Burr, by Gore Vidal

This was an entertaining read and delightful in every way. Gore Vidal tells the life of Aaron Burr, our great national Satan, with skill and panache.

Using the framing device of having Burr dictate his memoirs to a naive young lawyer/wannabe writer gives Vidal the ability to create a suave, patrician voice for Burr. He also gives a broader context through the point of view of Charlie Schuyler, the man to whom Burr is passing along his memories. Burr gives us an inverted view of the time of the Founding Fathers, who are suddenly more human, fallible and realistic than the marble version we usually get.

Vidal reminds us of the chaos and uncertainty of the early days of the United States. The Revolution was hardly won by us, rather it was lost by the British. Washington was a lousy general. Jefferson, the agrarian, was actually a gifted empire builder, the most successful one of the 19th century. Hamilton comes off better than you’d expect. (Still, it’s a mystery how such a banker-loving monarchist became the hip hop musical star he is today.)

I have no idea how accurate the book is, but I trust in Vidal’s brilliance and work ethic. More importantly, the historical characters make dramatic sense and the story is completely plausible. And it’s a lot of fun from start to finish.

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