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282 of 295 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best Alexander Hamilton biography.
This is an excellent biography on Alexander Hamilton, a formidable and sometimes controversial figure among our Founding Fathers. He is best known for being one of the main contributors to the Federalist Papers and being the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.
There is a lot to like and be in awe about Alexander Hamilton. There is also quite a bit...
Published on April 26, 2004 by Gaetan Lion

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161 of 193 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One-sided analysis of history
With this review I aim to be the voice of reason. Most people reviewing this book have given it 5 stars. They have largely done so because this book is very readable, its research is phenomenal, and it revives in vivid detail the character and life of Hamilton.

If that is all this book accomplished, I would also give it 5 stars. I have given it only 3,...
Published on September 24, 2005 by C. Luftig


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282 of 295 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best Alexander Hamilton biography., April 26, 2004
This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
This is an excellent biography on Alexander Hamilton, a formidable and sometimes controversial figure among our Founding Fathers. He is best known for being one of the main contributors to the Federalist Papers and being the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.
There is a lot to like and be in awe about Alexander Hamilton. There is also quite a bit to dislike. Was he a visionary and a genius? Or a power hungry and greedy autocratic figure reminiscent of the British the U.S. fought away at the time. Through the past decades his place in history has gone through several reincarnations of both positive and negative revisionism.
Ron Chernow is undoubtedly on the sides of the Hamilton fan. However, even though his portrayal of Hamilton may not be totally objective. It is nevertheless fascinating due to its breadth, and depth. Hamilton comes across as a brilliant individual sometimes centuries ahead of his time. Chernow develops a convincing case that Hamilton was without peers in his developing the necessary financial and economic infrastructure of what was going to become the modern U.S.

If Adam Smith was the Scottish genius who invented modern economics, Hamilton was his American counterpart who actually applied modern economics principles in the governing of a new nation. His understanding in such matters far surpassed his more famous political opponents such as Madison and Jefferson.

Chernow mentions several examples of Hamilton's unique foresight. One was Hamilton's successful defeat of the discrimination bill. This was a nonsensical concept that proposed that capital gains on sales of treasury securities should flow back to the original investor. Hamilton quickly saw that such a concept was operationally unworkable and would prevent the development of a liquid market in tradable government securities. It would affect the U.S. ability to issue new bonds and finance both government operations and other upcoming wars. He made his case convincingly and the discrimination bill was defeated 36 to 13. Another bold move by Hamilton was to enforce the assumptions of all States' debt by the Federal Government. Thus, the fragmented portfolio of U.S. debt formerly backed by the weak credit of each specific State was now fully backed by the U.S. This reassured foreign investors, and allowed the Treasury to refinance some of the bonds with much longer terms and at lower interest rates. This prevented the U.S. to become bankrupt under the mountain of debt it had amassed as a result of its wars to fight for its independence.
After reading this book, you will feel that we would be only so lucky as to have a Secretary of the Treasury of Alexander Hamilton's caliber and genius. He loved to tackle challenging, abstract financial problems that few others could conceive. He would have been a heck of a mind to apply towards resolving our potential fiscal crisis associated with the retirement of the Baby Boomers.
Chernow's book is a rich addition to the other already excellent biographies on Alexander Hamilton, including the ones written by Stephen Knott, Willard Sterne Randall, and Forest McDonald.
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131 of 134 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is as good as biography gets, March 11, 2005
By 
Harvey Ardman (Rockport, ME USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
It's hard to add anything new to the praise other readers have offered here, but...

1. This book is FUN to read. You will become emotionally involved with the people, and privy to their thoughts and motives. You will cheer for some and hope others lose. I'm reminded, in a way, of Puzo's The Godfather. The characters are at least as vivid.

2. Although a couple of people here have given the book single star ratings, reflecting their own current political points of view, I find that the central antagonists of this book, Hamilton and Jefferson, cannot easily be fit into today's liberal and conservative ranks.

3. Today's political junkies will find many of these 18th century battles remarkably familiar, although there are no exact analogues to today's political players.

4. If you're like me, you won't be able to keep quiet about the book. You'll find yourself reading passages to your spouse and telling stories about Hamilton to your friends.

