoint and presents his version of these events, it should come as no surprise that it places him in the best possible light and Hamilton and Jefferson in the worst possible lights. (Vidal even admitted in the afterword that he had a higher opinion of Jefferson than Burr did, and a lower opinion of Andrew Jackson.)

3). The book is a work of fiction – not history.

I am sorry to report that after reading this book, I have experienced no political conversion, no epiphany, and have reached no life-altering conclusions. None. Not yet.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,178 reviews9,226 followers
March 3, 2019
- 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 England to assassinate Churchill but they caught him and he wrote operas in jail.

- You sure about that?

- Well, you can google it.

- Oh no, I believe you. I know you like reading about history.


Everybody pretty much loves Burr but I found my desire to know the real truth about the American Revolutionary period died a little bit on every page and I parachuted out of this big old book even before p 100. You can tell you ain't into it when you'd rather wash the dishes by hand than pick it up again. It was beginning to destroy my desire to read and that cannot be tolerated.

I'm not sayin this is a bad novel nor nothing like that. It wasn't bad, it was just kind of blahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Profile Image for Bill.
10 reviews
March 11, 2013
'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 history without all the usual hagiographic nonsense. The founders are not all here, but those whom Vidal uses in the narrative are treated as real humans, in all their flaws and missteps. This is history with a personality. (Not to mention Vidal is just a natural novelist, a man of letters who writes effortlessly.)

The other six books, in order:

'Lincoln' (acclaimed as the best novel in the series, and Pres. Lincoln is fully fleshed and a wonderful character)

'1876' (Highlights the corruption of American politics with a stolen election at the center of the narrative)

'Empire' (A titanic battle between Teddy Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst, and the media's role in the creation of political legacy, and of history)

'Hollywood' (How the movies became tools for telling Americans how to think and what to do)

'Washington D.C.' (The first novel written, it concerns FDR's rise to American Caesar-ship)

'The Golden Age' (The late FDR years and the creation of the Cold War at the end of the 1940s)
Profile Image for Dan.
1,076 reviews52 followers
December 22, 2018
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 politician, our third vice president, Alexander Hamilton’s assassin in America’s most famous duel, arrested for treason (later acquitted) for a conspiracy to start war with Spain near modern day Texas, a charmer, a cad, a father of many illegitimate children and someone who fostered many lasting relationships with many influential people in New York.

One would be hard pressed to find many American historical characters from whom so much material could be drawn. Gore Vidal certainly thought Burr a fascinating character and conducted many years of research in penning this novel. This work intersperses Burr’s memoirs, nearly twenty of them, with a real time narrative about an aging Burr composed by a fictional journalist Charles Schuyler. Vidal, through Schuyler, portrays Burr as charming, cheeky and a bit of a benevolent rogue.

So perhaps not a great read for me but not awful either. Unlike 'Julian' the Burr narrative timeline bounced around a lot, between present-day 1830’s and earlier interesting events in Burr’s life. While Vidal’s writing is crisp as usual, I just didn’t find the story with all of the manufactured dialogue of Burr’s final three years very interesting. I think the novel would have been much, much better focusing exclusively on all the facets of his earlier life.

Three stars.
Profile Image for Ned.
294 reviews121 followers
November 3, 2016
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 governing were nearly unmatched, save his nemesis, Hamilton. The account of the plodding figurehead, Washington, the man who wanted to be king, was hilarious. The shifty Jefferson, the great hypocrite, who was a far greater politician than statesman, is laid bare.

Nearly all the characters are real, and scholarship is impressive. Many events seemed over the top and incredulous, yet when I googled them they were all true. Incredible that Vidal wrote this in 1973, well before Jefferson’s fatherhood of multiple children by Sarah Hemmings was well known. This book must have been absolutely scandalous for its time, and took great courage to write. This book changed my view of history, made it come alive in a way that history books rarely do. It may not- no it is not – “factual” yet like great literature seemed truer than those other accounts. Washington (and in fact the colonists) rarely won any direct conflicts in the revolutionary war (except those aided by the French). Here’s an account of the “military” (p. 54): “But difficult it was, always, for Washington to maintain an army. The rich tended to be pro-British, while the poor were not interested in whether or not American merchants paid taxes to a far-away island. The truth is that except for a handful of ambitious lawyers, there were very few “patriots” in 1775.” Heresy!

