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Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery

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Duel with the Devil is acclaimed historian Paul Collins’ remarkable true account of a stunning turn-of-the-19th century murder and the trial that ensued – a showdown in which iconic political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr joined forces to make sure justice was done. Still our nation’s longest running “cold case,” the mystery of Elma Sands finally comes to a clos Duel with the Devil is acclaimed historian Paul Collins’ remarkable true account of a stunning turn-of-the-19th century murder and the trial that ensued – a showdown in which iconic political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr joined forces to make sure justice was done. Still our nation’s longest running “cold case,” the mystery of Elma Sands finally comes to a close with this book, which delivers the first substantial break in the case in over 200 years. In the closing days of 1799, the United States was still a young republic. Waging a fierce battle for its uncertain future were two political parties: the well-moneyed Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the populist Republicans, led by Aaron Burr. The two finest lawyers in New York, Burr and Hamilton were bitter rivals both in and out of the courtroom, and as the next election approached—with Manhattan likely to be the swing district on which the presidency would hinge—their animosity reached a crescendo. Central to their dispute was the Manhattan water supply, which Burr saw not just as an opportunity to help a city devastated by epidemics but as a chance to heal his battered finances. But everything changed when Elma Sands, a beautiful young Quaker woman, was found dead in Burr's newly constructed Manhattan Well. The horrific crime quickly gripped the nation, and before long accusations settled on one of Elma’s suitors, handsome young carpenter Levi Weeks. As the enraged city demanded a noose be draped around the accused murderer’s neck, the only question seemed to be whether Levi would make it to trial or be lynched first. The young man’s only hope was to hire a legal dream team. And thus it was that New York’s most bitter political rivals and greatest attorneys did the unthinkable—they teamed up. At once an absorbing legal thriller and an expertly crafted portrait of the United States in the time of the Founding Fathers, Duel with the Devil is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.


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Duel with the Devil is acclaimed historian Paul Collins’ remarkable true account of a stunning turn-of-the-19th century murder and the trial that ensued – a showdown in which iconic political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr joined forces to make sure justice was done. Still our nation’s longest running “cold case,” the mystery of Elma Sands finally comes to a clos Duel with the Devil is acclaimed historian Paul Collins’ remarkable true account of a stunning turn-of-the-19th century murder and the trial that ensued – a showdown in which iconic political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr joined forces to make sure justice was done. Still our nation’s longest running “cold case,” the mystery of Elma Sands finally comes to a close with this book, which delivers the first substantial break in the case in over 200 years. In the closing days of 1799, the United States was still a young republic. Waging a fierce battle for its uncertain future were two political parties: the well-moneyed Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the populist Republicans, led by Aaron Burr. The two finest lawyers in New York, Burr and Hamilton were bitter rivals both in and out of the courtroom, and as the next election approached—with Manhattan likely to be the swing district on which the presidency would hinge—their animosity reached a crescendo. Central to their dispute was the Manhattan water supply, which Burr saw not just as an opportunity to help a city devastated by epidemics but as a chance to heal his battered finances. But everything changed when Elma Sands, a beautiful young Quaker woman, was found dead in Burr's newly constructed Manhattan Well. The horrific crime quickly gripped the nation, and before long accusations settled on one of Elma’s suitors, handsome young carpenter Levi Weeks. As the enraged city demanded a noose be draped around the accused murderer’s neck, the only question seemed to be whether Levi would make it to trial or be lynched first. The young man’s only hope was to hire a legal dream team. And thus it was that New York’s most bitter political rivals and greatest attorneys did the unthinkable—they teamed up. At once an absorbing legal thriller and an expertly crafted portrait of the United States in the time of the Founding Fathers, Duel with the Devil is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.

