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A Fatal Friendship: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Hardcover – May, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Aaron Burr has been villainized by historians ever since he killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804. In A Fatal Friendship, Arnold Rogow attempts to rehabilitate Aaron Burr by fully describing the context of the duel and the personal histories of the two men. All that is really known about the duel is that Vice President Aaron Burr challenged Hamilton because Hamilton had made disparaging remarks about him in a public place. No one knows what Hamilton said, and because Rogow is a very careful historian, he doesn't come to many firm conclusions here, but he does present some compelling arguments about the sources of enmity between the two men.

Hamilton may have resented Burr because they came from such different backgrounds--Hamilton was illegitimate and had to work his way up in the world, while Burr was born into money and high social status. Both men became lawyers and politicians, but while Hamilton cowrote The Federalist Papers and authored important legislation, Burr never achieved much political influence. Hamilton did much more to mold the United States in its early years than Burr did, so it is understandable that historians have portrayed him sympathetically. In this book, Rogow suggests that Hamilton may not have been above reproach. Both men had multiple extramarital affairs, so it is possible that the duel was over a woman. Hamilton may have accused Burr of having an incestuous relationship with his daughter Theo. The problem with this book is that there is not enough evidence to support any of these theories, and there probably never will be. However, Rogow is a capable historian and this book is worth reading for its re-evaluation of these pivotal characters in American history. --Jill Marquis

From Publishers Weekly

In this extensively researched and densely written study, Rogow (James Forrestal) attempts to restore Burr's reputation, which was shattered after he shot and killed Hamilton in 1804 during a duel that Burr provoked because Hamilton refused to apologize for spreading an unspecified slur about Burr. Although the author documents that the two men collaborated in court cases and met socially, Hamilton, a Federalist, and Burr, who had Republican ties, were bitter political enemies. According to Rogow, Hamilton was preoccupied with destroying Burr's career; he cites as evidence Hamilton's support for Jefferson, whom he disliked, instead of Burr during the 1800 presidential election. Rogow attributes Hamilton's obsession to envy of Burr's privileged birth, as contrasted with Hamilton's illegitimacy. He also discusses an interesting conjecture, drawn from earlier biographies, that Burr and Hamilton were rivals for the affections of the same woman. Rogow dismisses an account that circulated after the duel that a gallant Hamilton fired into the air rather than shooting at Burr. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 351 pages
  • Publisher: Hill & Wang Pub; 1st edition (May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809047535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809047536
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,823,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Danny on August 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Arnold Rogow's "A Fatal Friendship" does not set out to villify Aaron Burr, nor does it exhalt Alexander Hamilton unduly.
Instead, it accurately gauges parallel events of their unique relationship, as befits a historian. Readers should remember Rogow is a psychologist, first and foremost, and thus he is permitted to speculate as to Burr and Hamilton's motivations. Rogow consistently qualifies any statements he makes, without overstatements or hyperbole. Therefore, any reader who wants a simple parable of good and evil will be greatly disappointed.
While a history undergrad, I purchased this book simultaneously with Thomas Fleming's own interpretation, "Duel." I was pleased with both books, but I must say Rogow's writing satisfied more because of his more objective stance. Fleming seems to always nurture a slight, though forgivable, bias against Aaron Burr. It is refreshing to see a just assessment of that unprincipled, infuriating, but somehow likeable rogue. As for Hamilton, Rogow ably commends his great political contributions, but also reminds us of our "flawed giant"'s scandalous affair with Maria Reynolds and scurrilous smear campaigns against Federalist president John Adams. Finally, Rogow portrays Hamilton as the true instigator of the vendetta leading to Burr's final challenge and the duel of 1804.
Aaron Burr was no saint, but neither was Hamilton an angelic martyr for the Republic. Two complex historical figures with a tangled common thread. Rogow's study has helped us unravel a Gordian knot of American history. A pity "A Fatal Friendship" is now out of print.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dana Keish on April 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Author Rogow presents a well crafted dual biography of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, trying to piece together the events that culiminated in the duel which left Hamilton dead and Burr an outcast. More emphasis is laid on Hamilton and his life, with Aaron Burr becoming more of a cipher. Burr seems to never have committed his thoughts to paper so his stand on various political issues isn't clear. Hamilton on the other hand, wrote volumes about all facets of his political life. The two came from a very different background yet both ended up as successful attorneys in New York City. Hamilton never stopped trying to sabotage the political rise of Burr and the reasons never seemed very clear. Many political figures of the time commented on questionable ethics and morals of Burr yet Hamilton himself was immersed in one of the first major political sex scandals.
Rogow tries to analyze both men and provide various ideas about what could have led to the duel. It is interesting to note that Hamilton seemed to possess a "death wish" in the final years of his life, after his eldest son Philip had been killed in a duel. This seems to be the only context in which the duel makes any sense. Hamilton could not end his own life but dying a noble death and making Burr an outcast too boot was simply to enticing.
The book was very well done and I especially liked the fact that the author didn't seem predispose to agree or disagree with either man. The men were shown with all their faults and yet their contributions to the founding of the country is richly demonstrated.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Colin Pool on May 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I originally purchased this book as a source for a term paper on the subject, and actually planned to only spot-read the book. Yet, after reading Rogow's introduction, I found his argument so intriguing that I felt I just had to read the whole thing. Imagine, Hamilton having "playground" issues with Burr's wealth. Its such an odd little interpretation of history, and its presented so well, that it not only makes for an interesting read, but actually does its job in convincing you of the argument. If you have a penchant for early American History, this is a must read.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I found "Fatal Friendship" to be an original, engaging and well-written account of a fascinating and still largely unresolved incident in American history. The book was also refreshingly free of the typical "anti-Burr" bias that has been the norm from the 1800's through Fawn Brodie. Rogow did an excellent job of discussing the protagonists' differing characters in the proper historical context. History of this sort cannot be neatly tied up with simple black-and-white explanations (despite what the grammatically-challenged reviewers from Oklahoma and Kansas below would seem to prefer). Rogow deserves credit for tackling an interesting subject from a new perspective. Two very recent books, Kennedy's "Burr, Hamilton and Jefferson" and Fleming's "Duel," follow Rogow's lead in examining this period and these two Founding Fathers from a new angle, and also are higly recommended.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
On the whole, I found this book a disappointment. I believe Rogow, at the very least, took liberal license of the historical evidence. His approach reminded me of a soap opera. The context included Hamilton's insecurity regarding his bastardy and humble beginnings vs Burr's patrician upbringing, and the numerous amorous foibles of each (a strange relationship between Hamilton and his sister-in-law, the hint of an incestuous relationship on the part of Burr, a love triangle including a prostitute, and finally a possible homosexual attraction between Hamilton and Burr.) Surprisingly, after all the juicy and very questionable speculations and psychological analyses, Rogow never took a firm stand on the reasons for the duel or the validity of the later treason charges against Burr.
In Rogow's defense, I think there is room for this type of analysis but it requires more development and may be better placed under the headings of speculative or historical fiction. He provided enough detail to give a good feel for the period. Also, there were some typical acerbic quotes from John Adams that gave me a chuckle.
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