On Jefferson (p. 207): “It was Jefferson’s conceit that he alone represented democracy and that all the rest of us from Washington to Adams to Hamilton wanted to wear crowns and tax his cup of tea”. (p 209) “…Jefferson was so beautifully human, so eminently vague, so entirely dishonest but not in any meretricious way. Rather it was a passionate form of self delusion that rendered Jefferson as president and as man (not to mention as writer of tangled sentences and lunatic metaphors) confusing even to his admirers. Proclaiming the unalienable rights of man for everyone (excepting slaves, women, Indians and those entirely without property), Jefferson tried to seize the Floridas by force, dreamed of a conquest of Cuba…”. George Clinton referred to him (p. 289) as a “..Frenchified trimmer from that atheist from Virginia… Massa Tom”. His countrymen considered him cowardly, according to Burr reciting his memoirs, as (p. 297) “….like so many bookish men who have never been in battle, Jefferson enjoyed the threat of bloodshed”. Of course, this all from Burr’s account. Once in office (p. 305) “…the public is always relieved to find….once elected the officials do not really want change”. Does this sound familiar in 2016? Burr expounds loquaciously (p. 520) “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”.

I really, really enjoyed this. The New York riots of that time, the 5 points debauchery of whores, drink, organized crime, fiery abolitionists and Tammany hall was original and colorful. The story of a young journalist intent struggling with his moral duty as a reporter vs the love of his fatherly subject (Burr) worked beautifully as brilliant yet aging octogenarian unlayers his remarkable past and his many peccadillos come to light.

The finish is lovely, as the young reporter watches his idol become ill and fade away, along with his cronies, including the irascible Andrew Jackson, and a few surprises emerge. This was a most pleasurable way to read history. My only complaints is that this publisher (Bantam) produced a rather low-quality volume with numerous typos. But I've been carrying this around for many years, so it is near and dear.

Finally, a friend of mine, upon learning I was reading this, recounted his one story of Gore Vidal. Apparently he was visiting his midwest university as the featured guest. A student, showing up as part of a course obligation, was interrogated rather aggressively by an elderly gentleman regarding his views on the schedule speaker. They had a nice chat and then the emcee introduced the speaker who was... you guessed it... that very same elderly gentleman who scrambled to the podium.

Profile Image for Cinda.
Author 30 books11k followers
October 8, 2017
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!
Profile Image for J.
194 reviews88 followers
December 4, 2021
Gore Vidal may have been one of the most knowledgeable and well-read Americans of the second half of the 20th Century. He probably could have been a famous actor, politician, humorist, or screenwriter. He flirted with all those careers but for our benefit he became a novelist.

Burr rings with the kind of truth that can only be found in fiction. We are not to believe all we read here, for it is a novel, but we should be aware of Vidal's reputation for painstaking research.

Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison come off as less than heroic, sometimes ghastly, shallow, incompetent: and in the case of Jefferson, downright hypocritical and almost evil.

Thomas Paine is barely mentioned, if at all, but Benedict Arnold is lauded as is Andrew Jackson.

Vidal's biting wit, imagination, and knowledge should be welcome in any political climate. This is a fun read that's finely crafted.
Profile Image for Adam.
Author 21 books89 followers
November 10, 2012
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 Washington, for whom Vidal has a low regard, and with Thomas Jefferson, also much disliked by Vidal, who was to become his greatest foe.

Burr, who was favoured by many to become the President of the USA, stepped aside to allow Thomas Jefferson to take the 'throne'. He became Jefferson's vice-president.

General Alexander Hamilton, another Revolutionary War hero and an important US politician, was antagonistic to Burr for a number of reasons. When Burr learnt that he had been slandered by Hamilton, he demanded an apology. Hamilton denied all knowledge of this. The situation worsened, and Hamilton challenged Burr to a duel in 1804. This took place in Weehawken, New Jersey. Burr was a far better shot than his opponent. Hamilton died of his wounds a few days later.

Following Hamilton's death, Burr moved out of New York and went westwards to the Mississippi, where he began collaborating with others in plotting the conquest of Mexico. Thomas Jefferson, learning of this, deliberately misinterpreted Burr's planning as evidence of plotting treason against the United States. Jefferson, keen to eliminate Burr, his rival and critic, arrested him and staged a show trial. Unlike those that Stalin was to stage manage years later in the USSR, Burr was acquitted. For the rest of Burr's life, he worked in his law practice in New York City.

The above is a very sketchy summary of Burr's life, but provides the background to Vidal's book.

Vidal uses two narrators in Burr. One of them is Charlie Schuyler, a young lawyer and an aspiring writer. Schuyler works in Burr's law office. The other is Burr himself.

Schuyler wants to write a biography of Burr, and is encouraged to do so by his subject. Burr supplies Schuyler with substantial sections of his unpublished, unedited memoirs. Excerpts from these memoirs alternate with Schuyler's own accounts of his daily life in New York during the election campaign the brought Martin Van Buren to the White House in 1837.

Enemies of Van Buren pay Schuyler to dig up the dirt on him during his candidacy. They are particularly keen to try to prove that Burr was Van Buren's father. Schuyler is torn between the money they offer him and his high regard for Burr.

