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American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America Hardcover – October 25, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Advance Praise for American Emperor

“A proven storyteller, David O. Stewart takes us on a wonderful journey back to a fascinating chapter of American life: the challenges and controversies embodied in Aaron Burr. American Emperor is a great tale.”
--Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

“A luminous portrait of Aaron Burr as well as the first high-definition picture of an endlessly baffling, infuriating, and mesmerizing life.”
--Patricia O’Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House

“Aaron Burr is the American Lucifer, a figure of immense talents and heroic qualities whose voracious ambition thrust him into a position as adversary to the goodness around him. David Stewart captures this tale in all its drama, treachery, and historical dimension. This is a truly absorbing narrative.”
--Robert W. Merry, author of A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent

“The generation of the Founders produced some intriguing characters, but Aaron Burr has to be the most charismatic, quixotic, and mysterious. David Stewart brings the scheming, brilliant Burr to life in this lively but also judicious portrait of grand and unfulfilled ambition.”
--Evan Thomas, author of The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898

“With remarkable evenhandedness and superb pacing, David O. Stewart has given us a real Aaron Burr and a real Thomas Jefferson in a gripping narrative about a political adventure that might have changed the history of the United States and Mexico.”
--Thomas Fleming, author of Duel: Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and the Future of America

“Stewart’s sympathetic but unapologetic study of the enigmatic Burr…transcends its subject in exposing the frailty of early America’s westward ambitions. Highly recommended for readers of Revolutionary-era biographies and early U.S. history.” Library Journal

“A fresh, vivid exploration of the exploits and trial of Aaron Burr… Two parts adventure story and one part courtroom thriller… A persuasive, engaging examination of the post-political career of a shadowy and much-maligned figure from the era of the Founders.” –Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

“Great men behaving badly makes for entertaining reading…[this book] will keep [readers] turning the pages of this meticulous, almost day-by-day account of a plot so bizarre that it’s hard to believe it actually happened.” Publishers Weekly

“Stewart strives admirably to sort through the maze of facts and speculations about the nature of the conspiracy and Burr’s place in it. This is also a personality study of Burr, in whom Stewart sees an extraordinary combination of talent, vision, arrogance, and insatiable ambition….readers should enjoy this account of a dangerous episode that threatened our young republic.”Booklist

American Emperor offers a compelling, provocative portrait of Aaron Burr….a skilled historian and a splendid storyteller, Stewart makes the most of the episode and its…cast of characters.”Kansas City Star

"American Emperor" is a rousing book (who can turn down a quixotic rebellion?) with a cast of characters that could slip comfortably into a three-volume melodrama of the 19th century.“ —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Thoughtful, stylishly written and splendidly researched…. Adds valuable dimensions to our appreciation of the world we inherited from the Founders.… A page-turner as well!” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“A rattling tale… While most readers know the broad outlines of the Aaron Burr story…, the tale still retains ample suspense. I won’t spoil the ending.” Christian Science Monitor

About the Author

David O. Stewart is an award-winning author and the president of the Washington Independent Review of Books. He is the author of several acclaimed histories, including Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America; The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution; Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy; and American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America. Stewart’s first novel is The Lincoln Deception.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1St Edition edition (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439157189
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439157183
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

David O. Stewart turned to writing after more than a quarter century of law practice in Washington, D.C. as a trial and appellate lawyer. His first book, about the writing of the Constitution (The Summer of 1787), grew out of Supreme Court case he was working on. It was a Washington Post Bestseller and won the Washington Writing Prize for Best Book of 2007. His second book (Impeached), had its roots in a judicial impeachment trial he defended before the United States Senate in 1989. His next book -- American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America -- explored Burr's astounding Western expedition of 1805-07 and his treason trial before Chief Justice John Marshall. All three books have received starred prepublication reviews from Kirkus or Publishers Weekly. He has received the 2013 History Award of the Society of the Cincinnati. "Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America" debuted in February 2015.

In August 2013, Stewart began a new chapter in his writing life with the release of "The Lincoln Deception," an historical novel exploring the John Wilkes Booth conspiracy. A sequel featuring the same protagonists will appear in late September 2015. "The Wilson Deception" is set at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. A short story of his was previously nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He also is working a non-fiction study of James Madison and the remarkably influential partnerships through which he shaped American history.

