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Burr: A Novel Paperback – February 15, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


"Dazzling. . . . Burr is wicked entertainment of a very high order."
--The New York Times Book Review

"A tragedy, a comedy, a vibrant, leg-kicking life. . . . All of this and much, much more is told in a highly engaging book that teems with bon mots, aphorisms and ironic comments on the political process. . . . Enlightening, fresh and fun."  --The Boston Globe

"A novel of Stendhalian proportions. . . . It is probably impossible to be an American and not be fascinated and impressed by Vidal's telescoping of our early history. . . . Always absorbing." --The New Yorker

From the Inside Flap

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.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375708731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375708732
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

103 of 107 people found the following review helpful By J. Mullin on January 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Burr was my first introduction to Gore Vidal's panoramic vision of American history, and I have to admit that the first time I picked up the book I drifted off and put it down, disappointed by the early focus on elderly Aaron Burr's marriage to a wealthy widow. I wanted an inside account (albeit fictionalized) of the revolutionary years, intimate portraits of men like Jefferson, Washington, Arnold and Hamilton, as well as accounts of the famous duel and Burr's subsuquent political travails and treason trial.
Alas, I should have given the book a little more time. When it picks up and the mythical autobiographical journal of Burr begins, this novel becomes entertainment of the highest order. Burr, through Vidal, writes a wickedly amusing first-hand account of many of the seminal points in our nation's young history, from the winter at Valley Forge to Benedict Arnold's early success as a general. In telling his story, Burr never passes up an opportunity to point out George Washington's ineptitude as a field general or his plumpness, Jefferson's lack of military duty and his resemblance to the mulatto children living at Monticello, Ethan Allen's lack of popularity with his superiors, etc. Nobody is spared, nothing is sacred in a Gore Vidal novel.
As for the historical accuracy, Vidal points out in an afterword that with a couple of very minor anachronisms (which he details), every character in the book acts as he or she did in real life - their speech and writings are borrowed from actual correspondence, and the historical events depicted are painstakingly researched (Vidal took 10 years to write the book). Even narrator Charlie Schuyler's girlfriend, the prostitute Helen Jewitt, is based upon a real life character. So while some graduate students might object to a phrase or two, and perhaps some Jeffersonians will object to the two-faced opportunist Jefferson portrayed here, for most of us with a casual interest in history the book educates as it entertains.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By michael a. willhoite on February 2, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
For years I've enjoyed Gore Vidal's essays. Nobody alive shows more mastery over this most vital of literary forms. Although I have read an occasional Vidal novel I've tended to give his fiction short shrift. After reading Burr, it's clear I have some catching up to do. I read Lincoln independently, but now that I've devoured Burr with mounting excitement, I've decided to read his entire historical cycle in sequence.
I don't quite see how Vidal is going to top Burr, for in his choice of protagonist he found a worthy successor to Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost. Before reading this novel, I only knew that Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and that he served as Jefferson's Vice President. But set firmly in his time, and seen through the eyes of Charley Schuyler, Burr acquires a wonderful depth. By the time this novel was drawing to a close, I was reading it as slowly as I dared, reluctant to give up its pleasures. In my lust for fiction, I must say this doesn't happen very often.
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66 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Kendall VINE VOICE on May 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
I ignored Gore Vidal for most of my life. He was always way too media for my tastes. Especially after that encounter with Mailer on the Cavett show those many years ago. I had a friend who was in the movie version of Myra Breckenridge, so I saw that film in a Manhatten cinema and wished I hadn't. It just confirmed my prejudices towards Vidal. What I discovered after reading this book was that I'd been doing myself a disservice. Gore Vidal is the wittiest, and thankfully not the most lugubriously erudite, historian we have. Burr and Schuyler come across as three-dimensional characters, much more so than Washington or Jefferson ever have. Yes, this is biased, not to mention jaundiced, history. We must remind ourselves that it is an historical novel, not purporting to keep strictly to the facts. Washington comes across as a militarily incompetent, but poticially shrewd egomaniac. Jefferson is not treated too reverentially either. Burr, whom we know from American History classes only because he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, comes across as a witty and urbane statesman who perhaps didn't display the greatest amount of common sense in that murky New Orleans business. This novel opened my eyes about Vidal and I promptly went on a Vidal tear, reading five of his other books. I'd stick to the American History novels (particularly Lincoln), however. I found Julian to be a lot more contrived than his other works (and I love Byzantine/medieval history). If you want a good picture of Byzantium, stick to Procopius.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read "Burr" first out of Gore Vidal's historical novels, and was very glad I did. Having been a fan of Vidal ever since reading his "United States: Collected Essays, 1952-1992," I eagerly awaited an acidic, satirical take on the glorious creation myths of the USA. I got what I expected, but a great deal more. The friendship between Hamilton and Burr (and Burr and the Alcibiadean James Wilkinson) generates a great deal of pathos, and makes the famous duel (memorably commented on by Burr as a pastime popular culture thinks entered the United States due to his killing Hamilton) a great deal more tragic than even calcified American history textbooks imply (albeit for different reasons). The writing frequently grabs attention, especially the expedition to Quebec in 1775. The general impression is of these two geniuses, for whom the highest ideal is service to a brand new country, being manipulated and betrayed by their de facto political "masters," Washington and Jefferson. The asides in 1830s New York are equally fascinating, as Charlie Schuyler (to reappear in LINCOLN and 1876) maneuvers the minefield of Jacksonian politics to discover the real story, already beginning to accumulate the dust of idolatry. This is easily one of the best historical novels ever written.
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