Vidal uses the excerpts from Burr's (fictional) unpublished memoirs to write his idiosyncratic version of the history of the American Revolution. The result is a delightful riot of iconoclastic ideas and cynical views of the ideals of the founders of the USA.

I look forward to reading more of Vidal's historical novels, despite their great length!

PS Throughout the book, there is talk of the rights of states to secede from the union, and also there are numerous references to the continuing arguments between the slave-holders and abolitionists. The USA was far from being as united as its name suggests.

Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,268 reviews411 followers
June 6, 2017
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 Representatives. Burr is not just this obscure fellow about whom there is likely a trivia question.

There are two first person narrators: 1) Charlie Schuyler, the only fictional character in the novel, is a clerk in Burr's law office; and 2) Burr himself. Burr dictates his memoirs to Charlie, which begin in the Revolutionary War, carry us through the 1800 election and the duel, and for a few years after. They are dictated in the mid-1830s, long after Burr was a mover and shaker in US politics. Charlie also has a life and through him we get to see a bit of New York City of the period, and to a lesser extent, Washington DC (called Washington City).

Our introduction to Burr is on the day of his second marriage in 1833.
The astonishing day began when Colonel Burr came out of his office and asked me to accompany him to the City Hotel where he was to meet a friend. As usual, he was mysterious. He makes even a trip to the barber seem like a plot to overthrow the state. Walking down Broadway, he positively skipped at my side, no trace of the stroke that half paralyzed him three years ago.
I came to understand the plot reference. Politics is a dirty business and we should disabuse ourselves that it is dirtier now than then.

Burr definitely had a perspective not taught in schools - at least not when I was in school. For example, Burr thought Washington not an especially good general and that he had a big butt. He also did not think highly of Jefferson. Vidal himself, in the afterword, says All in all, I think rather more highly of Jefferson than Burr does; on the other hand, Burr’s passion for Jackson is not shared by me. Although the novel’s viewpoint must be Burr’s, the story told is history and not invention. I was glad to read this latter, that this is not invention.

Vidals' prose is quite readable, but I must admit this reads somewhere between fiction and nonfiction. Some of Burr's "memoirs" are dense and even tedious in parts. Politicians have such egos! Chronologically, this is the first in Vidal's Narratives of Empire series. This was interesting enough that I want to read the others, though I have no immediate plans to do so. For historical interest, this gets 4-stars, but for readability it is more like the top of my 3-star group, not quite crossing that 4-star threshold.

Profile Image for Christopher Saunders.
865 reviews835 followers
May 27, 2020
In the first of his “Narratives of Empire” novels, Gore Vidal tackles Aaron Burr, the disgraced Vice President remembered for killing Alexander Hamilton and plotting to sever the western United States into an independent kingdom. He frames Burr’s story through a hoary narrative conceit, with hack journalist Charlie Schuyler (not, Vidal assures us, of the Hamilton-related Schuylers) befriending an antiquated Burr in 1830s New York, hoping to coax from him his life story. Namely, whether or not he’s the father of Martin Van Buren; whether Burr involved Andrew Jackson in his western adventure; whether he'll disclose the "despicable opinion" that triggered his duel with Hamilton; whether he can discredit even George Washington’s sainted reputation. He is, as one character remarks, “the sprightly skeleton in many a celebrated closet!” Vidal’s sympathy for scoundrels shows in his rich, compelling portrait of Burr, elevating him from "the villain in your history” to the dark antihero of the American Founding. This Burr is a brilliant, idealistic, intrinsically gifted, albeit amoral and overreaching operator, whose ambitions and survival instinct match the new Republic better than its platitudinous self-image. Vidal contrasts Burr’s amorality and scheming with scathing portraits of his peers, from Washington (an inept, priggish would-be dictator) to Hamilton (a striving near-sociopath who despises everyone, including Washington) and Thomas Jefferson (a horse-abusing, slave-owning Caesar posing as a republican). Much of this is arch, clever and funny (among other delights, there’s a riotously cruel caricature of Vidal’s arch-rival, William F. Buckley, tucked into a subplot); occasionally, the novel insightfully probes the verities of historical myth (per Vidal’s vivid contrast of the Revolution’s ennobling rhetoric with its squalid, inglorious reality), image making (how the achievements of Burr, Benedict Arnold and James Wilkinson are obliterated by their transgressions) and the raucousness of 19th Century politicking (one chapter recreates an Election Day riot in New York). At worst, it’s merely cynical, asserting that all politicians are self-promoting crooks and all pretenses of decency a charade - sophomoric “insights” unworthy of such a perceptive novelist. Vidal’s idea of irony is contrasting the honest wenching and drinking of his scabrous protagonists with the prudishness of others, unhelpfully implying that all America’s problems would be resolved if our statesmen just got laid more often. Like its protagonist, Burr is smart, cynical, wryly amusing…and, occasionally, too clever by half.
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,835 reviews1,343 followers
December 24, 2012
"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 into elementary school textbooks. Well, the ones I was exposed to during the late 70s. It was also written at the height of Watergate.