30 review for Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery

  1. 4 out of 5

    LaDonna

    4.5 STARS for DUEL WITH THE DEVIL Paul Collins took me completely out of my comfort zone with this book. But, boy, did I enjoy the ride!! Before Duel With the Devil , the genre of narrative nonfiction was nowhere on my radar. I am so glad that a friend told me to give this book a try. Duel With the Devil recounts the longest trial of the time in Manhattan in 1800 (almost three days). It was a time when no one challenged the obvious personal conflicts between all those involved in a c 4.5 STARS for DUEL WITH THE DEVIL Paul Collins took me completely out of my comfort zone with this book. But, boy, did I enjoy the ride!! Before Duel With the Devil , the genre of narrative nonfiction was nowhere on my radar. I am so glad that a friend told me to give this book a try. Duel With the Devil recounts the longest trial of the time in Manhattan in 1800 (almost three days). It was a time when no one challenged the obvious personal conflicts between all those involved in a case. ...Burr's company owned the murder scene, had employed the defendant, had rejected a bid by a relative of the deceased, ...and had political alliances and rivalries with his fellow counselors, the mayor, and the judge (119). It was also a time when the lines blurred between friends and enemies. (Yes, apparently frenemies existed oh so long ago). Knowing the deadly history between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, I never would have expected them to serve as key members of a defensive "dream team" together. Yet, here we are. Being a work of nonfiction, Collins' literary style was completely foreign to me. I had to periodically pinch myself as a reminder that all this actually happened. The people, the murder, the verdict were all real. I was not reading an intricate and well-written suspense thriller. I was reading a historical true crime. As the title suggests, Duel With the Devil chronicles, in elaborate detail, "America's first sensational murder mystery". But, be forewarned, you must wade through the histories of both the victim and the accused first. Along these same lines, you must also appreciate the language and imagery that allows you to understand how turn-of-the-century New York serves as another very important character. The first two sections are a little dense to wade through. Nonetheless, they are well worth it once you get to the section about the actual trial. And, surprisingly, Collins manages to include details about one of the most infamous duels in American history--Hamilton versus Burr. All in all, Paul Collins gives a detailed history lesson in a little over 200 pages. (The balance of the hundred pages include both a detailed endnote section and index). He even manages to bring the murder mystery into the twenty-first century. It is truly an enjoyable read. The suspense involved will definitely keep you guessing, until the very end.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    While the title doesn’t promise much in this regard, I chose this book to learn more about Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. There isn’t a lot on them (they make their appearances after 1/3 of the book), but author Paul Collins gives you a very readable a glimpse of New York 1799-1800 along with a murder mystery. The book opens with a body found in a well owned by the Manhattan Company, a water utility founded by Aaron Burr. The victim was a resident of a Greenwich Street boarding house, where t While the title doesn’t promise much in this regard, I chose this book to learn more about Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. There isn’t a lot on them (they make their appearances after 1/3 of the book), but author Paul Collins gives you a very readable a glimpse of New York 1799-1800 along with a murder mystery. The book opens with a body found in a well owned by the Manhattan Company, a water utility founded by Aaron Burr. The victim was a resident of a Greenwich Street boarding house, where the defendant also lived. The defendant’s brother was an important construction contractor with ties to both Burr and Hamilton and hence (perhaps) the country’s first legal dream team of Burr and Hamiliton joined by celebrity lawyer, Henry Brockholst Livingston, was formed for the defense. Most interesting are the slices of New York City Life. You learn the 1800 landscape of what is now a fully built island. You learn how boarding houses were run and furnished, about sanitation problems, how summer diseases affected the city, the practice of journalism, the state of prisons and who was in them, how people grieved the death of George Washington and more. Best of all, the narrative shows the criminal justice system at the time. While the “adversarial” system (making arguments for guilty and not guilty) was in its infancy, legal tactics as shown by the defense are advanced. They object to witnesses in the courtroom, they object to points of law taken out of context, and through questioning they get witnesses to discredit themselves. At one point a juror asked a question, which is different from today. As the trial unexpectedly went beyond midnight (the defense made a clever use of candles) there were makeshift plans for sequestering the jurors. Collins shows the improvements in formal court reporting and in the popular press reportage of trials that had their genesis in this trial. New York City was small at this time (Greenwich Village was considered north) and trial participants had interlocking relationships. Collins shows that a mob would do damage to lawyers and prosecutors if they didn’t like the results. This is a nicely crafted micro-history which will be of interest to general readers of the period, particularly those interested in the evolution of the criminal justice system.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    3.5 Stars In some ways, this book is "not enough" and "too much" at the same time. It is a fascinating premise and the author certainly does a lot with what he has to work with. The narrative and melodramatic style walks the line between newspaper-style fiction and non-fiction in a very readable yet believable way. The extensive notes in the back give the book historicity and really impact the story. Yet I concluded the book feeling somewhat dissatisfied. Collins tries to stretch out the murder t 3.5 Stars In some ways, this book is "not enough" and "too much" at the same time. It is a fascinating premise and the author certainly does a lot with what he has to work with. The narrative and melodramatic style walks the line between newspaper-style fiction and non-fiction in a very readable yet believable way. The extensive notes in the back give the book historicity and really impact the story. Yet I concluded the book feeling somewhat dissatisfied. Collins tries to stretch out the murder trial by throwing in details about New York during this time and repeating facts, first as an "intro" and then as related in the courtroom. He drops hints all over the place but tries to keep the story suspenseful and the reader in the dark. I don't really think it works. For example, near the end where he talks about who really/might have done it, he takes this tone of "No one knew who the real killer was...until now!" And then goes on to tell us that the man he suspects of being the killer was also suspected during his lifetime. So...is this a shocking new look at this murder case, or a historical biography describing the time Hamilton and Burr teamed up to defend a (probably) innocent man? It is hard to say. The fact that the author blurs the line between the two only muddies what this book is trying to accomplish. That said, it does accomplish quite a bit. This isn't a biography of Hamilton and Burr (it takes almost half the book for them to show up) but it is the story of corruption, political ambition, and local government. (In fact, it sounds a lot like our modern day world.) When describing New York and the colorful characters that ran that world, Collins does a solid job. This book is "not enough" in the sense that it is not a complete biography. It is a slice-of-life look at a 3 day trial and the events preceding it. Yet it is also "too much" because the author tries to lengthen the story by filling it out with other stories and facts and weird tangents that turn out to be relevant later. It works though. This was a very interesting book that should appeal to lovers of Hamilton, history, and the tumultuous times following the revolution.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Susanna - Censored by GoodReads

    (Note: I won a copy on Library Thing.) It took a while (nearly a third of the book) for Collins to get to the actual murder; but the details of daily life in New York City at the opening of the 19th century were fascinating. And the payoff for the slow build was worth it, to me anyway. I enjoyed this as much as Collins' The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars, set in a very different historical New York City, which I also gave four stars (Note: I won a copy on Library Thing.) It took a while (nearly a third of the book) for Collins to get to the actual murder; but the details of daily life in New York City at the opening of the 19th century were fascinating. And the payoff for the slow build was worth it, to me anyway. I enjoyed this as much as Collins' The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars, set in a very different historical New York City, which I also gave four stars.

