The duel : the parallel lives of Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr

by Judith St. George

Paper Book, 2009


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Call number

J 973.4


New York : Viking, 2009.


Biography & Autobiography. History. Sociology. Young Adult Nonfiction. HTML:In curiously parallel lives, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were both orphaned at an early age. Both were brilliant students who attended college�??one at Princeton, the other at Columbia�??and studied law. Both were young staff officers under General George Washington, and both became war heroes. Politics beckoned them, and each served in the newly formed government of the fledgling nation. Why, then, did these two face each other at dawn in a duel that ended with death for one and opprobrium for the other? Judith St. George's lively biography, told in alternating chapters, brings to life two complex men who played major roles in the formation of the United States.… (more)

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LibraryThing member KeithMaddox
This is a well-told description of the lives of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. It is told in a dual structure, revolving around similarities in the life stories of the two men who would one day become mortal enemies. Each chapter is divided into two parts, centering on each personality, though
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much of the story becomes repeated, for example during the description of events during the Revolutionary War and beyond. This biography is engaging and well-written, and is definitely the kind of book that is difficult to put down. This book has an extensive index and a fair bibliography, though there are only two illustrations (portraits - do you want to guess of whom?). The strongest two features of this book are that the two lives are painted in a realistic and accessable, emotionally engaging way, and that the reader can quickly familiarize himself or herself with the personalities, issues, and concerns of the time. This book would make an excellent introduction to the setting of the American Revolution, and in particular, the very early days of the Republic. I predict the reader will be surprised several times by how a situation taken for granted today (such as the location of the national capital) was arrived at, or how either Alexander Hamilton or Aaron Burr was instrumental in shaping something now taken for granted.
The negatives of this book are mainly in depth. For one thing, St. George does not choose to explain the background behind many of the issues encountered in the book. For example, the economic situation under the Articles of Confederation is summarized in one sentence, as is Hamilton's idea for the federal assumption of state Revolutionary War debt. Both of these concepts can easily merit whole books in their own right, and I find it hard in particular to condone such a passing reference to perhaps Hamilton's greatest effect on our modern lives. Another glaring example is the rules of dueling (considering the book's focus). The reader can follow the action through context, but it does seem difficult to accept that the book contains no general description of the phenomenon. A related negative is the lack of the book's illustrations. The book could have used pictures (or maps) of New York (which was important in both men's lives) their backgrounds (Hamilton was orphaned at an early age and grew up in the British Caribbean; Burr was orphaned at an early age, but was from a very prominent family, including his grandfather, the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards), and their military and political careers (in particular, page 62 describes how Hamilton designed and organized everything for the U. S. army in preparation for war with France in 1798 including his own uniform, which I dare say any reader would want to see). One final concern with the book is not one that comes easily to me, but I have learned in multicultural classes that one example of sexism in the curriculum we teach is the tendency to describe the great figures of history as gallant and charming ladies' men, which effectively puts female students "in their place" and encourages male students to think this acceptable. St. George's book certainly describes Hamilton and Burr as gallant and charming ladies' men, though to be fair, St. George points out how important Burr took his daughter Theodosia's education (and how successful she was in it), and refers to the hurt caused by Hamilton's eagerness to clear up a scandal concerning blackmail by admitting he was unfaithful to his wife (rather than suffer the public to think he was untrustworthy with public money).
In all, this was a highly enjoyable, readable, and enlightening book, though it could have benefitted from a bit more rigor in explaining context and in describing research methods. I think this is a delightful snapshot to understand the issues and personalities that shaped America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, though I would reluctant to ask students to use this book as a source for a research paper. I could definitely see this book being used as a supplement or a hook to a History class for this period, and possibly in an English class to demonstrate excellent voice and structure in a biography (though not so much in terms of documenting research). While this book's academic value is somewhat questionable, as an educational read I would highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member ronicadibartolo
Historical facts about the two life's of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Both men sharing the same drive and ambitions to be successful. Sad ending to an avoidable death. Thank God people cannot " duel" out their differences anymore.


Physical description

97 p.; 24 cm


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