Unlike most historical fiction, Burr breathes. The sighs it emits are laced with bourbon. I loved this book, though the royal ear grew weary with too many notes. That remains my problem, not Vidal's..
Profile Image for Quo.
279 reviews
May 15, 2021
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 the esteemed novelist, Gore Vidal (born: Eugene Luther Vidal, Jr.), seeks to tell the story of the Burr/Hamilton discord from Aaron Burr's point of view & does so admirably in this novel. From the beginning, it seems clear that the author researched the characters & this period of American History quite vigorously in devising something of a hybrid historical novel, most certainly not just an exercise in fiction.

Burr is normally cast as a malevolent, sinister character overshadowed by the splendidly cerebral Hamilton, a man who coauthored The Federalist Papers and established America's banking system but in fact Burr had graduated from Princeton (originally The College of New Jersey), where his father had been president of the university & had a fairly distinguished record in the American War of Revolution, though with an exceedingly negative view of George Washington & everyone else he encountered in the military conflict and in life at large.

Having read an autobiography of Gore Vidal, I sensed more than a few similar characteristics shared by Vidal & Burr. However, what came as a surprise was the many similarities between Burr & Hamilton, who at various points in their respective lives admired each other. But at another point it is declared that Burr recalls his 1st meeting with Hamilton, indicating that "they were like brothers, if the brothers were Cain & Abel."

It is alleged that the great rivalry began when Aaron Burr & Alexander Hamilton were young lawyers, handling opposing sides in a famous case:
Burr's rivalry with Hamilton began in those days. It was inevitable. Both were heroes, both were ambitious, both were lawyers. Of the two, Hamilton was considered to be more profound philosophically as well as more long-winded but with a tendency to undo his own brief by taking it past the point of advocacy. Burr was more effective in court because his mind was swifter & he never moralized unless to demonstrate a paradox. Yet juries are often grateful to a lawyer for not preaching at them.

Neither Burr nor Hamilton were natural orators like Clay or Webster. They could not move multitudes; on the other hand they were both effective with juries & with their peers. And despite their rivalry, Burr & Hamilton sometimes worked together.
Beyond that, there is a rather humorous account of Chas. Schuyler doing some background work on the licentious life of Aaron Burr both in the U.S. & while living abroad, learning that both Burr & Hamilton had visited the same brothel, one run by a Mrs. Townsend who reads Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress and philosophy books during slow moments at the bordello. It is noted that, when a younger "working girl", she had personally serviced both Burr & Hamilton.

And it should also be mentioned that Mr. Schuyler, who has been enlisted by Burr to help author his autobiography and thus "preside over the rehabilitation of a man slandered by both Hamilton & Jefferson" is himself a patron of Mrs. Townsend's house of "soiled doves".

Schuyler, young & impressionable, is rather in awe of Aaron Burr & calls him "Colonel", though after a recent stroke and seemingly impoverished, senses that Burr's mind is slipping. Curiously, as Burr details his own life to Schuyler, Mr. Burr is reading & annotating his copy of the Life of Alexander Hamilton, with the old rivalry very much on his mind. As I read Gore Vidal's novel, on more than one occasion I thought of the relationship between Mozart & Salieri, as related by Salieri in the film, Amadeus.

There are twists aplenty in the Gore Vidal novel, including the suggestion that at one point, Burr's amanuensis Schuyler is enlisted for $500 to prove that Burr is the father of Martin Van Buren. Perhaps, what I most enjoyed is the author's excellent portrayal of the political dynamics of this early phase of American History, including the inception of the Democratic Party, gradually replacing the Federalists of Hamilton & Adams.

Burr is pitted against Jefferson, Monroe against Washington in the beginning of the political factionalism that George Washington had hoped the nation could avoid. Here is an analysis of changing political relationships:
Van Buren will be nominated & he will defeat Clay or any other National Republican--no, no, Whig, I must get used to calling them that. How topsy-turvy it all is! Those of us who were for the Revolution were Whigs. Those for Britain were Tories.

Then there was the fight over the federal Constitution. Governor Clinton wanted a weak federal government. So, some of the Whigs became anti-Federalists & some like Hamilton became Federalist. Then the Tory-Federalists became Republican. Now, Tory-Federalist Republicans call themselves Whig though they are anti-Whig while the anti-Federalist Republicans are now Jacksonian Democrats. Oh, names are magic here!
There is even a discussion of the freedom of the press that seems rather contemporary, with the issue raised of "false facts" vs. "true lies". And there is considerable plotting about which territories will eventually become part of the United States and the suggestion that Aaron Burr was an instigator of various unsanctioned alliances with other countries, seeking to become the emperor of some future realm of his own devising.