This is a thoroughly involving book. It is long, yes, but so is a good NFL game with a couple of overtimes. Unless you're a scholar of the period, you'll learn a great deal about what made America what it is today. And you'll wish, at least for a moment, that you were alive when Hamilton was and that you could have shared a dinner with him.
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65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful & Complete Biography, July 5, 2004
By 
This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
If I were able to give this book greater than 5 stars, I would. Here is why:
Chernow writes a complete biography, which while covering an immense amount of ground, still manages to be thoroughly interesting and provide numerous anecdotes and tidbits of information. Though we all know the result, Chernow's treatment of the duel with Aaron Burr offers readers many "can not put the book down" moments which would explain the dark circles under my eyes one morning at work. Still more amazing is Chernow's attention to the the (until now) little talked about reprocussions to the life of Aaron Burr (who was indicted for murder and on the lam while Vice President) and others around Hamilton including his seemingly amazing wife, Eliza.
Besides being a supreme story on the life of the man who literally shaped this country's financial and trading system (despite strong opposition from Jefferson and his Federalist Paper co-hort Madison), Chernow reveals Hamilton's talents as an attorney and his explouts as a revolutionary war hero. What was also startling was how much Washington relied on Hamilton's talents and advice during the war and thereafter to the point where Washington began to view Hamilton as his equal. Further, Hamilton's push for the adoption of the US Constitution is clear despite opposition from many of those in this country including Jefferson himself who viewed this country as an agricultural society (which would have always doomed the US to always be Britain's dark sheep) and would have left the strongest powers with the states and not a central government.
What was particularly amazing is how dirty and bruising politics was back in the late 18th and early 19th century. When reading about American History in school, the Founding Fathers always seemed like a fairly cohesive group which was above the rough and tumble of politics. To the extent that this exists in your head (as it did in mine), it is dispelled once and for all. Many of the attacks against Hamilton dealt with the fact that he was a "bastard" born in the West Indies. Some politicians also, without proof, sought to spread rumors that Hamilton was, in fact, part Creole.
Chernow's book is expansive (going back in detail to Hamilton's childhood in the West Indies to the death of his wife Eliza on the eve of the Civil War who survived him by nearly 50 years), yet concise and does not dwell on any part of Hamilton's life for too long; giving sufficient detail without overwhelming the reader. To me, it reads much like a fictional novel though it is packed with facts, details and quotations. All of Chernow's assertions and facts are seemingly backed up with authority.
Indeed, one would have a hard time conjuring up a life as interesting as Hamilton's. He was clearly one of the brightest stars this nation ever had and we are all lucky that he decided to call America his home and lucky to have this biography to illustrate it so well.
P.S.: Anyone who thinks Hamilton whould be removed from the $10 bill, should be required to read this book first.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing reading from the first page, January 6, 2006
This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
As an Irish reader who has always been interested in history, I have been interested in the American Civil War for a long time. Only recently has my interest in American history broadened to the revolutionary period. After reading this biography, I regret that I didn't acquire this interest much sooner. This book is engrossing from the first page. It is also an 'honest' biography. Although Chernow clearly believes in Hamilton's preeminent status among the founding fathers, he is not shy in criticising Hamilton's actions where it is merited. This book is pure joy from start to finish. Not only does Chernow give a superb overview of Hamilton's importance to the development of the United States but he also presents an excellent picture of the historical period. At the end of it one has new respect for a hugely important and controversial historical figure. What pleasure awaits those who have not yet read this book!
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawed giant in History, who should not have been president, April 11, 2005
By 
Anthony Sanchez (Fredericksburg, va United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
I found this book much more engaging than McCullough's bio of John Adams. Of the founding fathers' bios that I have read, Hamilton may be the one I would most like to have spent a long dinner listening to his ideas and political concerns. Part of his quality is his underdog status. A poor immigrant who was probably the only founding father to personify the American hope of rags-to-riches.

As with almost all the other founding fathers, whose biographies I have read, Thomas Jefferson played a significant role. As with some of these founding fathers, Jefferson played a villainous role. I am still trying to find enough reason to glorify Jefferson, but the guy needed a good kick in the rear.

Chernow provides excellent refutation of the Jeffersonian inspired negative images of Hamilton as an enemy of democracy and an aristocrat. In a manner that would have made Hamilton proud, the author seems to take pleasure in noting the hypocrisy of the aristocratic Jefferson, and Madison attacking Hamilton who actually put his life on the line to win independence from Britain, and who may have been the first to have called for the Constitutional Convention to make this land into an actual country. If the British ever saw Jefferson, it was only to glimpse the back of his horse as he fled to the hills at the first sight of a redcoat.

Less happy for Hamilton is the author's honest assessment of Hamilton's weaknesses, of which there were many. This is why any current day opponents of Hamilton (e.g., state rights exponents) would have to agree that this is a well-balanced treatment of its subject. After finishing this book, I concluded that Hamilton would have been the brightest, and hardest working president in history, but his temperament would have surely doomed his administration.