Stewart lives with his wife in Maryland. Visit his website at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Eskypades VINE VOICE on October 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Mention Aaron Burr's name and the first thing that comes to a person's mind will most likely be his infamous duel with Alexander Hamilton. What might not be so well known is the path Burr took after he fled New York or the fact that, even during his tenure as vice-president under Jefferson, he was plotting to build his own empire in the western half of the United States. In American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America, David O. Stewart masterfully sheds light on this lesser-known portion of Burr's career. While the Burr/Hamilton duel is touched on, it is only briefly and as a backdrop to the animosity many Americans felt towards him at the time. The majority of the book is spent covering Burr's machinations with General James Wilkinson and Harman Blennerhassett along his subsequent trial for treason. Stewart also discusses the dislike Jefferson had for Burr and Jefferson's dead-level best attempts at ensuring Burr was found guilty of treason.

While the book doesn't portray Burr in the most favorable light, I was left with the impression that Stewart gave a fair account of Burr's character as well as his attempts at empire building without necessarily labeling him an outright traitor. Burr isn't painted as a monstrous traitor but neither are the charges of treason completely whitewashed. In the end, Stewart agrees with the "not guilty" verdict based on John Marshall's interpretation of the Constitution and not on whether or not Burr actually schemed against the U.S., which Stewart notes as being completely plausible. The book also includes a copy of the "cipher letter" and the indictment against Burr.

American Emperor is a well-researched, readable account of Aaron Burr's controversial plans. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about what happened after the duel.

(Thanks to Simon and Schuster for providing an electronic copy of this book.)
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By James McGrath Morris on October 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Biography is often an act of rediscovery. David O. Stewart, a distinguished writer of three major works in American history, has done just that with Aaron Burr. In a brilliant and elegantly written (splendidly designed, as well) book, Stewart lays out a tale of political intrigue that rivals an Allen Drury novel except that it is all true and based on copious and careful research.
As readers and critics alike have found, Stewart has an engaging writing style that gives life to events and people of the past. He brings the best of his legal experience to his work as a writer, much as the late Louis Auchincloss did with his novels.
You can't lose to buy this biography about a man who might just have become emperor in the early days of our republic when anything could have gone wrong.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Darrell Delamaide on January 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
David Stewart, who brings the fluency of an accomplished writer and the authority of a practicing lawyer to his works on history, has cast an illuminating spotlight onto one of the darkest figures and one of the most mysterious moments in American history -- Aaron Burr's madcap scheme to create a new American empire in the West.

We all know Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, even though most of us are hazy on Hamilton's monumental contribution to the founding of this country and forget that Burr was actually vice president. What Stewart skillfully shows in this book is how fluid our young nation was in these early years, when even President Jefferson was kind of all right with the notion that the United States could split in two. It is against this backdrop that Burr, in all his enigmatic genius, connived and conspired to set up a rival country within our current borders.

As he did in his two earlier books, The Summer of 1787, about the writing of the constitution, and Impeachment, about the Senate trial of President Andrew Johnson, Stewart looks again at a key turning point in American history that has received too little examination. He doesn't need to go into the "what if" alternative scenarios for us to realize how lucky this country has been at such moments that its men and institutions were able to rise to the occasion. Once again, he has crafted a must-read book for anyone interested in the drama of this country's rise to greatness.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By P. R. Smith on December 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very good discussion of Aaron Burr's life inside the U.S. political system as well as his private efforts outside it. After an electoral tie with Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election, Burr resorted to underhanded tactics to steal the presidency from Jefferson, the intended presidential candidate for the republicans. His betrayal of Jefferson led to Burr, as V.P., being shut out of decision making during the first four years of Jefferson's presidency and being dropped from the ticket in the 1804 election. Burr found himself an outsider in the U.S. political system driven by a desire for power and no doubt revenge against Jefferson, his political party and a country that he likely felt had short changed him (he at times mentioned a coup of Jefferson's presidency). Organizing an expedition to conquer Spanish possessions in North America and possibly U.S. states and territory west of the Applachians is nearly unbelievable, but the author explains that in 1806-07 it was a feasible undertaking. Burr is described as a charismatic flatterer who skillfully felt out recruits to his cause, gaining many along the way. Misreading General Wilkinson was his greatest mistake. One wonders, considering Wilkinson's known duplicity with Spain, how Burr could have placed trust in him for any reason other than desperation (or is this simply a case of 'birds of feather'?). Whether Burr committed treason is a much discussed topic, but there is little doubt had he gained the opportunity he would have done so without hesitation. For me, Burr's obvious willingness to betray Jefferson in the 1800 election and next his country make him guilty of moral failure. It is expected that politicians relish power but our system of democratically elected government depends on a a certain honor from our elected officials that Burr sorely lacked but was supposedly willing to defend in a duel with Alexander Hamilton.
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