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    For 20 years, Stanley Cloud was a foreign and domestic correspondent and bureau chief for Time magazine. He has interviewed five U.S. presidents and has covered politics, international affairs and the Vietnam War. In the late 1970s, he left Time and became managing editor of the Washington Star. Later, he was executive editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He returned to Time in 1987 and was its Washington Bureau Chief from 1989 to 1993. After retiring from journalism, he co-authored two non-fiction books with his wife, writer and historian Lynne Olson.

    The Manhattan Well is his first novel.


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Stanley Cloud, author of The Manhattan Well.
Stanley Cloud, author of The Manhattan Well
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A Q &A with Stan Cloud (below the fold)

Q: How did you come to write The Manhattan Well?

A: Some time back, I read Ron Chernow’s fine biography, Alexander Hamilton, and was fascinated to discover about three-quarters of the way through a shortish description of the Levi Weeks murder trial and the fact that Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr defended Levi. I’d never heard of this case and decided to pursue it. I spent about a year on research -- among many other things, I found that a transcript of the Weeks trial exists and is, in fact, the oldest criminal trial transcript in the history of U.S. jurisprudence. But none of my research came close to answering the key questions that surrounded the case. So I decided to write the story as a novel.

Q: Did Gore Vidal deal with the murder case in his novel Burr?

A: Not really. I admire Vidal’s book, but he mentions the Manhattan Well case, and Aaron Burr’s related Manhattan Company scheme, only in passing. His novel deals with Burr’s entire life -- and the man lived for 80 years -- while I focus on just three years of his life -- 1799, 1800 and, of course, 1804, the year of his famous duel with Hamilton. By the way, Vidal also treats the duel in a rather backhanded way.

Q: Did your research change your mind about any of the main characters?

A: It certainly added to my understanding of them. Hamilton was a brilliant man, probably a kind of genius. I think he had more to do with shaping our federal government and economic system than any other single Founding Father. Born in the West Indies, he was the bastard son of an impoverished woman who made, shall we say, poor choices in men. Yet her son Alexander overcame all that. He made it alone as a teenager to Boston in 1772, then moved to
New York. And after just five years, and in the midst of the American revolution, he became a member of George Washington’s military staff -- his “family,” as Washington called it. Soon afterward Hamilton was de facto chief of staff. Another decade or so, and he was the first Secretary of the Treasury, with more power and influence, perhaps, than any other member of Washington’s cabinet. A truly remarkable ascent! Yet, somehow, the more I learn about Hamilton, the less I like him. I find him stuffy, priggish, rather hypocritical and arrogant. He had many good qualities and was a kind of idealist, but I doubt he was very pleasant to be around.

Q: And Aaron Burr?

A. Ah, Burr. He came from a prominent American family of mostly ministers -- his father, The Reverend Aaron Burr, Sr., was a founder and the second president of Princeton College (then the College of New Jersey) and his maternal grandfather was the renowned fiery preacher, Jonathan Edwards, who, after Burr Sr. died, became Princeton’s third president, then promptly died himself.
Aaron Burr
(See evident contrast to his illustrious forebears, Aaron Burr, Jr., was a major-league sinner, a womanizer -- Hamilton was a bit of one himself , by the way -- and, in many ways, a deceitful scoundrel, with a wide cynical streak. But he was likable, was no hypocrite, was relatively modest, and had a remarkable generosity of spirit. In other words, he and Hamilton were in most respects polar opposites. Which makes their duel all the more interesting and tragic.

Q: How historically accurate is The Manhattan Well?

A:  In writing  it, I tried to fill in the blanks that history always leaves behind, while being as faithful as possible to the historical facts of the three main stories and their inherently dramatic and, in my view, intertwined events: the murder of Gulielma Sands, the trial of Levi Weeks and the fateful rivalry between Burr and Hamilton. I cut a few corners for my story’s sake but not many. The dialogue, motives and emotions are, of course, largely imagined, although I’ve occasionally used the actual words and thoughts of the major characters. My descriptions of the Weeks trial rely heavily on the trial’s transcript. In Part Two of the novel, I accurately portray the events leading up to the duel, except of course for its proximate cause -- the specific charge that Hamilton directed at Burr -- which no historian has yet discovered. By the way, at the end of the book I’ve included a fairly lengthy author’s note and bibliography for anyone who’d like to pursue the matter further.

Q: What do you say Hamilton’s charge was? And who do you think murdered Gulielma Sands?

A:  I guess you’ll have to read The Manhattan Well to learn that.

Cover of The Manhattan Wellmanhattan-well-cover.htmlmanhattan-well-cover.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

Other books by Stanley Cloud & Lynne Olson: