cover image American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America

American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America

David O. Stewart. Simon & Schuster, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4391-5718-3

Eschewing recent attempts to rehabilitate Aaron Burr (1756%E2%80%931836), a brilliant member of the revolutionary generation but remembered mostly as Jefferson's vice-president who killed Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel, D.C. lawyer and historian Stewart (Impeached: The Trial of Andrew Johnson) concentrates on the dramatic years of Burr's life that followed. His career in ruins, in 1806 Burr led an armed band down the Mississippi intending to detach western states from the Union and conquer Spanish-ruled Texas and Florida. Among his raffish coconspirators was Gen. James Wilkinson, commander of the U.S. Army, governor of Louisiana, and a paid Spanish agent. With matters well advanced, Wilkinson thought better of it and betrayed the plot. There followed an extensive pursuit and spectacular treason trial during which a vindictive President Jefferson schemed and failed to convict Burr. Great men behaving badly make for entertaining reading, so readers may roll their eyes, but will keep turning the pages of this meticulous, almost day-by-day account of a plot so bizarre that it's hard to believe it actually happened. (Oct.)