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Burr: A Novel Paperback – February 15, 2000
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"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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Vidal does equally well personifying Burr's contemporaries. Despite our lionized perception of giants such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, these men were human and, therefore, necessarily were not perfect. We are presented these heroes with blemishes and all, literally down to the carbuncles on Washington's backside.
Nor, in all likelihood, were bad boys completely despicable. Burr was a scoundrel, but a somewhat charming one at that. In Vidal's novel we discover an affable Burr who remains scheming but amiable to the end of his long life.
A particular strength of "Burr" is the construct of the narrative. Vidal moves seamlessly back and forth from the turbulent Revolutionary years of our Republic through the Jacksonian era. The former is captured in the oral and written memoirs of Colonel Burr, the later in the story of Charlie Schuyler, a fictional protégée of Burr who is writing an authorized biography of the notorious celebrity.
The depth of Vidal's research is not lost on the reader. Even when he segues into fiction, Vidal remains true to the gossip of the day. A central theme in the novel is Schuyler's attempt to track down juicy tidbits about the unsubstantiated rumor that Martin Van Buren was Burr's illegitimate son. The novel ends with a surprising variation on this theme.
Particularly interesting is Vidal's presentation of how Burr viewed his infamous duel with Alexander Hamilton. Surprisingly, Hamilton is not demonized by Burr nearly so much as is Jefferson. The author of the Declaration of Independence is portrayed as the shrewd and hypocritical politician that he probably was, albeit not to the level of odiousness portrayed by his own vice-president.
"Burr" is the earliest in a series of historical novels that feature various luminaries and periods of American history. This novel may well entice you to read the others, as it has done so for me.