However, Burr is given an opportunity by Vidal for a rebuttal: "Whatever my ambitions, none ever involved the cancellation of a legal election or the overthrow of the Constitution. It is curious that Hamilton (who was capable of any illegality) should have attached so securely to me the unlikely epithet of "embryo Caesar." I suspect that when Hamilton looked at me, he saw, in some magical way, himself reflected. Best of all to smash the glass & free the self therein--to range at will."

Ultimately, it is alleged that what Hamilton said to provoke the duel was that Aaron Burr had had an incestuous relationship with Burr's daughter Theodosia. That said, the noxious legacy of settling differences with a duel enjoyed a long history, with Burr having been involved in a previous duel and Hamilton's oldest son having been killed in one.

Gore Vidal's Burr represents a thoroughly enjoyable & interesting novel and I look forward to reading another of the author's historically-rooted tales. A minor distraction was Vidal's use of some rather archaic words where a glossary might have been helpful. Also, the Jay Parini biography, Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal with multiple photos from the author's life, is quite worth reading. Also, there is an excellent segment on the Burr/Hamilton duel & what caused it within Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis.

*Within my review is a photo image of the author, Gore Vidal and painted images of Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,498 followers
July 21, 2014
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 a poor general and crafty politician.

In his law career and political climb in New York State politics, he intersects a lot with Hamilton, whom he respects but slowly comes into conflict with along Federalist vs. Republican political lines. Burr's ability to harness the Tammany Hall political machine helps him almost win the Presidential election, ending up as Vice President with Jefferson. He detests Jefferson for his vanity and duplicity and for pretending to be anti-imperialist and humanistic while working on the one hand toward the goal of acquiring much of North America for the Republic and fathering many children with his female slaves.

The famous duel in which Burr kills Hamilton is not given much focus in this self serving account, although he makes sure to play up his courage in standing up to the smearing of his reputation in the aftermath.

The novel's coverage of Burr's involvement in a harebrained attempt to take Mexico away from Spain was fascinating. The scheme was stopped at an early stage by Jefferson, who believed it to be part of a larger treasonous plot to lead the western states to secede from the union (which ironically was a state's right in his anti-Federalist view). The trial of Burr and associates for treason was a nice high point of the book, as the interplay between Jefferson's prosecution and the Supreme Court Justice Marshall set many precedents about executive privilege and the independence of branches of the government.

Vidal breathes life into history by portraying a plausible version of dialog, thought, and motivation; that he goes 'over the top' and leans toward a cynical viewpoint does not detract from being entertained by his imagination and educated away from simplistic heroic views of our history.
Profile Image for Joe Kraus.
Author 7 books95 followers
December 5, 2019
Gore Vidal has long been a “name” whose work I didn’t really know. He seemed almost more famous for being famous than for any particular thing he’d written. So, when this one cropped up on sale, I figured I’d give it a shot.

As a concept, I love this book. A young man and partisan of Aaron Burr is hired to write a scandalous hit-job on Martin Van Buren by claiming that the Presidential candidate is actually the son of the disgraced old man. The result is a novel told back-and-forth between a present of Charlie Schuyler as he navigates the United States of the middle 1830s and a past of Burr’s life.

Burr’s voice, as Vidal gives it to us, is rich and ironic. He offers a view of American history that’s been buried by subsequent consensus, but that comes across as cutting and clever. His Alexander Hamilton isn’t the brilliant but flawed figure of musical fame, but rather an always conniving and striving upstart, jealous of Burr’s distinguished pedigree. (I hadn’t known it, but Burr was the grandson of the famous Jonathan “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Edwards as well as the son of the president of what would become Princeton.) His Thomas Jefferson isn’t the great, deistic sage we know, but rather a serial promise-breaker, a master politician, and a man capable of switching his philosophy as necessary.

The Burr we hear is a voice of dissent who lives long enough to be among the last major participants in the Revolutionary moment. He comes to us as a curmudgeon, a scoundrel even, but an unapologetic one.

At the same time, it’s hard to imagine anyone writing this book today. Forty-five years later, most of the references that seem essential to understanding it have simply fallen out of common knowledge. I found myself checking and re-checking Wikipedia for reminders of just who a whole host of secondary characters are. I remember Henry Clay and John Calhoun. But William Wirt? Samuel Swartwout? Some of these are colorful scoundrels in their own right, characters who must once have been near household names and who helped define American history. Today, well, they’re hyperlinks.

I enjoy the history lesson – that’s much of what kept me in this – but it’s striking to think that Vidal must have been writing for an audience (perhaps imaginary even then) sufficiently saturated in American history to recognize the nature of the revisionism he was exploring. In other words, he had faith there were enough “patriots” (in his Burr’s ironic sense of the word) to follow his fundamental claim.

