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Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, And The Future Of America Paperback – September 5, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

To judge by many standard histories, the revolutionary founders of the United States came equipped with wings and haloes. They were anything but saintly, however; their behavior, public and private, was often scandalous. One of the most outrageous men of the day was Alexander Hamilton, the Federalist leader and architect of the American banking and judiciary systems, whose amorous exploits and political maneuverings alike were the stuff of legend. Tangled in a succession of failed business ventures and personal intrigues, and convinced that the might of the United States should not be hampered by such inconveniences as checks and balances, Hamilton fell afoul of just about everyone he encountered in his quest for influence and wealth.

To his eventual misfortune, one of those he crossed was Thomas Jefferson's vice president, Aaron Burr. Many histories of their tangled relationship personalize their differences, and, to be sure, they disliked each other with splendid fervor. Thomas Fleming's contribution to the often-told tale is to ground the Hamilton-Burr rivalry in the politics of the day--a politics complicated by many contending ideological factions, powerful interest groups, and lobbyists. Writing with vigor and clarity, Fleming points to the clay feet on which Hamilton and Burr marched to their sad destiny, and he crafts an exceptionally interesting portrait of the early Republic. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A hero of the Revolution, Aaron Burr served as vice-president under Jefferson and is rumored to have been the biological father of Martin Van Buren. Nevertheless, Burr remains best known as the slayer of Alexander Hamilton in 1804, and for afterwards conspiring to create his own empire in the Southern United States and Mexico. He is by far the darkest character in the generation of American founders and has been the object of complex portraits in such novels as Gore Vidal's Burr and Anya Seton's My Theodosia. Fleming (Liberty! The American Revolution) dives deep into the causes and aftermath of Burr's duel with Hamilton on the banks of the Hudson at Weehawken, showing that, while not an innocent, Burr was no more guilty than Hamilton in provoking the exchange. Fleming's account is most useful when he scrutinizes the correspondence that passed between the two as their quarrel came to a head, an argument that erupted when dinner-table criticisms of Burr, which Hamilton thought private, wound up being published. Where Hamilton could on several occasions have easily extricated himself from the disagreement, he instead chose to escalate the rhetoric and thereby sealed his fate. Burr remains guilty of being the quicker shot. Fleming adds no new material to the conflict but does a good job of telling a good story. The subtitle, however, is misleading, for Fleming never clarifies how the duel affected the future of America, other than expressing the obvious: that it ensured that neither man would ever be president. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 476 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (September 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465017371
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465017379
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #153,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"How do you write a book?" 24 year old Thomas Fleming asked bestselling writer Fulton Oursler in 1951. "Write four pages a day," Oursler said. "Every day except Sunday. Whether you feel like it or not. Inspiration consists of putting the seat of your pants on the chair at your desk." Fleming has followed this advice to good effect. His latest effort, "The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers," is his 50th published book. Twenty three of them have been novels. He is the only writer in the history of the Book of the Month Club to have main selections in fiction and in nonfiction. Many have won prizes. Recently he received the Burack Prize from Boston University for lifetime achievement. In nonfiction he has specialized in the American Revolution. He sees Intimate Lives as a perfect combination of his double talent as a novelist and historian. "Novelists focus on the imtimate side of life. This is the first time anyone has looked at the intimate side of the lives of these famous Americans, with an historian's eyes." Fleming was born in Jersey City, the son of a powerful local politician. He has had a lifetime interest in American politics. He also wrote a history of West Point which the New York Times called "the best...ever written." Military history is another strong interest. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice Fleming, who is a gifted writer of books for young readers.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Marty McCarthy VINE VOICE on December 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
Thomas Fleming's "Duel" paints history with broad, vivid, and colorful strokes and gives to the history a certain drama and interaction that makes it an engaging product to the reader.
However, the reader should be forewarned that the account given to the times of Hamilton and Burr is not (always) balanced. Fleming's open and articulated biases make it hard for the reader to accept "Duel" as an "objective" piece of history.
