SCANDALMONGER by William Safire


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The columnist’s fourth novel (Freedom, 1987, etc.) is a pleasing fictionalized history text that demonstrates how sexual

scandal is as old and venerated a tradition in American politics as kissing babies. The story opens in 1792, and it is 1803 before

the scandals—each involving some form of sexual impropriety—are complete. The scandalmonger is one James Callender, a

Scottish native who flees to America after being charged with sedition. His first scandal involves Alexander Hamilton, the

Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington, and his curious relation to the lowlife James Reynolds—and his attractive

wife Maria. Though the initial crisis is covered up within the government, Callender catches wind of the charge that Hamilton,

in an adulterous relation with Maria, was blackmailed by Reynolds into providing confidential market information. Callender

publishes the story, and Hamilton is forced to admit adultery. This disappoints Callender, whose primary interest was in the shady

financial dealings. But Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton’s archrival, befriends the humble journalist and (with an ineffective John

Adams now in the White House) solicits his help in getting himself elected the third President. When Jefferson fails to deliver

the promised compensation, however, Callender introduces his readers to Sally Hemings—and pays the ultimate price.

Richly researched and nicely paced: sure to satisfy readers with a healthy appetite for American history.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-86719-2
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2000


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