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Scandalmonger (Harvest Book) Paperback – June 7, 2001

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (June 7, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156013231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156013239
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #975,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Scandalmonger is the 25th book from William Safire, the prolific, feisty New York Times columnist and word wrangler. It's a historic novel set in 1790s New England, when the Founding Fathers were enduring various crises and humiliations as they scurried to become part of the history books. Always a stickler for the truth--as long as it's uttered in the finest of phrases--the author lets us know right from the start that we're "entitled to know what is history and what is twistery." Based on documents and diaries, and complete with an exhaustive section of footnotes separating fact from fiction, Scandalmonger turns out to be a bona fide page-turner. Safire knows what he's doing; he knows he has a lesson to teach. It's a lesson about how early America wasn't much different from Clinton's America--the temptations of mistresses, the power struggles, the ridiculous debates about purity between corrupt men being just as present. If he has one message, it is this: within every powerful politician, there is a dirty-minded second grader trying to get out. Witness this scene between two outraged congressmen who seem intent on "turning the House into a 'gladiators' arena'":
Griswold's stout cane cracked Lyon on the top of the head, then across his back, again and again. More than twenty heavy blows rained down on his victim, who was groping for help in escaping along the floor, blinded by the blood spurting down from his scalp.
Meanwhile, the title character, James Callender--who gives the fourth estate an early bad name--"looked around frantically for a weapon."

And there's far more in store: Safire's deeply entertaining novel is divided into five scandals, which take place over a period of 10 years, reaching a high point with the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemings. As the story goes, Jefferson loved her for years and she bore many children by him. These days all over America, the descendants of that union keep coming forward for television interviews. As Scandalmonger illustrates, the past is always present. --Emily White --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Grammar maven, Pulitzer Prize-winner, novelist (Freedom) and erudite political columnist Safire delivers a sprawling, fact-based if somewhat stiffly written novel that will acquaint readers with several of the nation's first political scandals. In light of the recent White House brouhaha, it's fascinating to learn that in the days of the founding fathers, politicians were just as licentious and newspapermen even more scurrilous than some players in contemporary media. The narrative chronicles the career of James Thomson Callender, a Scottish immigrant pamphleteer whose sensational exposes of the private lives of public men destroyed reputations and altered the course of U.S. history. It is Callender who breaks the story about Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton that forces Hamilton to admit to adultery in order to protect his business reputation. Later, Callender is charged with sedition, for issuing "a statement intended to incite the hatred of the people toward their government leaders." But he is not deterred from subsequently disseminating the story of Thomas Jefferson's liaison with his slave, "Luscious Sally" Hemings, herself the offspring of Jefferson's wife's father and a mulatto slave. Meticulously recreating the stories and dialogue from diaries, newspaper accounts and court transcripts (there are several trials involving libel), Safire delivers nicely rounded portraits of Washington, John Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Callender's own suspicious death closes the tale, a case of real life providing grist for melodrama. Always meticulous with facts, Safire adds an epilogue chronicling the fates of the major characters, followed by more than 50 pages of detailed notes and sources and a bibliography, all of which will be catnip to history buffs. Despite its heft, the novel moves along at a good clip, since Safire's use of short chapters, snippets of dialogue and frequent changes of scene creates narrative momentum. Agent, Lynn Nesbit. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

William Safire began his writing career as a reporter, became a speechwriter in the Nixon White House, and re-crossed the street to write an Op-Ed column in the New York Times for the next three decades. He also wrote the weekly "On Language" column in the New York Times Magazine. He was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and the Medal of Freedom.

