Finished Gore Vidal's "Burr"
The Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783. Revisionism and mythologizing about it began practically the next day. Some stories are so deeply embedded into our national subconsciousness that any attempt at telling a "true" version is likely to be met with utter disbelief if not derision.
Everyone believes they know the story of Aaron Burr. What they know basically are three things: one, he was Thomas Jefferson's first term vice president; two, while VP he challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel and killed him; and three he was put on trial for treason a few years later for a presumed plot to separate the western states from the union.
Virtually nothing else is popularly known about him. Which makes him, one would think, an ideal subject for new research and a second or third look. What is astonishing is that, with all the documentary evidence available, such a look has only recently been undertaken, most notably by historian Nancy Isenberg.
Basically, though, when it comes to received wisdom of the stories, things simply do not add up.
What Gore Vidal did in this novel (and he explains why a novel instead of a straightforward history in an afterword which I recommend reading first) is to take things at face value based on the contemporary accounts available and applying a little logic to the history of this most interesting of the Founders to try to portray a "fair"
The result is shocking, grounding, and immensely informative.
Of late (and I stress that this is nothing new) the reputations of the Founders have been locked in amber as if they were demigods. Treating them as human beings is simply not to be tolerated in certain circles. Well, you will find no demigods in this novel. What you will find is a fascinating portrayal of the early republic as it quite likely was---a place and time in which literally they were making it all up as they went along. In such circumstances, men of ambition and ego and newly-acquired power often act irresponsibly and good people (as well as bad) often get crushed in the midst of the contest.
Once the brilliant work of drafting the constitution was done, what remained were people bent on shaping the new country as they saw fit, and would often get very annoyed when they realized that the new framework they had just signed off on got in their way. Seeing this in play is the grist for this novel's mill. It is sobering and I would recommend it to any serious student of American history. Even if one disagrees with certain interpretations, it is a grounding work and would serve as anodyne against the glorious paeons to lost genius that comprise so much of "popular" American history.