With that said, there are some real gems to be found in this book. Fleming's account of the genesis and execution of the Sedition Act is incredible. Also of great worth was Fleming's account of Hamilton's libel appeal before New York State's highest court. Until that time, TRUTH could not be asserted as a defense in a libel prosecution. Fleming illuminates this with great detail.
Many reviewers find sympathy with Aaron Burr, who has commonly been portrayed as a villain. Fleming does a lot of heavy lifting to rehabilitating Burr's historical character, but Fleming also leaves some of Burr's deceit intact (Burr's dreams of ruling a Western Empire).
What I find curious is that many reviewers felt little sympathy for Alexander Hamilton. While it is true that Fleming's account does portray Hamilton as a washed-up Federalist, it is important to note that (generally) ANY Federalist after 1800 was a washed-up Federalist. The Federalist fall after 1800 was sudden and complete. Fleming portrays Hamilton as having many admirable qualities (i.e. intelligence, diligence, a desire to re-invent himself - at least religiously, etc.)
The real villainry in Fleming's work is reserved for Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is the mythical "Founding Father" that takes the hardest (deserved?) fall.
All in all, "Duel" is an engaging read and highly recommended - even with its apparent drawbacks.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth C. Shepro on February 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Duel" by Thomas Fleming is a seductive and complex account of the final phase of the political struggle between President Jefferson, his Federalist nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, and one of the supreme villains of the early American republic, Aaron Burr, the almost-president. Unusual in its perspective that tells very little, only what is necessary, about Jefferson and Hamilton's Revolutionary War days, the book portrays Jefferson very unsympathetically, perhaps with reason, as a backstage political manipulator who does his dirty work through proxies while suavely staying above the fray. From the newspaper editor he suborns to libel George Washington, to his campaign to undermine Burr in his quest for new political life after Jefferson engineers his ouster from the 1804 national ticket, Jefferson emerges as a very modern politician, hardly the marble figure overlooking the Tidal Basin. Fleming's view of Jefferson is very close to the portrait painted by Gore Vidal in his fictional autobiography, "Burr," years ago, and which was also, incidentally, a very good read. As a sometime sympathizer of Burr, whose supposed villainy, at least before his unfortunate Western adventure, is never really explained here or elsewhere, I appreciated Fleming's balanced account, which made clear that Hamilton, not Burr was the instigator of the duel. There is an echo of Clinton (William J., not George or DeWitt) in the book, but who is it?Read more ›
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I used to think of early Federalist America and had to pick a villain, I unhestatingly would say "Aaron Burr." However after reading this sweeping (and at times hard to follow) book, I have a certain sympathy for Burr, a little less respect for Alexander Hamilton (whom the author constantly and annoyingly refers to as "General Hamilton" eventhough he never really commanded troops as a General) and a whole lot less respect for Thomas Jefferson who it now appears was a failure as war time Governor of Virginia and was overrated and weak as a President. Burr though comes across as hardly a saint. One of the best features of this book is to show the reader that secession (which one thinks of purely in terms of the Confederacy and the Civil War) was actually a very real prospect as New England and the (Mid) Western territories constantly spoke about breaking away from the dominace of Virginia. Burr's actions after the fateful year of 1804 did border on treason as well as his Napoleonic delusions of grandeur in Mexico, Texas and Louisiana reveal a conspiratorial side to him that is decidedly unattractive. Alexander Hamilton comes across as a washed up Federalist has-been who if not for his "martyrdom" that July morning on Weehawken Heights, would be reagrded with less enthusiams by latter historians. (I aslo learned that Hamilton's son was killed in a duel a few years earlier). Fleming tells a good story, unfortuantely it does get hard after a while to remember all the names he throws at you, and what the people stood for. Nevertheless I found it for all its 408 pages, a fast read as the inevitable climax to the Burr-Hamilton (and Jefferson) feud comes to fruition on July 11, 1804. As a resident of New York City, I also enjoyed Fleming's description of New York.
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