Hopefully, text book writers will incorporate the information in this book and give proper status for our students of this incredible, but flawed man.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive overview of Hamilton for general readers, April 26, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
Ron Chernow, expert chronicler of the House of Morgan, the Warburg family, and John D. Rockefeller, ventures outside his historical period to consider the life and work of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders of the constitutional system and the federal government's support for capitalist development. On the whole, he succeeds admirably.
His book's account of Hamilton's birth and early years and his role in the American Revolution is the clearest that we have had to date. And he ably and clearly sets forth Hamilton's fiscal policies so that even a financial dullard could understand them. He is generally quite evenhanded in his view of Hamilton's character and political activities, too.
Sometimes he stumbles, as in his account of Hamilton's wedding, when he asks why no members of Hamilton's immediate family attended or were invited. The problems were that Hamilton had been out of touch with his surviving relatives, his father and his older brother, for over a decade; that he was in upstate New York and they were in British islands in the Caribbean, divided by hazardous seas and a world war; and that even if he had been able to communicate with them, they might not have been able to afford making the trip. This is an example of Chernow's occasional blind spot in this book. He doesn't quite get the realities of certain aspects of the eighteenth-century world. I wish that I could take off only 1/2 star for that, but this system only works in increments of one star.
On the whole, though, if you want to read a reliable and authoritative life of Hamilton, this latest account is by far the best modern life. It ranks with the old (1955) book by John Chester Miller and outstrips (for readability) Broadus Mitchell's standard biography (1955, 1962). It is far better than Willard Sterne Randall's disaster of a book, and far more interesting and engaging than Richard Brookhiser's recent thin book.
This book should be read side-by-side with the Library of America one-volume collection of Alexander Hamilton's writings.
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94 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Important American Figure Never to Become President, June 4, 2004
By 
Craig L. Howe (Darien, CT United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
During the 1980s, during the period when Bank of New York launched its hostile take-over of Irving Bank, the following anecdote circulated.
As Alexander Hamilton was getting into the boat to be rowed across the Hudson River to Weehawken where he was scheduled to duel Aaron Burr, he turned to his aide and said, "Don't do anything until I return."
The story concluded, unfortunately, the aide and all of his successors took Hamilton at his word.
The anecdote, though funny at the time of the take-over, could not have a weaker historical foundation. Ron Chernow's biography relates the details of an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan who rose to become George Washington's key aide-de-camp, battlefield hero, Constitutional Convention delegate, co-author of The Federalist Papers, Federalist Party head and the country's first Treasury Secretary.
Hamilton was a rare revolutionary: fearless warrior, master administrator and blazing administrator. No other moment in American history could have better employed Hamilton's abundant talents and energy.
As Treasury Secretary, the country benefited from his abilities as a thinker, doer, skilled executive and political theorist. He was a system builder who devised and implemented interrelated policies.
As in the Revolution, Hamilton and Washington complemented each other. Washington wanted to remain above the partisan fray. He was gifted with superb judgment. When presented with options, he almost always made the correct choice. His detached style left room for assertiveness. Especially in financial matters, Hamilton stepped into the breach.
Washington was sensitive to criticism, yet learned to control his emotions. Hamilton, on the other hand, was often acted without tact and was naturally provocative.
Perhaps the main reason Hamilton accomplished so much was Washington agreed with his vision of 13 colonies welded into a single, respected nation. Chernow presents a well-written and nuanced portrait that arguably is the most important figure in American history that never attained the presidency. Though his foreign birth denied him the ultimate prize, his accomplishments produced a far more lasting impact than many who claimed it.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We are all republican, we are all federalist, June 22, 2004
By 
"martinbockshammer" (Muenster bei Dieburg Deutschland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
The war between Republicans and Federalists continues to be fought up to the present day, as Freeman's "Washington", Malone's "Jefferson", Page Smith's "Adams", Beveridge's und J.E.Smith's "Marshall", and Mitchell's and McDonald's "Hamilton" prove.
Chernow's "Hamilton" now joins the fray, and is by no means constantly fair and impartial to its hero's enemies (well, neither are the other historians). Personally, I like to think that the "founding fathers" - for all their faults, jealosies and ambitions, and though fighting each other like tomcats - were, in the last measure, honourable gentlemen, full of genuine concern for their country's future.
Anyway, the "Hamilton" biography by Chernow reads like a novel, contains lots of new research, and earns a resounding five stars. Period!
Somehow it is quietly reassuring that this book has become a bestseller in the U.S. as this attests to the deep interest of our American friends in the continuance of the "experiment" started in 1776.
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161 of 193 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One-sided analysis of history, September 24, 2005
By 
C. Luftig "chazy99" (Alexandria, Virginia United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
With this review I aim to be the voice of reason. Most people reviewing this book have given it 5 stars. They have largely done so because this book is very readable, its research is phenomenal, and it revives in vivid detail the character and life of Hamilton.

