Readers of Thomas Fleming’s Duel (1999) and Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (2004) might profitably turn to this splendid...

FALLEN FOUNDER

THE LIFE OF AARON BURR

Persuasive reconsideration of possibly the most scandalous figure in American history.

Washington distrusted him. Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton, despite disagreements among themselves, all loathed him. Is it possible to rehabilitate the historical reputation of Hamilton’s killer, the vice-president indicted for murder, the adventurer tried for treason, the mysterious Aaron Burr? Isenberg (History/Univ. of Tulsa; Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, 1999, etc.) skillfully submits a brief that her subject, himself an innovative and eloquent attorney, would have been proud to author. From a lineage more distinguished than any other Founder’s (his mother was the daughter of noted Puritan Jonathan Edwards, his father president of the college that became Princeton), Burr was a Revolutionary War hero and later established a thriving legal practice. From the cauldron of New York’s tribal and contentious politics, he emerged as a charismatic leader and an unparalleled organizer whose thoroughly moderate political convictions raised suspicions about his loyalty. Traduced by both Anti-Federalists and Federalists as an “intriguer,” he appears, as Isenberg ably demonstrates, only to have been more forthright in his machinations than his contemporaries. His mastery of the savage politics of his day, she argues, not the invented personal vices reported in the defamatory press, earned him the scorn of thwarted rivals whose names are among the most glittering in American history. In some ways ahead of his time, Burr supported women’s rights and pushed for reconciliation of the new nation’s agrarian and commercial interests. He was, however, distinctly 18th-century in his insistence on points of personal honor that led to the infamous duel at Weehawken and in his enthusiasm for speculation, a fever shared by Washington and Hamilton. This last partially explains his Mexican adventure, the consequent 1807 treason trial and his self-imposed European exile following acquittal. Amazingly, he returned to New York to practice law for many years before dying in 1836.

Readers of Thomas Fleming’s Duel (1999) and Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (2004) might profitably turn to this splendid biography for a necessary and overdue corrective.

Pub Date: May 14, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-06352-9

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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