  5. 4 out of 5

    El

    This review is of a book won from Goodreads First Reads Giveaway program. Most people know about the slight disagreement between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804. It was no big secret that these two were the biggest frenemies around. What is slightly less well known is a few years prior to their duel, they made waves by defending a murder suspect. Together. As a team! Like Batman and Robin. Except without the capes. In 1799 a young woman was found dead at the bottom of the Manhattan Well. This review is of a book won from Goodreads First Reads Giveaway program. Most people know about the slight disagreement between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804. It was no big secret that these two were the biggest frenemies around. What is slightly less well known is a few years prior to their duel, they made waves by defending a murder suspect. Together. As a team! Like Batman and Robin. Except without the capes. In 1799 a young woman was found dead at the bottom of the Manhattan Well. How did she get there? How did she die? One of her suitors turned out to be one of the suspects (because boys are shady), and Hamilton-Burr got together to defend him. Of course it's all a lot more interesting than I just made it sound. Don't just take my word for it. This is an interesting story, another part of American history I knew nothing about which baffles me because I love reading historical true crime things like these. The author drew from the court records of the day since this was, as the subtitle indicates, the country's first recorded murder trial. Having these first person accounts takes away some of the supposition behind the trial, but there's still a lot of room for padding. While a good book and a quick read, there is some padding. That's alright, though - some of it adds a little flavor. My only real issue is the title itself. Since we know Hamilton and Burr are involved in this history, the title itself (Duel with the Devil) leads many to think that this book might perhaps actually be about their own duel. Or maybe that's just what I took out of it. Regardless, a decent true crime history and a look at American history at the turn of the 19th century. There are extensive notes at the end of this book which I do highly recommend reading. They are not formal footnote-style notations, but gives the reader opportunity to see some of the other primary sources the author accessed. I do appreciate a good Notes section.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Fritz

    Why did I read this? Well, first things first: There is exactly one verse in the musical HAMILTON which deals with this murder trial: Hamilton: Gentlemen of the jury, I'm curious, bear with me Are you aware that we're making history? This is the first murder trial of our brand-new nation The liberty behind deliberation Chorus: Non-stop! I am meant to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt With my assistant counsel— Burr: Co-counsel. Hamilton, sit down Our client Levi Weeks is innocent, call your first witness Why did I read this? Well, first things first: There is exactly one verse in the musical HAMILTON which deals with this murder trial: Hamilton: Gentlemen of the jury, I'm curious, bear with me Are you aware that we're making history? This is the first murder trial of our brand-new nation The liberty behind deliberation Chorus: Non-stop! I am meant to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt With my assistant counsel— Burr: Co-counsel. Hamilton, sit down Our client Levi Weeks is innocent, call your first witness That's all you had to say Hamilton: Okay, one more thing— So, when I saw the title of this book, I thought: Sensational Murder Mystery ? Really? So, is this really a murder mystery? Yes, in the sense that a young woman was murdered and it wasn't clear how, why, or by whom. Although Levi Weeks seemed to be the only conceivable culprit for a long time and the public was already decided on his guilt, a team of three lawyers- Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and Brockholst Livingston - took it upon themselves to defend him. In the years preceding this trial, murders had been less mysterious. Hamilton himself had handled a murder case before, but one that had been caused by a duel, and therefore, no cross-examination was necessary. Here, however, Hamilton could use his quick wit and passionate temper when attacking witnesses, while Burr's more deliberate pace and wording was very effective in summaries. It was also a sensational murder trial, in that it made headlines long after it had ended and even 70 years later, still inspired tales of ghosts surrounding the cursed "Manhattan Well" where Elma's body had been found. Much later still, it was accidentally dug up in the course of renovating the basement of a SoHo restaurant - where it can be visited today by ghost-seekers and history geeks alike ( http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1000142...) This was all fascinating - made more so by the fact, that the trial had been fully recorded by a court clerk, so that we are now in the fortunate position to have both questions and answers of everybody involved at our disposal. But when it comes to history's favorite frenemies, Hamilton and Burr, this book was a bit of a letdown. Collins doesn't introduce either man in the first chapters and instead begins by describing the victim, her family and the circumstances of her life in the boarding house. Then we are introduced to the suspect, Levi Weeks, and get quite a good sense of his life and general character. Collins also excels at describing what life was like in the New York of 1800, for example when he describes fear and confusion surrounding the yellow fever epidemic and its possible causes. But too often, he strays too far from his main characters and the narrative of the murder and trial, in order to give background information on things like Manhattan's prison system, the Manhattan company, which Burr had founded under the pretext of supplying water through wells (the famous Manhattan well being one of them), but was actually a bank, and many other aspects which are relevant to the case, but too detailed, especially when they let the main narrative come to a halt. We don't learn enough about Hamilton and Burr as characters - if I didn't already have background information on them, I'd have found what we learn here to be lacking in depth. The faults of this book are closely linked to its virtues: Collins presents us with the village of Manhattan, where people were so interconnected that not only the whole court personell knew each other, but even the jury consisted of friends and acquaintances. This is certainly interesting and has to be told to a modern audience, to whom New York is the very symbol of a metropolis that fosters anonymity. But at the same time, including names and occupations, sliding into side stories of rivalries and work connections, too often took me out of the book and I had to re-wind the audiobook a couple of times when my thoughts had wandered off. I think with a different structure and a tighter narrative force, this could have worked better. The main question I had however - whether or not this single verse in a song was worth dedicating a whole book to - can emphatically be answered with "yes". If you'd like to know more about the trial, the mindset of America in 1800 and what happens to the people who were connected to the trial when it's over, this book is for you. If you'd like to know more about Hamilton and Burr, and their toxic friendship (or friendly hatred?), then I would recommend starting somewhere else, and maybe returning to this later.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lady ♥ Belleza

    Something happened while I was reading this book that has never happened before. I was so engrossed in reading that I missed my stop. Seriously I have never done that before. That is how fascinating and interesting I found this book to be. This crime happened in 1799 in what is now known as SoHo. The site of the murder was a well known as the Manhattan Well. A young Quaker woman was murdered and a young man, referred to as one of her suitors, who lived in the same boardinghouse as she did was ac Something happened while I was reading this book that has never happened before. I was so engrossed in reading that I missed my stop. Seriously I have never done that before. That is how fascinating and interesting I found this book to be. This crime happened in 1799 in what is now known as SoHo. The site of the murder was a well known as the Manhattan Well. A young Quaker woman was murdered and a young man, referred to as one of her suitors, who lived in the same boardinghouse as she did was accused of the crime. There were many accusations but not much proof, he needed a dream team and the two top lawyers in Manhattan were hired. Those two men were Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Paul Collins shows his skill as a historian in the information he conveys about how life was in Manhattan in 1799. He tells of the diseases that ran rampant and how clean water was vital to the city but not available, how Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton came to be such bitter rivals and how Ezra Weeks was able to hire these two men to defend his brother. He brings the turn of the century to life in an informative and interesting way. He also describes in vivid detail the jail the accused was confined to and how trails were conducted at that time. This was a time of swift justice, citizens would riot if the outcome of a trial was not as they desired and men fought duels. Also included is how the trial transcripts was handled at that time. The book also covers the aftermath of the trial, what happened to the girl’s family and the accused. The lawyers involved, he includes an account of the famous duel between Hamilton and Burr. He also recounts some information that was discovered long after the crime that points to a much more likely suspect, someone who was suspected at the time of the crime, but not enough evidence was available to accuse this person. He also gives the street address of where the Manhattan Well was and still is, although it is in the basement of a restaurant and not able to be seen by the general public. He tells how he got this information and that the site is reported to be haunted. I have made of note of this spot and someday I plan on going there and asking them, “Is there a ghost in your basement?”

