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review 2015-10-30 13:41
Born in a brothel, died in a mansion
The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic - Margaret A. Oppenheimer

Born in a brothel just weeks after the start of the American Revolutionary War, Betsy Bowen’s life may not have started auspiciously, but by the time Eliza Jumel Burr died 90 years later the Civil War had ended and she had transformed herself into a prominent citizen who had mostly disguised her past, a collector of art who was fluent in two languages, and a businesswoman who had accumulated so much wealth her heirs and heir-wannabes battled for years over the property she left behind, one case going all the way to the Supreme Court.


And yet, if she is remembered at all today it’s because her second marriage was to the notorious but apparently still charming Aaron Burr, a former vice president who was disgraced after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and to add insult to injury in Burr’s biographies she’s often described dismissively as a former prostitute, which is probably not accurate. What’s ironic about the way Eliza Jumel Burr  has been misrepresented is that the truth of her astounding path of upward mobility is far more dramatic than any of the falsehoods told about her.


This captivating biography of Eliza not only rights those wrongs, it’s a real page turner. Chapters tend to end on an exciting note, so I often found myself reading much longer than I had planned. While the book is focused on Eliza, it’s also an interesting cultural history of life in the years after the American and French Revolutions--Eliza’s  first husband was a savvy and warmhearted merchant from France, and the couple lived in that country for a while after The Reign of Terror had settled down.


Though well researched there are gaps in Eliza’s life, especially her early years, because records left behind don’t tell much about what she was doing then, but I still found her story moving, even romantic. When Eliza met Stephen Jumel, the man she would soon marry, she had care of an unrelated young boy whose mother had died, something that was apparently not unusual at the time. Jumel generously paid for them both to have French lessons and treated Eliza’s charge as a son. Later the couple they adopted one of Eliza’s nieces who was brought up by them with lots of love and every advantage money could buy.


There were definitely ups and downs in the couple’s relationship, especially as they grew older, but I was struck by how much Stephen trusted Eliza to make astute business decisions and help manage their growing estate. After Stephen was killed in a carriage accident she was able to continue to increase her financial assets, making her a very wealthy women and bringing her to the attention of perennially broke Aaron Burr, who ran through some of her fortune before she managed to divorce him--being a husband he, of course, had charge of her money.


Eliza wasn’t a conventional women of her time because she was unable or unwilling to maintain a facade to hide her emotions and ambitions behind a mask of daintiness and allure, which meant the upper echelons of  society were never as accepting of her as she wanted them to be. But her accomplishments and life trajectory are astounding and make a fascinating tale that is well told in this book.


I read an advanced review ebook copy of this book supplied by the publisher through Edelweiss at no cost. Review opinions are mine.

Source: jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/born-in-a-brothel-died-in-a-mansion
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review 2015-04-02 00:27
American Legends: The Life of Aaron Burr - Charles River Editors

Nicely balanced.  Good short history.

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text 2015-01-13 17:40
Reading progress update: I've read 92 out of 540 pages.
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr - Nancy Isenberg

I'm about a quarter of the way into this book, and while I'm learning a lot about Aaron Burr, I'm increasingly put off by Isenberg's interpretation, which seems to me to be excessively forgiving of her subject. Are we really to believe that ALL of Burr's faults are little more than scurrilous attacks and historical misinterpretation? A few admissions of flaws would go a long way towards accepting her revisionist interpretation.

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review 2014-11-23 21:30
He might have killed Hamilton (the male slut), but hey, Burr was a good dad
American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America - David O. Stewart

This is the second book by David O. Stewart that I have brought, and the third that I have read. Detailing the rise and fall of Burr, Stewart’s work is more a political look at the young United States as opposed to a life of Burr. Stewart shows Burr warts and are, and if at times a bit too much repetition or minute looking at issues, it is a pleasant enough way to discover more about Burr than the famous duel.

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review 2012-10-30 00:00
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr - Nancy Isenberg My first thought after finishing this book is that it is good to know that there have been two perfect human beings in history - Jesus Christ and Aaron Burr.

Ok, so that might be a bit of hyperbole. This book was basically written in a way that tells the reader that all of the Founding Fathers, and all historians since, are wrong about Aaron Burr and that he is actually the victim of a political conspiracy by people both in and against his political party. This attitude applies to all of the famous events of his life; including the duel with Hamilton and his conspiracy to take an army out west to conquer Mexico.

I obviously had a very hard time with this book and feel the need to be critical even though it usually bothers me to write negative reviews. I imagine that if I were to write a biography on a historical figure, I would need to fall in love with that figure. How else could you spend years of your life researching and writing about someone unless you truly enjoy that person? I just think it would have helped the author if she had more easily recognized the flaws of Burr rather than defend him at every opportunity.

Three more criticisms:

1. The first 60% of this book spend half its words ripping on Alexander Hamilton. I get that these two were rivals, and I get that the author's position is pro-Burr, but it was way over the top.

2. Something about the writing style bugged me. I tell my students that when writing essays about history, never use rhetorical questions. I always tell them to make their points clearly. Also, I tell them to never use exclamation points! It is the sign of a writer too anxious to make the reader believe they are correct. The author uses both of these techniques throughout the book and I just could not get past it.

3. Most narrative biographies use the subject's own words throughout the story. I felt that Burr was almost missing throughout most of this book. He seems like an altruistic bystander during much of the story. The author points out that there are only two volumes of Burr's letters available for historians, but I would like to have seen more to get a better sense of Burr.

In closing, I did learn a lot about the life of Burr that I did not know. His life usually ends with the Hamilton duel in most history books I read and I enjoyed learning about his travels and activities later in life. I would still recommend this to readers of the time period, but I would recommend it with reservations due to the obvious agenda of the author.
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