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The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr (American Portraits) Paperback – May 1, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"H. W. Brands brings to life Burr’s forgotten contributions as a Revolutionary War hero and politician, as well as the shame that shadowed him for the rest of his life after Hamilton’s death."
The New York Times 
 
"Intense. . . . Short, accessible . . . tightly focused work. . . . In The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr, Mr. Brands goes beyond what is commonly known about Burr to show his more admirable side, which lay in his developing the mind and character of the treasure of his life, his daughter Theodosia."
The Washington Times
 
“Tightly crafted. . . . Aaron Burr is our Founding Father in the shadows. So often the gifted American who gut-shot Alexander Hamilton on a sheltered rocky ledge in Weehawken, N.J., is remembered as a nasty piece of work. . . . The flawed, fascinating pol has been the subject of many biographies. But in H.W. Brands' beguiling 192-pager, The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr, the grandson of Calvinist preacher Jonathan Edwards steps off the page with customary aplomb—not as a cartoonish villain but as a cultured, considerate and caring father who was a Princeton graduate at 16, a hero of the Revolution at 20, New York state attorney general at 30 and U.S. senator at 35. . . . Like Herman Melville, who swept us back to 19th-century New Bedford's Spouter-Inn in Moby-Dick, Brands transports us to a room on Stone Street in New York ‘on this eighth day of June, anno domini 1812.’ . . . And it's [Burr and Theo’s] highly literate, lively correspondence that leavens this revealing book and makes its subjects spring to life.”
Austin American-Statesman
 
“Although Burr is the subject of numerous biographies, Brands’ use of the letters between Burr and Theo, named after her mother, allows a somewhat different perspective. As the title may suggest, this sketch seems to look more at Burr the man than the other categories in which he could be placed—politician, duelist, accused traitor. While Brand concisely covers the breadth of Burr's life, it is clear that the father-daughter relationship was an extraordinary one.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
 
“Compelling. . . . A softer perspective of one of American history’s most controversial figures. It’s true Burr gets a bad rap. . . . The letters give us an authentic glimpse of his personality while nicely mirroring the dramatic political landscape (duels, deals and treason) of the time.”
Austinist
 
“Brands reveals another side of Burr in this examination of his extensive correspondence with his beloved daughter, Theodosia. . . . The letters deal with more than personal relations, as Burr discourses upon subjects as varied as sexual equality and political rivalry. . . . This useful, often emotionally stirring work offers a surprising view of an enigmatic personality.”
Booklist
 
“The second in the author’s series entitled American Portraits, this is one of the increasingly popular “small stories” that give so much insight into the men, women and events of history. A short but thrilling page-turner. Brands burrows into Burr’s psyche and exposes his failings as he details the outstanding talents that were so sadly wasted.”
Kirkus Reviews


Praise for H. W. Brands:

"Few historians can tell a tale better."
The Dallas Morning News

"A wonderfully skilled narrative historian."
Los Angeles Times

"Brands is masterly."
The Economist

"Brands will change the way you see history."
The Austin American-Statesman

About the Author

H. W. Brands is the Dickson Allen Anderson Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography for The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, and for Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
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Product Details

  • Series: American Portraits
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Original edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307743268
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307743268
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #460,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An interesting account of the life of Aaron Burr, told without bias or favoritism. This relatively short read (192 pages in paperback) covers most of Vice President Burr's adult life - though his part in the Revolution is alluded to rather than documented. The "Heartbreak", of course, refers to his relationship with his beloved daughter Theodosia and his grandson, Aaron Burr Alston.

Professor Brands applies an interesting style to the writing of the book: short, succinct chapters drawn up in short, succinct sentences told in an assertive style - in the fashion of one who has actually witnessed history, rather than one who is recounting it from research. He blends the correspondence of Mr. Burr and Theodosia and other characters into the narrative without breaking the pace of the story. His writing is interesting and quite pleasant in its cadence. There is a "romantic" character about the telling of this story - which I think Professor Brands very much intends - though the story is not saccharine, or maudlin in the least.

The author spends more time on Burr's trial for treason than other biographies have and it is appreciated. We hear from John Marshall, Luther Martin, Edmond Randolph and other now famous figures at the trial. However, apart from the detail of the trial, if you have read a Burr biography, you will not likely find new historic incidents here, nor do I think that was Professor Brands' intent - so much as to very deftly present the emotion of the events of Arron Burr's life. And, he has done that very well.

Consider reading as well, Professor Nancy Isenberg's book "
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Format: Paperback
History has not been kind to Aaron Burr. We remember him as a rather despicable character that killed the more renowned Alexander Hamilton in a duel. We might even remember that he further degraded his image by being tried for treason by failing in an attempt to wrest New Orleans away from Spain for personal political gain.
In this short but illuminating biography, Brands has given us an insightful look into the life of a gifted and complicated man who achieved much in his lifetime yet is remembered for his noted failings. This is not a full on biography but a thoughtful narrative mostly in the characters' own words, of a talented yet flawed politician at a critical and formative time in U.S. history.
Brands remind us of the major facts of Aaron Burr's life that made him an admired and respected leader. He was a Revolutionary War soldier, an adept lawyer, successful politician, doting father and Vice-President of the United States, receiving initially the same number of votes for President as Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800. His earlier success as a state assemblyman and New York state Attorney General led to his successful race for Senator from New York over Hamilton's father-in-law that led to Hamilton's undying enmity.
Because this portrait of Burr deals with the key tragic moments in his life, this biography centers on a handful of pivotal events and relationships that give us insight into his character.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dr. H.W. Brands has written several historical bestsellers written for a popular general audience. Among his tomes are "The First American" a biography of Benjamin Franklin and "A Traitor to His Class" a life of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr is a brief account of Burr's relationship with his only child the erudite and tragic Theodosia.
Burr (1756-1836) was a Revolutionary War hero. He married a woman who was ten years his senior who died when Theodosia their only child was eleven years old. Burr believed in equality of the sexes and raised Theodosia to be a scholar. She was a lovely young woman who married William Alston. Alston became elected as the governor of South Carolina. The couple had one child Aaron Burr Jr. who died as a young boy. Theodosia was sickly disappearing at sea on her voyage to visit her father in New York City. Burr never got over her loss though he did continue to practice law in New York.
Burr was the grandson of Jonathan Edward the famed New England theologian. Aaron's father served as President of Princeton University where Burr graduated becoming a lawyer. Burr was active in New York politics as a Repbulican. He served as Vice-President during the first administration of President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson and Burr later became bitter enemies. Jefferson believed Burr was seeking to separate the western portion of the United States and go to war against Mexico. It was believed Burr wanted to set the capital of his new nation in New Orleans with himself as the head of state. He was accused of treason in a famous trial in Richmond, Virginia presided over by John Marshall, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Marshall was a strong Federalist and enemy of Jefferson.
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