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kerissa

    A friend & I were reading this at the same time, so we were sending each other photos/screenshots as we went along. We kept having to double check to make *absolutely sure* this was non-fiction. An intensely fascinating read, it is the first book of 2016 that I'd recommend to everyone. Not only because you learn more about Hamilton/Burr, but get a vivid picture of life in the late 1700's/early 1800's. I really loved this read. A friend & I were reading this at the same time, so we were sending each other photos/screenshots as we went along. We kept having to double check to make *absolutely sure* this was non-fiction. An intensely fascinating read, it is the first book of 2016 that I'd recommend to everyone. Not only because you learn more about Hamilton/Burr, but get a vivid picture of life in the late 1700's/early 1800's. I really loved this read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    I have been reading quite a few books about the post revolutionary history in the US. This book fits right in happening around 1800 and shortly thereafter. The first 25% of the book is mostly about the history of New York City in 1800. You get a good sense of what life was like in NYC in that period. If you haven't read much about that era of the Big Apple (no they didn't really call it that then!) this will be especially interesting. The next 25% is basically taking you through the details of a I have been reading quite a few books about the post revolutionary history in the US. This book fits right in happening around 1800 and shortly thereafter. The first 25% of the book is mostly about the history of New York City in 1800. You get a good sense of what life was like in NYC in that period. If you haven't read much about that era of the Big Apple (no they didn't really call it that then!) this will be especially interesting. The next 25% is basically taking you through the details of a court hearing of a murder at that time with Hamilton and Burr as two of the attorneys. This is almost as interesting as a Micky Haller book! The third-quarter is the authors view of the results of the trial and what happened in later years with the people involved. The final quarter is notes and bibliography something that a lot of people love in history books and a lot of other people ignore. Comparing a trial over 200 years ago with the current day is quite interesting. One of the historical tidbits that was interesting to me was a suggestion that about the time people were thinking that passenger balloons might take over from ships to go across the ocean. If I would have remembered the notes when I read that I might've looked it up. I think an eight day trip was suggested rather than two months. The book does cover Aaron Burr's life after the dual relatively thoroughly but quickly. I didn't know that he left the country at some point but then came back and once again became a successful attorney.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    I won this book as part of Goodreads' First Reads program in exchange for my honest review. Bad nonfiction books are dry and read like a history textbook; the good ones read like a fiction novel. This book is one of the later as Collins weaves the historical tale of one of the country's first major murder mystery. He does such a good job with the narrative that it is easy to forget that he is not making up the story as he goes along. The facts are presented in a straight forward manner and it doe I won this book as part of Goodreads' First Reads program in exchange for my honest review. Bad nonfiction books are dry and read like a history textbook; the good ones read like a fiction novel. This book is one of the later as Collins weaves the historical tale of one of the country's first major murder mystery. He does such a good job with the narrative that it is easy to forget that he is not making up the story as he goes along. The facts are presented in a straight forward manner and it doesn't appear any bias is shown one war or another. While the book is billed at how Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr team up to form a legal dreamteam, that is actually just a minor side plot point as the books is much more about Levi Weeks, Elma Sands and the trial over her murder. I haven't read a lot of True Crime novels, but this one seems to be a great addition to the genre as it lays out the facts that are known and lets the reader draw their own conclusion. I do have one quibble with the book however. Be forewarned, some vague spoilers will follow. The back of the book proclaims that 'America's oldest cold case has been solved...' and ' this book 'delivers the first substantial break in the case in over two hundred years'. These are very bold claims that I don't think are backed up in the book. Sure, Collins does some digging that brings a major actor in the book into a shady light, but a criminal past and continued criminal activities, no matter how heinous, aren't enough to solve a case. They merely make the person a prime suspect that warrants further investigation. It's a great theory that makes more sense than Levi Weeks being the killer, but I can't fully get behind it as the MMO is kind of lacking. I give the book 5 stars as it was a very enjoyable read; I want to reread it to see how the author's proposed killer holds up to the facts already given.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    The book opens with a vivid description of life in New York City with the water unfit to drink, problems with sewage and yellow fever is raging not only in New York City but all along the Atlantic coast. The case is about Levi Weeks, a carpenter accused of strangling Elma Sands, a young Quaker women and dumping her body in the well. She went missing on December 31, 1799 and the body was found on January 2, 1800. The case was politically charged because of the Manhattan water supply problems and t The book opens with a vivid description of life in New York City with the water unfit to drink, problems with sewage and yellow fever is raging not only in New York City but all along the Atlantic coast. The case is about Levi Weeks, a carpenter accused of strangling Elma Sands, a young Quaker women and dumping her body in the well. She went missing on December 31, 1799 and the body was found on January 2, 1800. The case was politically charged because of the Manhattan water supply problems and the debates of how to solve Manhattans water supply problem. One of the items that helped propel the case into such notoriety was the famous defense team. The team was headed by Henry Brockholst Livingston who went on to be a Justice on the Supreme Court, Alexander Hamilton who was the leader of the Federalist and Aaron Burr who headed the populist Republicans. These three men were the most famous attorneys in Manhattan at the time. They were constantly opponents but this is a rare case that they joined together for the defense in a murder trial. Collins reveals that the defense attempted to prove that Richard David Croucher known as “Mad Croucher” who was accused of rape was the actual killer of Sands. I will not give away the trial and ending, you need to read the book. I did learn that rape of women was not a crime in the 1790s but civil suit could occur as a violation of a man’s property i.e. husband or father. The book is well written and meticulously researched. Collins used newspaper accounts, private diaries, court documents and Alexander Hamilton’s papers contained detailed records of the case. The book reads like a novel rather than a historical account and also gives a good picture of what life was like in Manhattan in December 1799 and early 1800. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. Mark Peckham narrated the book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    How do you not love a book about a case in 1800 Manhattan where Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr worked together as co-counsel for the defense of a young Quaker carpenter accused of murdering a young woman and throwing her body into a well? Especially in light of the events that occurred four years later when the Vice-President of the United States engaged in a duel with the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. This is a well-written account of a murder, an arrest, and a trial How do you not love a book about a case in 1800 Manhattan where Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr worked together as co-counsel for the defense of a young Quaker carpenter accused of murdering a young woman and throwing her body into a well? Especially in light of the events that occurred four years later when the Vice-President of the United States engaged in a duel with the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. This is a well-written account of a murder, an arrest, and a trial that was a sensation in New York City at the beginning of the 19th Century.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Al

    Paul Collins is part of the movement of post-Y2K history books that exploded from Devil in the White City. Like Erik Larson, Gary Krist and James Swanson, Collins takes forgotten bits of history and crafts a yarn around it. It starts with an interesting premise. A young woman’s body found at the bottom of a New York City well in the year of 1799. This was one of the first prominent murder trials of the new United States. Of interest, the defense features Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr on the s Paul Collins is part of the movement of post-Y2K history books that exploded from Devil in the White City. Like Erik Larson, Gary Krist and James Swanson, Collins takes forgotten bits of history and crafts a yarn around it. It starts with an interesting premise. A young woman’s body found at the bottom of a New York City well in the year of 1799. This was one of the first prominent murder trials of the new United States. Of interest, the defense features Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr on the same legal dream team. Collins has the fortunate luck to write this right before Hamilton-mania. This ostensibly isn’t a book about Hamilton. However, there’s probably enough stuff here that is worthwhile for Hamilton (or Burr) completists. Collins does a great job of describing 1800 New York. George Washington’s death looms over the city. There’s a lot of conversation around the public water utility which is relevant to those involved. Some complained how Larson alternated his chapters (and Swanson gives in to stylistic changes for different chapters) in his most well known book. Still, one can’t help wonder if Collins would have been better served by doing something similar. The facts about the city are great but they are piled into the court narrative, which is already fairly dense. It's hard to say exactly what is wrong with this book, but it feels lacking. The murder mystery is a suitable whodunit. Still, the best parts of the book are the tidbits on Burr (particularly) and Hamilton. There is also a peripheral character who would be more worthwhile than the couple of pages he does get. Those and the landscape of the city. Those are what I enjoyed the most. The book just needs a different approach, and I am certainly nowhere near as talented as Collins, but it ultimately seems much less than the sum of its parts. The murder is a good hook for a story, but it ultimately is everything except the court trial that makes the compelling story.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Plethora

