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Cover image for Fallen founder : the life of Aaron Burr
Fallen founder : the life of Aaron Burr
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Books, 2008.
Physical Description:
xiii, 540 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm
A man of promising parts -- To concert with my brother officers -- Such are the letters I love -- An unprejudiced mind -- A certain little senator -- The statesman and the soldier -- The ruin of the vice president -- Little quid emperor -- Will O' Wisp treason -- That stranger was Aaron Burr -- Epilogue: He used no unnecessary words.
Villain of the revolution or victim of history? Generations have been told that Aaron Burr was a betrayer of Alexander Hamilton, of his country, of those who had nobler ideas. But in this biography, Nancy Isenberg resurrects the Burr that time forgot: a loyal patriot, brilliant lawyer, and progressive Enlightenment intellectual who had the tremendous misfortune to make powerful enemies whose efforts ultimately dammed his legacy. Exposing the gritty reality of 18th-century America and its resemblance to our own time, Fallen Founder offers an often surprising view of Burr and his era.
Conference Subject:
Electronic Access:
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Call Number
923 Burr, Aaron

On Order



From the author of White Trash and The Problem of Democracy, a controversial challenge to the views of the Founding Fathers offered by Ron Chernow and David McCullough

Lin-Manuel Miranda's play "Hamilton" has reignited interest in the founding fathers; and it features Aaron Burr among its vibrant cast of characters. With Fallen Founder , Nancy Isenberg plumbs rare and obscure sources to shed new light on everyone's favorite founding villain. The Aaron Burr whom we meet through Isenberg's eye-opening biography is a feminist, an Enlightenment figure on par with Jefferson, a patriot, and--most importantly--a man with powerful enemies in an age of vitriolic political fighting. Revealing the gritty reality of eighteenth-century America, Fallen Founder is the authoritative restoration of a figure who ran afoul of history and a much-needed antidote to the hagiography of the revolutionary era.

Author Notes

Nancy Isenberg received her Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990. She is the T. Harry Williams Professor of History at Louisiana State University.

She is the author of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America; Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr (winner of the 2008 Oklahoma Book Award for non-fiction); Madison and Jefferson, co-authored with Andrew Burstein, was named one of the top five non-fiction titles of 2010 by Kirkus; and White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, which is a 2016 New York Times Bestseller.

She has been featured on C-SPAN2 "Book TV," and on various NPR programs. She and Andrew Burstein are regular contributors to Salon.com.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Does Burr belong in the pantheon of founding fathers? Or is he, as historians have asserted ever since he fatally shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel, a faux founder who happened to be in the right place at the right time? Was he really the enigmatic villain, the political schemer who lacked any moral core, the sexual pervert, the cherubic-faced slanderer so beloved of popular imagination? This striking new biography by Isenberg (Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America) argues that Burr was, indeed, the real thing, a founder "at the center of nation building" and a "capable leader in New York political circles." Interestingly, if controversially, Isenberg believes Burr was "the only founder to embrace feminism," the only one who "adhered to the ideal that reason should transcend party differences." Far from being an empty vessel, she says, Burr defended freedom of speech, wanted to expand suffrage and was a proponent of equal rights. Burr was not without his faults, she concludes, but then, none of the other founders was entirely angelic, either, and his actions must be viewed in the context of his political times. As this important book reminds us, America's founders behaved like ordinary human beings even when they were performing their extraordinary deeds. Illus. (May 14) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

In this positive portrayal of the controversial Aaron Burr (1756-1836), Isenberg departs from all previous biographers, deploring their lack of basic research. Although she acknowledges that studying Burr is hampered by the loss of his papers in a shipwreck, Isenberg more than compensates by tapping negative publicity disseminated by Burr's political enemies. Comparing their scurrilous reports with private descriptions of Burr as cultured, well liked, and progressive for the times (Isenberg approves him as a feminist ), the author argues that Burr's reputation was marred not by genuine defects of character but by political competition. And she details the three episodes on which opinion of Burr rises and falls: his tie with Jefferson for the presidency in the 1800 election, his 1804 duel with Hamilton, and his 1807 treason trial. Making a strong case for revising received wisdom about Burr, Isenberg significantly contributes to the history of the early republic. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2007 Booklist

Library Journal Review

In this flawed work about one of American history's most fascinating characters, Isenberg (history, Univ. of Tulsa; Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America), an unabashed Aaron Burr apologist, attempts to restore her subject's reputation by investigating his political and personal conduct. She examines three major episodes in Burr's long, turbulent, and ultimately tragic life: his failed bid for the 1800 presidency, his escalating hostility toward Alexander Hamilton that culminated in the duel that ruined Burr's once-promising political career, and his trial for treason that ended in acquittal but forced him into exile. Burr is portrayed as an innocent victim of unsubstantiated slander, gossip, and enmity throughout his career as an attorney, a U.S. senator from New York, and vice president. It is an unconvincing and highly subjective portrait that raises more questions than it answers. Roger G. Kennedy's Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character is a superior title for general readers that provides objective analysis of Burr's political machinations and personal behavior. Milton Lomask's two-volume biography of Burr, now o.p., is the more scholarly work that libraries should possess. Not recommended.-Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.