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Compelling story of the man who foresaw modern America,
This review is from: Alexander Hamilton (Hardcover)
At long last, Alexander Hamilton has a biography worthy of his status as the ablest and most overlooked Founding Father. In an age when most people only know Hamilton as the man on the ten dollar bill, fewer realize that many of the elements of today's America both politically and socially were foreseen by Hamilton at the very founding of the nation. It is not too much of an overstatement to say that of all the men present at the creation, only Hamilton would recognize the nation that the United States has become.
Chernow has assembled a wealth of research to provide a neatly chronological history of the man and his age, without bogging down too deeply in the typical elements of Hamilton's career -- his time by Washington's side during the Revolution, his job as the first Secretary of the Treasury (and de facto prime minister), his extramarital dalliances, and of course his fatal duel with Aaron Burr. Chernow moves the story right along throughout, although as another reviewer mentions he does sometimes fall into the biographer's trap of overstating the case for his subject. Unsurprisingly, Thomas Jefferson's role is portrayed in a non-flattering light, as well as James Madison's. Recent scholarship has certainly turned a more skeptical eye to Jefferson's qualities and flaws, but Chernow sometimes dials up the sarcasm a little high on the Jefferson/Hamilton dispute.
The book is at its best covering the period from the faltering Articles of Confederation through to the end of Hamilton's public career in the Washington Administration. This is the world of high-stakes politics, personal attacks, and a real concern that the new government could actually fall apart again in the face of internal and external dangers. As is common with biographies, the tale trails off a little as Hamilton's public career dissipates, but Chernow recovers with a long and detailed description of the events leading to the Burr/Hamilton duel. I would have liked to see more coverage of Hamilton's out-of-character "return" to Christianity in the last years of his life after evincing little interest in the subject throughout his adult life. This is a minor complaint, however, in the context of a staggering achievement in bringing to life the most insightful, capable, and intriguing of the men who helped turn a rag-tag band of quarreling states into the United States of America.