    Hamilton and Burr could be the best of friends and the worst of enemies with each other. Both highly respected legal counsel, and well-connected what mingling of dealings brought these two together to fight for the freedom of a young man the locals all felt was guilty of a heinous murder? Collin’s has brought the first fully transcribed murder case in America to life in Duel with the Devil. Reading along I would have to remind myself I was reading a non-fiction book and not historical fiction, wh Hamilton and Burr could be the best of friends and the worst of enemies with each other. Both highly respected legal counsel, and well-connected what mingling of dealings brought these two together to fight for the freedom of a young man the locals all felt was guilty of a heinous murder? Collin’s has brought the first fully transcribed murder case in America to life in Duel with the Devil. Reading along I would have to remind myself I was reading a non-fiction book and not historical fiction, which has its pluses and minuses. Unfortunately, so many people shy away from non-fiction history books because they fear them as dreadfully boring and dry reads, this book certainly is not dry and boring. Moving along quickly, describing the days before the crime in question all the way through the trial and life after the trial for those involved. This ease of reading meanings one can recommend it to their Georteyphobia (history-phobic) friends and let them get wrapped up in the murder mystery without fear of retribution for pushing a book on them. On the flipside, those loving history might feel short-changed, I wish some more details had been woven into the narrative; taking advantage of the opportunity to instill a few more lessons in history. While the story is centered on a murder mystery and the ensuing trial the details are really in the under-workings of the politically connected members of the town. One of the major points being the differences between the Federalist and the Republicans, this is one of the areas where I felt Collin’s should have spent more time describing out exactly what the Federalist and Republican parties stood for and the migration to today’s parties. In fairness, he does go over the information, but I felt he might have assumed one level of knowledge, while the reader might not have that base, I realize I am likely being nit-picky. I’m sure you’ve heard “he could sell ice to an Eskimo”, well Burr sounds exactly like this man. “Colonel Burr, returning to Richmond Hill with some $12,000 in bonds and bills strong-armed from his own creditor, promptly talked yet another $1,500 out of his local merchants.” Can you imagine how eloquent of a speaker and powerful a man Burr must have been to have owed large sums of money to a man, yet have talked him out of yet another $12,000. This in today’s standards is the equivalent of asking your neighbor for over $200,000. I won’t spoil all the fun you get to learn about Burr if you don’t already know his character and history, you will be in for a treat. I have gone back and forth over how many cups to rate this book. For those that are more on the Georteyphobia side of life it would probably rate a 4, but being I like my history dense, while still readable I am going with a 3, as I don’t have broken cups to give it a 3.5. Certainly a book not to pass up and especially if you nab a copy soon, I noticed now the electronic version is on sale for $1.99 at the time of writing this review. FTC disclosure: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. I was not financially compensated by the publisher or the author.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    A Murdered Gill: Hamilton and Burr for the Defense The mysterious death of Elma Sands created a furor in 1800s New York. The young girl disappeared from the boarding house where she lived with her cousin and her husband. The body was recovered days later from a well, dug as part of the Manhattan Water Project, the brain child of Aaron Burr. A young carpenter, Levi Weeks, was immediately arrested for the crime. He lived in the same boarding house as Elma and had shown interest in her, but did he k A Murdered Gill: Hamilton and Burr for the Defense The mysterious death of Elma Sands created a furor in 1800s New York. The young girl disappeared from the boarding house where she lived with her cousin and her husband. The body was recovered days later from a well, dug as part of the Manhattan Water Project, the brain child of Aaron Burr. A young carpenter, Levi Weeks, was immediately arrested for the crime. He lived in the same boarding house as Elma and had shown interest in her, but did he kill her? Not only is this a fascinating criminal trial but it gives a compelling picture of New York in 1800. Conditions for the poor were dreadful, yellow fever periodically decimated the population, and political rivals wrote scurrilous articles about each other. Burr and Hamilton, although both served under Washington, were bitter rivals, each believing the other a blackguard. However, both were attorneys, two if the best in New York, and being in debt to Levi's older brother, Ezra, they found themselves on the same defense team. It's a fascinating dynamic. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It moves smoothly though New York City history, the details of the murder, and subsequent trial. If you like historical murder mysteries don't miss this one. I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    No sooner had Manhattan's municipal water system come into effect when one of its wells became a crime scene. In January 1800, the body of Gulielma `Elma' Sands was found floating in the frozen water of a well in Lispenard's Meadow (now located in SoHo). She had left her Greenwich Street boardinghouse on December 22, 1799 after telling confidants that she intended to be married to carpenter Levi Weeks, who was a fellow boarder. Instead of a bride, Elma became a corpse in a watery grave. The trial No sooner had Manhattan's municipal water system come into effect when one of its wells became a crime scene. In January 1800, the body of Gulielma `Elma' Sands was found floating in the frozen water of a well in Lispenard's Meadow (now located in SoHo). She had left her Greenwich Street boardinghouse on December 22, 1799 after telling confidants that she intended to be married to carpenter Levi Weeks, who was a fellow boarder. Instead of a bride, Elma became a corpse in a watery grave. The trial of Levi Weeks for her murder was a landmark one in three respects. The first was that it was the first American murder trial to be transcribed for posterity. The second was that it heralded the appearance of the earliest known defense `dream team': Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The event attracted thousands of attendees and ran longer than any of its predecessors. Duel with the Devil is another gem from Paul Collins, who also wrote one of my favourite True Crime books: Murder of the Century. Collins, who is already celebrated as NPR's "literary detective", once again reveals his genius as a historian and a detective. His theory on the identity of Elma's killer may be as close to the truth as we can get after 214 years.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I don't remember any of this from the musical. I don't remember any of this from the musical.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Amy Sturgis

