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Alexander Hamilton Paperback – March 29, 2005
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"...[N]obody has captured Hamilton better than Chernow..." —The New York Times Book Review
"...[A] biography commensurate with Hamilton's character, as well as the full, complex context of his unflaggingly active life.... This is a fine work that captures Hamilton's life with judiciousness and verve." —Publishers Weekly
"A splendid life of an enlightened reactionary and forgotten Founding Father. Literate and full of engaging historical asides. By far the best of the many lives of Hamilton now in print, and a model of the biographer’s art."—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"A robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all." —Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
"A brilliant historian has done it again! The thoroughness and integrity of Ron Chernow’s research shines forth on every page of his Alexander Hamilton. He has created a vivid and compelling portrait of a remarkable man—and at the same time he has made a monumental contribution to our understanding of the beginnings of the American Republic.” —Robert A. Caro, author of The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson
"Alexander Hamilton was one of the most brilliant men of his brilliant time, and one of the most fascinating figures in all of American history. His rocketing life-story is utterly amazing. His importance to the founding of the new nation, and thus to the whole course of American history, can hardly be overstated. And so Ron Chernow's new Hamilton could not be more welcome. This is grand-scale biography at its best—thorough, insightful, consistently fair, and superbly written. It clears away more than a few shop-worn misconceptions about Hamilton, gives credit where credit is due, and is both clear-eyed and understanding about its very human subject. Its numerous portraits of the complex, often conflicting cast of characters are deft and telling. The whole life and times are here in a genuinely great book." —David McCullough, author of John Adams
About the Author
Ron Chernow is the prize-winning author of six books and the recipient of the 2015 National Humanities Medal. His first book, The House of Morgan, won the National Book Award, Washington: A Life won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, and Alexander Hamilton was the inspiration for the Broadway musical. His new biography, Grant, will be published in October 2017. Chernow lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Up to chapter 16, “Dr. Pangloss,” the story is superbly told. But, when Thomas Jefferson enters Hamilton’s life, much of the book becomes a contrast between Hamilton, who had his own well-documented personal failings, with Jefferson who, if the text is to be believed, had nothing but personal failings. Jefferson is variously described as hypocritical, duplicitous and conniving. Undoubtedly, Jefferson fit much of this description but so did Hamilton in their Federalist-Republican (anti-Federalist) feud in the 1790’s. What bothered me was the unrelenting negative portrayal of Jefferson, Madison (after 1790) and John Adams. Hamilton is portrayed accurately and fully as a brilliant and decent man with some major flaws. Jefferson and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Madison and Adams, are portrayed as deeply flawed individuals who happened to have a few good points. The language reinforces this. If one were to count the negatively loaded adjectives and verbs accorded to Hamilton’s three main opponents, they would vastly outnumber any positive linguistic connotations. In order to sharpen Hamilton’s character portrayal, the image that Chernow gives of Hamilton’s opponents is, given other biographies of these men, less than just.
The name-calling, smear campaigns and character assassinations in the 1790’s are appalling (but less so given the 2016 Presidential campaign). However, a dozen years after independence and only a few years after the Constitution was ratified, the fears of the anti-Federalists were real ones. Jefferson’s and Madison’s hypocrisy and the foibles of John Adam’s personality notwithstanding, the concerns expressed were often genuine ones at that time about what kind of country the United States would be and how the Constitution should be interpreted. The possibility that the Jeffersonians may have had a point gets lost in Chernow’s constant barrage of claims about duplicity, hypocrisy and malevolent intentions.
So I thought this was a brilliant portrayal of the man who founded our economic and, to a large extent, our political system. The portrayal of Aaron Burr is excellent and the factors leading up to the duel are gripping. But the mid-section of the book would have been even stronger if Chernow had presented Hamilton’s foes in a fuller, less negatively charged light.
In short his book is an amazing story - the players, the insights, the events....frankly it is all quite mesmerizing. There is a lot here that we know, there is a lot we think we know, and there is so much more that we (at least I) never dreamed: The treachery, the mobs, the scandals and the foibles of the great men who created our great Nation. And almost any line in the book (well except the parts about productivity) could be ripped from today's headlines.
The book is long however, and sometimes the writing is too detailed !?!?! (not a bad thing for an historian, but the reader is sometimes wearied) Thus the Opus gets 4 stars rather than 5 - but do read it - we learn not just about AH - we are also gifted with substance regarding Washington, Jefferson, Laurens, Madison, the French Revolution.......and much much more....
I read an awful lot of biographies. My tendency is to favor Americans in the years around the time The United States came into existence. With rare exceptions, I would have to say that I thoroughly enjoy all of them. So why should this one be any different? Is it really that different than all of the other biographies out there? I even recently read a biography about George Washington (who was close to Alexander Hamilton) by the same author (Ron Chernow), and even that one wasn’t particularly sensational. For whatever reason, though, this one is truly exceptional.
Like all well researched biographies that are about 800 pages in length, this one is very thorough. It doesn’t exclusively focus on one aspect of his career, nor heavily focus on any particular area of his life. Everything is included. From being orphaned in the Caribbean at a young age to being killed by the Vice-President of the United States in a duel. Everything is here.
Although there’s a lot of material to cover, Chernow works magic when transcribing the man’s life. I rarely ever got bored. The book seemed exciting, as though someone were telling me a fascinating story as opposed to simply recounting a famous person’s life. Quite often when writing such a detailed exposition, ennui often creeps in from time to time. An everyday life of a politician doesn’t necessarily relate to captivating reading. Fortunately in this case, instances of boredom are rare. There was one time when I mentally dozed off for a few pages while the author explained in a tad too much detail how Hamilton’s central bank worked, but these instances were quite infrequent. I felt like I intimately knew so many of the many people who interacted, good and bad, with Alexander Hamilton. I truly wished that I could have traveled back in time to meet all of these fascinating people.
There are a lot of people that didn’t like this man, nor did he care for them. Particularly interesting is how the author treats Thomas Jefferson. Had this been the only book you had ever read, you would come away with the notion that Jefferson was Satan incarnate. Equally unfavorable treatment goes to John Adams, James Madison and James Monroe (all early U.S. Presidents, coincidentally). I would recommend further reading on these individuals for a more balanced perspective. In fact, had it not been for George Washington, you could argue that there wasn’t anyone around at the time of any importance that thought highly of Hamilton. Of course, having George Washington on your side counteracts a lot of adversaries.
The author is quite biased in favor of his subject matter. Oh sure, he points out many mistakes and deficiencies of Hamilton, but you end up firmly in the man’s corner, despite the squabbling with so many of the other founding fathers. The biggest source of discontent is Hamilton’s Federalism as opposed to Jefferson’s Republicanism. The birth of our two-political party system. Both ideologies have highlights. To truly understand the significance, one must truly imagine life directly after America’s independence is won. Now that we’ve won, what do we do? We still need a centralized government to rule. Right? At the time, many didn’t think so. Such questions are easy to answer in hindsight. Hindsight does tell us, that Hamilton was right about a lot of things during our country’s infancy.
I implore you to read this if you’re a fan of history. If you’re not a fan of history, I implore you to read it as well – just make sure you consult other sources so you come away with a strong, balanced perspective.