As a consequence, there’s an airy elitism that pervades this, some of it Burr’s and some of it Vidal’s – himself the scion of a distinguished American family that history may have left behind. Vidal turns out to be every bit the master aphorist I’d heard he was. I didn’t write down any of the great one-liners he pulls off, but there are many turns of phrase that I wish I’d been clever enough to think of. Even so, that contributes to the sense that this is something that’s condescending to me, and to most of us reading it. We’re some of Jefferson’s great unwashed, products not of the openly cynical opportunism of Burr (who narrowly escaped execution as a traitor hoping to establish himself emperor of a region comprised of several of what are now some of our Southern states) but of the subtler hypocrisy of Jefferson and his “Virginia junto.”

There’s much to enjoy here if you’re willing to double-check the history against Burr/Vidal’s version. It can drag in places since it takes a while to find Charlie’s story, but it’s a lot of fun too. I understand Vidal wrote a loose series of these histories, books that challenge our received version of the events that shaped who we are as a nation. I won’t rush onto the next, but I’ll be on the lookout for it sometime down the road.
Profile Image for Christopher Carbone.
91 reviews6 followers
April 15, 2009
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 of the history we remember (Washington was great....), the history we chose to forget (... even though he lost nearly every battle he was in and was, at best, a laissez-faire Executive), and the history we refuse to remember (like the stuff about the US wanting to invade Mexico since the pre-Revolution days, leading to Hamilton wanting to do it under Adams, Burr trying in 1805, then the problems with Texas, culminating in the war of aggression by the US taking large chunks of Mexico because it could). All the while, a story unfolds that the America we remember is not necessarily the America that was.

Burr is the perfect foil for this as he remembers what many American chose to forget- most notably Burr himself. A man of vigor, passion, ability, charisma, skill and ambition (heavens forbid) who came close to greatness on many occasions. And who was so blatant about what so many others were so hypocritical about- the need to invade Mexico.

When Mexico lost Texas shortly before Burr's death, he only commented, "What was treasonous in my day is patriotism now; I was just 30 years too soon."
Profile Image for Perry Whitford.
1,956 reviews55 followers
August 18, 2016
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, covering the period 1775 - 1840.

Burr dictates his memoirs to a would be biographer, Charles Schuyler, a fictional character. The memoirs are framed by the events of both of their lives in the mid 1830's, the final years of Burr's life, and a time of transition and revelation for Schuyler (who was to return in a later book of the series, 1876).

We get to see a Washington who couldn't fight his way out of a pair of leggings and whose chief character traits are dullness and vanity; a Jefferson who is endlessly mendacious and completely without principle; and a Hamilton who is sparkling but reckless, at every turn the architect of his own downfall.

Against these titans - the reputations of whom history has decided to honour - we see a Burr who is eminently more noble and trustworthy than all three, but who becomes manipulated into infamy by the Virginian junto that ruled the time.

This is not only the way Burr tells it in his memoirs either, Vidal has a substantial number of supporting testimonies from his contemporaries to back him up.

As this is a Gore Vidal book, 500+ plus pages can glide smoothly by without once becoming bogged down. All the characters can converse glibly in the cleverest of aphorisms, epigrams and paradoxes, all laced with the sweetest or bitterest of ironies.

But what really floats Vidal's boat is debunking the accepted versions of history. The below example, about Washington, is typical of this tendency, and something of a manifesto:
"Ultimately, I think, he must be judged as an excellent politician who had no gift for warfare. History, as usual, has got it all backward."

I will make sure I read the last two books in the series by the end of this year. The next one, Washington D.C. (which was actually the first one written) I believe sticks it to F.D.R.
Profile Image for John Hatley.
1,165 reviews190 followers
March 1, 2020
This is a very good "historical novel" (fiction based on fact) about a less-known figure in American history. From 1801 to 1805, Aaron Burr was Thomas Jefferson's vice-president. Burr is one of a series of novels written by Gore Vidal with a background in American history.
Profile Image for Brad Lyerla.
207 reviews158 followers
January 20, 2022
This is one of Gore Vidal's best historical novels.

Aaron Burr was America's second great traitor, after Benedict Arnold. As Thomas Jefferson's rival, Burr was a prisoner of his own ego. His inability to moderate his over-weening narcissism ruined him when he tried to subvert the new institutions of the the US government to declare himself president of the young country.

He is not a perfect antecedent to Trump. There is a resemblance, but Burr was far more colorful and talented. Thus, Vidal had a lot of material to work with in fictionalizing Burr's life. In contrast, what would one write about a creature like Trump? It is supremely challenging to turn an addiction to television combined with functional illiteracy into a successful novel, unless the novel is meant as tragi-comical satire like Toole’s A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES.