    I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program. In Duel with the Devil, Paul Collins tells the story of the death of the young Quaker woman Elma Sands in 1799, the discovery of her body in the newly constructed Manhattan Well, and the sensational murder trial that followed in 1800 - a trial that united political rivals Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in defense of Elma Sands' alleged lover, Levi Weeks. The trial, "the first fully documented murder trial in U.S. history," form I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program. In Duel with the Devil, Paul Collins tells the story of the death of the young Quaker woman Elma Sands in 1799, the discovery of her body in the newly constructed Manhattan Well, and the sensational murder trial that followed in 1800 - a trial that united political rivals Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in defense of Elma Sands' alleged lover, Levi Weeks. The trial, "the first fully documented murder trial in U.S. history," forms the heart and main interest of this narrative. Not only did this trial provide the scandal and drama of competing and contradictory evidence, but it also underscored the many layers of political, economic, and social interdependence uniting the leading figures of early national New York City (including the judge, court officers, attorneys, jury members, witnesses, and journalists involved in the case). Collins is at his best when spinning out the story of the trial as a study of the era's personalities and politics. The trial is easily as fascinating as the murder itself. Duel with the Devil offers a plausible theory to solve the open case of the murder of Elma Sands, and the book ends on a chilling note regarding the fate of the possible perpetrator. Throughout the text, early New York City serves as a character in its own right, and I appreciated the glimpses into its many challenges and growing pains, from the need for clean water to the scourge of epidemic illnesses. Collins offers solid documentation for his story, although I would have appreciated a deeper discussion of the case's lasting impact on popular culture. Scholar Richard Kopley, for example, has put forward the idea that this murder case serves as one of the two major influences (the other being the 1841 murder of the "Beautiful Cigar Girl" Mary Rogers) on Edgar Allan Poe's writing of "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt." I wish Collins had engaged with this idea and related fictionalizations/commemorations of the famous murder more fully. The text occasionally suffers from Collins's attempts to draw the last ounce of "cliffhanger drama" from every section and tendency to add italicized rhetorical flourishes that are tedious at best and distracting at worst. On the whole, however, this is an absorbing account of a tragic death and history-making trial, as well as a compelling portrait of a city in a crucial stage in its development. I'm definitely glad that I read it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    American history around 1800 is a blank spot for me. I have never spent much time on it and consequently, am fairly ignorant on the topic (among many others). But Paul Collins always tells a pretty good story, so I had to give Duel With the Devil a shot. And there was the promise of a murder mystery, another point in its favor. The first part of the book has Collins setting the stage for the story, and he does it well, making the Manhattan of 1800 seem lively and yes, interesting. Aaron Burr and American history around 1800 is a blank spot for me. I have never spent much time on it and consequently, am fairly ignorant on the topic (among many others). But Paul Collins always tells a pretty good story, so I had to give Duel With the Devil a shot. And there was the promise of a murder mystery, another point in its favor. The first part of the book has Collins setting the stage for the story, and he does it well, making the Manhattan of 1800 seem lively and yes, interesting. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were both practicing law in the city. With a population of only about 60,000, the two lawyers often represented clients on opposing sides of a case, but for one case, they would team up to defend the same client. Relying on court transcripts and newspaper accounts, Collins reconstructs the case of a young Quaker woman whose body was found in a well. Suicide seemed a possibility, but suspicion soon fell on a man who lived in the same boarding house as the woman. There was doubt though, and the man's brother hired Burr and Hamilton. The court proceedings are as dramatic as Twelve Angry Men or a good episode of Perry Mason. It's also a fascinating look at the legal system in early America. Murder trials were rare and jury trials were expected to last no more than a day. When this one went past midnight the first day, the jury could not be released to go home, but had to bunk down in the court building, on the floor. By the third day, they must have been pretty ragged and when the defense rested, they took less than ten minutes to reach a verdict. Collins follows the dramatic proceedings with more evidence about the case and catches us up on what happened with Hamilton and Burr. (Something about a duel...)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Fishface

    What a great read! The author manages to give me some of the flavor of the times without any long detours into the stuff that bored me to tears when I had to read about it in Middle School. A true murder mystery, with a defendant's life hanging in the balance, in the days when forensic science was almost nonexistent, the police were not allowed to investigate most crimes and the accused had no right to an attorney. The writing was wonderful, too, and except for 3 places where I found "a" where t What a great read! The author manages to give me some of the flavor of the times without any long detours into the stuff that bored me to tears when I had to read about it in Middle School. A true murder mystery, with a defendant's life hanging in the balance, in the days when forensic science was almost nonexistent, the police were not allowed to investigate most crimes and the accused had no right to an attorney. The writing was wonderful, too, and except for 3 places where I found "a" where there should have been an "an," the copyediting was flawless. Whatever you do, read this one. It will appeal to readers interested in American history, true crime, law and politics.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sally Smith

    This was a fascinating read on a sensational murder trial that teamed up two men that hated each other - Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. One gets a real sense of what life was like in New York City around 1800. If you are a history buff, this is a good one to read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    It's ok. To me the historical context and details of New York City circa 1800 and the general sensibilities within its 60,000 occupants were the most interesting portions of the book. The trial was a trial. And the eventual outcome in July 1804 was a waste. It's ok. To me the historical context and details of New York City circa 1800 and the general sensibilities within its 60,000 occupants were the most interesting portions of the book. The trial was a trial. And the eventual outcome in July 1804 was a waste.