If that is all this book accomplished, I would also give it 5 stars. I have given it only 3, however, because of Chernow's treatment of every one of the other founders and his slanted vision of history surrounding all except Hamilton. In trying to resurrect Hamilton's image, Chernow attempts to extinguish the contributions of each of the other founders -- including Washington. For example, Jefferson is a two-sided politician that simply played to the passions and prejudices of the people; Adams was an egotistical know-it-all that attempted to ruin Hamilton almost as a second career; Washington was a great leader but unintelligent, and relied on Hamilton to direct him and decide major issues for him. While all of these statements may hold some grain of truth, Chernow relies solely on these ideas to prove that Hamilton single-handedly built the nation and held it together until he was killed by Burr. Again, while Hamilton's contributions are real, such a one-sided version of history is just not accurate. The truth lies far closer to the middle ground. Hamilton, like all of the founders, built this nation and contributed to its many features we today take for granted.

I believe that Chernow is an excellent writer but I believe he vastly distorts the history surrounding all of the other founders. If this book were about Hamilton in a vacuum, this is a five-star book. Because Chernow's treatment of all other subjects is so unfair -- he makes the founders out to almost be cartoon villians -- he gets only 3 stars from me.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and Wonderfully Written, July 8, 2004
By 
This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
Ron Chernow has performed a public service -- bringing to light the role played by Alexander Hamilton in forming and keeping the American government.
While George Washington is rightly called the "Indispensable Man" Chernow shows why Hamilton ought to be called the "Indispensable Man of American Government." For without his efforts, it is quite easy to see the Washington Administration handing off not a successful structure of self government, but a weak government neither able to fund itself, borrow or achieve much of anything at all.
This wonderfully written book is two stories. One is the incredible rise from ignominy of Hamilton, a bastard born overseas (this was considered worse than poverty among his class conscious contemporaries), through incredible discipline, innate intelligence and a fierce will to succeed.
The other is the story of a patriot who Zelig-like was everywhere of importance during the winning of our independence and founding of our government. Hamilton not only became in effect Washington's Chief of Staff during the Revolution and a combat hero at Yorktown, but was also the driving force behind ratification of the Constitution and the architect of the American system of government and economics.
My hope is that Hamilton, certainly the most underappreciated of the founders and arguably the most significant after Washington, finally gets his due as a keystone in making American self government a success. As Chernow illustrates so very well, Hamilton's defense of and advocacy for the Constitution through the Federalist papers (written with Madison and Jay, but largely Hamilton's work), was what probably saved our beloved document from non-ratification in New York and other states. As our first Treasury Secretary, his establishment of public credit, war debt assumption, a revenue collection system and other necessary features of government -- over the stern objections of Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans -- gave stability and permanence to our governing sytems.
Hamilton was not only exhaustive in his machinations and plans, he was also brilliant in his vision and crafty in bringing those visions to reality.
This book is not a hagiography. Hamilton was brilliant and indispensable, but as Chernow portrays he did have faults that caused him trouble and would have made him in all probability not a good candidate for president. He worked best when under the license of the great Washington. Hamilton's brilliance and incredible foresight were fostered and used by Washington - a leader who also had the supreme wisdom to temper the excesses of his unbelievably talented subordinate. Out from under Washington's guidance, Hamilton's genius produced excesses of thought if not always deed. Character flaws also got him into trouble as Chernow illustrates in the Reynolds Affair and the duel with Burr. However, his contributions are shown by the author to be indispensable and critical to the keeping of our democratic government more than two centuries hence.
This is a wonderfully written book that is thoroughly researched. It is comprehensive -- the author does an excellent job of weaving the personal Hamilton portrait with the public doings of the statesman. The times and political milieu are also expertly drawn and brought to life. In reading of the founders it always astounds me how hard fought -- and in most respects more vicious -- politics was among the founding generation compared to these last decades. A warning for Jefferson fans, the author of the Declaration does not come off favorably, nor does Madison nor Monroe (this is after the start of the Washington Administration, not before) in this book. However, given the documented evidence, their actions and deeds are credibly drawn by Chernow. While this might ruffle some feathers of those who delve lightly into the period, Chernow's documentation certainly provides a more fully drawn portrait of those who first designed themselves as Republicans (as opposed to Hamilton's Federalists) and who played politics as deviously, roughly and ruthlessly as Lyndon Johnson would in his day.
This is a great work of history and one I highly recommend. The book is long, but Chernow's tight writing style makes it easy to read.
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Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (Hardcover - April 26, 2004)
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