Perhaps, that is a good way to understand Trump. He is the tragi-comic and dumber version of Aaron Burr. Each failed to bring off his own coup.
Profile Image for Marin.
25 reviews
January 19, 2009
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 letter or diary, to the clerk some of his history. Those I lke. Brother assures me the book eventually becomes about 70% memoir, so perhaps I will grow to appreciate it more.
Profile Image for David.
Author 17 books333 followers
April 29, 2021
Having read biographies of six of the Founding Fathers in the last year, including Ron Chernow's splendid Alexander Hamilton, there are a lot of recurring characters weaving through all their lives, as they all wove through each other's lives. It was a pretty small society; everyone knew each other.

One character who figures significantly throughout the early Republic is Aaron Burr.

Young Aaron Burr

The third Vice President, who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel and was later accused of trying to take Mexico from Spain and create his own empire, tried for treason for allegedly planning to take part of the United States with him, a rascal and a rake who was the toast of Southerners who hated Hamilton, the toast of ladies throughout Europe, later remarried and then was divorced by a rich widow who was represented by one of Hamilton's sons, he has seemed in all the biographies I've read to be an interesting man.

But he's always described as more or less a villain. Whatever his charming qualities (he's often mentioned being genuinely beneficent towards poor ladies), very little else good is said about Aaron Burr. Ron Chernow calls him a murderer, and in describing his duel with Hamilton, goes over all the claims made by partisans on both sides but is clearly more sympathetic to Hamilton's version. Biographers of Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe all describe a man who was a political weathercock, devoid of any genuine principals except self-interest. He switched between the Republicans and the Federalists whenever it was convenient, all with the ultimate goal of becoming president himself, and when that didn't work out, he tried to raise an army to take over Mexico.

I could not help wondering whether Aaron Burr was being portrayed fairly. After all, to have held so much influence for as long as he did (there was an electoral path that could easily have made him president instead of Jefferson, had things worked out just a little bit differently), he must have had friends. Surely Burr felt justified in his reasons for dueling Hamilton; they had once been friends. Did he just decide he wanted to murder a political rival out of spite?

There are biographies written of Burr, including some that appear to be sympathetic. He definitely has his defenders. Yet to get another view of the man, I ended up reading a work of historical fiction, by the late author Gore Vidal, whom I have never read before.

Burr is the first in a series of books Vidal wrote about the American empire. In the author's preface, he comes off as a little pretentious, and seems to think he invented the idea of historical fiction. But this novel was truly a fantastic experience, and Vidal absolutely researched the hell out of his subject. Every scene, from major historical events to minor anecdotes from the lives of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton, I recognized from the biographies of those men.

The Aaron Burr that Vidal brings us in this book is a fictional character, yet it's a compelling and believable version of him. This Aaron Burr is wry, witty, and oh yes, he was always right and all the others, from Washington to Hamilton, were the real scoundrels, who constantly took advantage of Aaron Burr's good and principled nature.

This may not be the truth, and it may not even be how the real Burr would have told his own story. But let's say it's a version of the truth.

The device Vidal uses to tell Burr's story is the one fictional character he introduces: a young journalist named Charles Schuyler (not one of those Schuylers, as he has to tell people), who's hired to do a hit piece on the elderly former senator and vice president. The election of 1836 is looming, Martin Van Buren is the heir apparent, and the anti-Van Buren faction wants to torpedo his election by digging up evidence that long-whispered rumors of Van Buren being Aaron Burr's illegitimate son are true. (This, like all the other details in Vidal's novel, was based on historical fact: it really was a rumor that followed them around.) So young Charles Schuyler ingratiates himself with Aaron Burr, and ends up having his entire life history dictated to him, including the "real" story about everything from the Revolutionary War and Washington's generalship (terrible, according to Burr, and again, historians actually agree that Washington was pretty bad as a military strategist) to that fatal duel with Hamilton (in one of the few clearly fictional embellishments — or is it? — Vidal has Schuyler learn of Hamilton's real reason for challenging Hamilton to a duel, a reason that is plausible but, as far as I can tell, not actually mentioned in any historical records).

Along the way, Burr absolutely trashes every other Founding Father. His description of George Washington ("He had the hips, buttocks and bosom of a woman") is of a dullard whose stoic, presidential demeanor was a veneer over his greed and ego. According to Burr, they'd have captured Canada if Washington had listened to him.

Thomas Jefferson was a sleazy little sneak who considered the Constitution to be just words that meant whatever was convenient for him (more or less true, in my readings of biographies of Jefferson and others). Vidal's Burr gives a very believable version of Jefferson's double-dealing and selling out his own vice president, and later trying to have him convicted of treason over a plan that Jefferson himself supported. Again, it's a narrative that might not actually be true, but it fits the historical facts.