Customer Reviews

The Pacing and prose of Scandlemonger are perfect.
Omer Belsky
For anyone interested in the history of American politics, or in seeing a more human side of our Founding Fathers, I highly recommend this book.
Doug Vaughn
Safire does such a good job of making history come alive.
James Fergus

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

136 of 143 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on February 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Twistery is the word used by the Author, William Safire, to qualify where he strayed from known facts. He provides a detailed explanation at the end so there is no confusion. It is impossible for me to judge, but I am confident that to the extent he twisted known history, it is a small part of this book. If he had stayed absolutely faithful to facts as they are known, but continued the novel-like style, as opposed to dry recitation of fact like many textbooks do, the book would be diminished just a bit.
The Players are not new, nor are the stories. Mr. Safire's gift is his ability to transform what can often be the tedious study of dates and facts, into a thrilling read. If he were to write textbooks, without literary license, the study of our Country's History would reach new levels of popularity.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, James Monroe, Dr. Benjamin Rush, all old and familiar, but all new here. Duels, stolen letters, written admissions of guilt, peculation, and pecadillos, these bits are all true. The Alien and Sedition act, one of the most notorious pieces of legislation in our Country's History plays a prominent role. Add then murder, wrongful imprisonment, treason, and trials with "The Hanging Judge" Samuel Chase.
And to bring the story into the present, the analyses of certain persons DNA to at once settle 200-year-old questions/accusations. Or do they not?
It may sound strange to say that I don't want to give any of the book's stories away, for how can you give away what is historical fact? But with or without the twistery, the book makes old information fresh, and shows that our elected officials today, and the press that follow their every breath have changed oh so little.
Buy it, you'll love it!
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66 of 70 people found the following review helpful By P. O'Rourke on January 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book continues to prove that Safire is: (1) smart; and (2) thorough. Through this book, Safire demonstrates that a scandal seeking function is not unique to the modern press, but was alive and well in the era immediately following the Revolutionary War. Almost everyone knows the historical legacy of Hamilton, Jefferson, Monroe, Adams and Madison, but this book reminds us that even our founding fathers were susceptible to the weaknesses for which we condemn our current leaders. The book was best when it focused on the lives of the principal characters and bogged down occasionally when imparting the political climate of the era. All in all, though, I learned alot by reading it.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Robert A. Jacques on June 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Wow! Want to get beneath the saccharine veneer most historians put on America's Federal Period? Want to see politics-as-usual so bad that you'll think today's politics-as-usual is positively altruism? Want to find out what life was like for newspaper editors in the days when truth was no defense against libel suits? Read Safire's Scandalmonger. Using their own letters and speeches, Safire gives us the Founding Fathers as we never saw them in our school rooms: the proud George Washington obsessed with his public image, the erratic and volatile John Adams, the dreamy and sensual Thomas Jefferson, the practical and flawed Alexander Hamilton, the crafty and self-assured Aaron Burr, the naive but loyal James Madison, and the coldly calculating, slightly reptilian James Monroe. And through it all walk two of the most remarkable, powerful newspapermen in American history, William Cobbett and James Callender, bitter enemies in politics but accidental allies in promoting freedom of the press. Adding to the book's educational and entertainment value, Safire reveals his sources and separates truth from fiction at the end of his novel. Novel? Well, maybe.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Doug Vaughn HALL OF FAME on May 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
William Safire's novel Scandalmonger brings to life the clash between the press and politicians two centuries ago, and in doing so holds up a mirror to our own times. It is not likely to be a surprise to readers that the Founding Fathers were as subject to human failures as politicians in our own time or that the press, then as now, was more concerned with sales than with truth. What is fresh and novel about this book is the focus on James Callender, the "scandalmonger" whose writings break the stories that impact the political fortunes of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, and Maria Reynolds, who was central to both one of the scandals (having had affairs with both Hamilton and Burr) as well as becoming central to Callender's bleak life. What fascinated me was how unbelievable, yet demonstrably true, this story is. Relying heavily on letters, journals and published documents of the time, Safire recreates a story of clashing political ambitions, illicit sex, corruption in high places, coverup, deception and murder.
Callender, a refugee from press persecution in Scotland and down on his luck, is selected to break the story of Alexander Hamilton's supposed financial impropriaties at the Treasury Department. This becomes a fascinating story when the "facts" of the case intersect with Hamilton's secret sexual relationship with the wife of his supposed accomplice and he allows the sexual scandal to be used to coverup (and "explain") the financial one. To oversimplify the book's complex story lines, Callender goes from success with his Hamilton expose to being the subject of government pressure to silence him. The Sedition laws are passed.
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