  23. 4 out of 5

    AJ

    This book was exactly as promised, part non-fiction history, part sensational murder mystery. Collins blended the two styles of storytelling with an art and skill that I haven't seen many other authors match. The story was engrossing, and the historical figures? characters? were rich and interesting. The book read like a well-researched piece, and the author's voice and style were pleasantly consistent even when it seemed like he was pulling from different types of sources to weave his story tog This book was exactly as promised, part non-fiction history, part sensational murder mystery. Collins blended the two styles of storytelling with an art and skill that I haven't seen many other authors match. The story was engrossing, and the historical figures? characters? were rich and interesting. The book read like a well-researched piece, and the author's voice and style were pleasantly consistent even when it seemed like he was pulling from different types of sources to weave his story together. The only thing I would have changed was that it took a while to get to the actual murder. In hindsight the first few chapters were absolutely essential, but I had to start this book twice in order to stick with it and those first few chapters were a bit of an impediment. If he'd started with the murder then flashed back for context and told the story from there I think he might have captured the audience more effectively. On the whole, if you love a good murder mystery, enjoy historical fiction, and have a minor (or major) obsession with Alexander Hamilton post Lin-Manuel Miranda, you'll love this book. I certainly did.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Justin Nelson

    This was a fast, interesting read. While the main murder mystery and how our justice system took its first floundering steps were both intriguing, I found myself even more fascinated by the narrative snapshot of life in 1800 Manhattan. I am a fan of narrative true crime fiction and this was a well-researched piece. Also, I had no idea of the complexity to the characters of Hamilton and Burr, or even that they worked together as much as they feuded. Only 3 stars for me, though, because there were This was a fast, interesting read. While the main murder mystery and how our justice system took its first floundering steps were both intriguing, I found myself even more fascinated by the narrative snapshot of life in 1800 Manhattan. I am a fan of narrative true crime fiction and this was a well-researched piece. Also, I had no idea of the complexity to the characters of Hamilton and Burr, or even that they worked together as much as they feuded. Only 3 stars for me, though, because there were some unforgivably glaring editing errors and I'm not sure I need to reread this ever. It is worth one read, though, especially to history buffs.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ian Racey

    A very quick read, with a voice a lot like Erik Larson, about a sensational murder in Federalist-era New York and the trial that followed it, in which Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were co-counsel for the defence. It’s not rigorous academic history, but Collins has a good eye for scene setting detail and tells a good story. Some other reviewers seem annoyed that this isn’t a work of biography about Hamilton and Burr, but, regardless of its subtitle, it’s not, and it never presents itself as A very quick read, with a voice a lot like Erik Larson, about a sensational murder in Federalist-era New York and the trial that followed it, in which Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were co-counsel for the defence. It’s not rigorous academic history, but Collins has a good eye for scene setting detail and tells a good story. Some other reviewers seem annoyed that this isn’t a work of biography about Hamilton and Burr, but, regardless of its subtitle, it’s not, and it never presents itself as anything other than historical true crime. Hamilton and Burr are prominent during second half of the book, covering the trial, but the real focus here is the murder of Elma Sands and the trial of Levi Weeks.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shelly

    I like true crime stories but this was a bit different for me because the trial part is usually not a large part of the book. Obviously from the title this was a murder trial with two Revolutionary War heros, who did not particuarly like each other, as the defense lawyers. What makes this story remarkable is the fact it was the first time a whole trial transcript was published as a book. The court reporter used a style of shorthand to keep an accurate record of the trial. I thought this was a wel I like true crime stories but this was a bit different for me because the trial part is usually not a large part of the book. Obviously from the title this was a murder trial with two Revolutionary War heros, who did not particuarly like each other, as the defense lawyers. What makes this story remarkable is the fact it was the first time a whole trial transcript was published as a book. The court reporter used a style of shorthand to keep an accurate record of the trial. I thought this was a well written and researched book. Sadly, it was a crime that was never solved.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marsinay

    A true-crime mystery and Manhattan history involving Alexander Hamilton - what’s not to love? A very entertaining read. (For years I’d unknowingly lived a block away from the site of this infamous murder committed in 1799. I now understand the well was recently excavated and remains available for public viewing in the midst of what is currently a clothing store. Gotta love NY!)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ava

    While I didn't enjoy this one as much as Blood and Ivy (mostly because there was more historical context and anecdotes than the advertised legal battle) it was still excellently written and quite captivating. Also, I will never NOT love reading about what a wanker Aaron Burr was. While I didn't enjoy this one as much as Blood and Ivy (mostly because there was more historical context and anecdotes than the advertised legal battle) it was still excellently written and quite captivating. Also, I will never NOT love reading about what a wanker Aaron Burr was.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Betty Adams

    I like, no love, a well researched historical novel or non-fiction piece. This certainly meets that criterion. It was also well-paced. The addition of the duel account just seemed gratuitous and took away from the US's first homicide, the entire pint of the book. I like, no love, a well researched historical novel or non-fiction piece. This certainly meets that criterion. It was also well-paced. The addition of the duel account just seemed gratuitous and took away from the US's first homicide, the entire pint of the book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    Hamilton and Burr team up to defend an accused murderer. Interesting, true story! It ends with the duel that took Hamilton's life. Hamilton and Burr team up to defend an accused murderer. Interesting, true story! It ends with the duel that took Hamilton's life.

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