James Madison was a brilliant but sad little incel until Burr hooked him up with Dolly. (Again, a harsh version of the story, but not far from the truth.) James Monroe actually hated Washington, all the way back to serving under him during the war. (True? Monroe's biographers don't say this, but on the other hand, the men did have a break, Monroe was pissed at Washington over a lot of things, and we don't know for certain that Monroe ever actually liked him, so Burr's description of Monroe as constantly sneering at an oblivious Washington is, if not true, not unbelievable.)

In Burr, Aaron Burr is marvelously bitchy and cynical. As he takes down America's founding fathers while narrating his story to Charles Schuyler, Schuyler's own ambitions and unfortunate love life forms the only definitely made-up part of the novel (though even here, Vidal uses real people, like having Schuyler fall in love with a prostitute named Helen Jewett.)

I really enjoyed Burr. Gore Vidal wrote an Aaron Burr who is definitely the hero of his own story, and while it may or may not be true to the real Burr, it at least presents a believable version of the man who wasn't just Jefferson's foil and Hamilton's killer.
Profile Image for Larry Bassett.
1,394 reviews290 followers
December 25, 2020
I am slightly surprised to find how long it took me to actually get through this audible book which I supplemented by also following along with the Kindle version. I started out thinking this Book was going to be a superb five star effort but as it went on and on I began to think it was of a somewhat repetitious three star overstatement. Thus I come to the four-star conclusion at the top of the page!

I have left some notes and comments that predominate in the first half of the book. The author possibly claims this book to be more historical then fictional and that is a claim that I will have to leave to the discernment of others more familiar with history. I found it to be A generally enjoyable satire although slightly longer than I think was necessary.

My most significant criticism of the writing style which combined the story of a person who was working with Aaron burr to write his biography mixed in with some actual segment switch we’re purported to be Aaron burr‘s actual autobiography. The change of the point of you from one aspect to another I found somewhat confusing. The one point of view was written as Partially speculative while the other was presumably the reality from the point of view of Mr. Burr. And depending on what you think about the historical reality here, both are subject to some question. I suppose this issue has been written about significantly by other more knowledgeable reviewers.

I think I have additional works by Gore Vidal on my future reading list and this taste of his work leads me to generally look forward to those in my future.

Profile Image for Tracie.
436 reviews21 followers
May 2, 2011
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, and I think I got lost a few times with the non-linear plot. Also, I don't know anything about the Revolutionary War, nor about the early years of the United States, so maybe Lincoln was just more approachable to me because I knew more of the context? But, man, Vidal loves to use French phrases in this book, and there's nothing that pulls me out of a story more than a phrase I can't understand. But these are details that might just be annoying to me because everything is annoying to me.

But, yeah, three stars still. Even though I basically just did nothing but bitch about the book, I actually wish it had been longer. I could have used a little more information and context, and I felt like large sections were sort of left out. But maybe that's bc most of Burr's memoirs and notes were lost at sea. Glad to have read it, but also glad to move back on to Lincoln.
Profile Image for Julio Pino.
799 reviews36 followers
March 13, 2023
"This republic was founded by some of the brightest minds in the country---and we haven't seen them since."---Gore Vidal. In the Year of Our Nixon 1973, Gore Vidal set out to explode the myth that America's Founding Fathers had all been saintly sages by focusing on the bete noire in the group, Aaron Burr, whom Gore argues persuasively simply had the courage to take to the limits what the others only pined for: Westward conquest, slavery, buying up the press, etc. This novel is the perfect antidote to the odious "Hamilton" musical. When asked what had shocked him the most in his research Gore replied, "Jefferson's hypocrisy."
Profile Image for Henry.
127 reviews9 followers
February 1, 2019
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!
267 reviews5 followers
July 24, 2012
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 but a smoke screen for Vidal's exquisite skewering of American historical pieties about the founding of their country, and, in particular, of the reputation of Great Men such as Washington (a useless general, who lost every battle, here) and Jefferson (a pedantic tyrant, here, who fabricated a case against Burr). As in the later novels, the shadow of imperial ambition hangs over the book, and here it is Jefferson who is the main driver of this, with his wish to annex Mexico and Canada. Hugely entertaining and beautifully written, this is a brilliant piece of writing, and may even be educational.
Profile Image for Emily Fortuna.
224 reviews13 followers
August 1, 2019
This was EXPERTLY researched on all fronts...and yet I found the conceit of framing Burr’s history in terms of memoirs he dictates to main character Charlie rather tedious. I found Charlie’s portions of the story slow and dull, and, frankly, not “why I was here” but chunks of Burr’s reminiscing were also dense and could get bogged down in explaining the intricacies of how a minute incident played out. I wanted to like this, and it is clear an astounding amount of work went into researching both Burr’s heyday and Charlie’s milieu but for me it was not presented in the form of a compelling story. But, gosh darn it, I did read the whole thing.
Profile Image for Nate.
28 reviews1 follower
January 12, 2018
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) is a fun way to visit the past and is the reason the term "page turner" exists.
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