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Alexander Hamilton Paperback – March 29, 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 1,754 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

On the night of April 18, 1775, 800 British troops marched out of Boston to capture Samuel Adams and John Hancock and seize a stockpile of patriot munitions in Concord, Massachusetts. As they passed Lexington, they encountered a motley battalion of militia farmers known as Minutemen, and in the ensuing exchange of gunfire the British killed 8 colonists and then 2 more in Concord. As the redcoats retreated helter-skelter to Boston, they were riddled by sniper fire that erupted from behind hedges, stone walls, and fences, leaving a bloody trail of 273 British casualties versus 95 dead or wounded for the patriots.

The news reached New York within four days and a mood of insurrection promptly overtook the city. People gathered at taverns and street corners to ponder events while Tories quaked. The newly emboldened Sons of Liberty streamed down to the East River docks, pilfered ships bound for British troops in Boston, then emptied the city hall arsenal of its muskets, bayonets, and cartridge boxes, grabbing a thousand weapons in all.

Armed with this cache, volunteer militia companies sprang up overnight. However much the British might deride these ragtag citizen-soldiers, they conducted their business seriously. Inflamed by the astonishing news from Massachusetts, Alexander Hamilton, then a student at King’s College (later Columbia University), was that singular intellectual who picked up a musket as fast as a pen. Nicholas Fish recalled that “immediately after the Battle of Lexington, [Hamilton] attached himself to one of the uniform companies of militia then forming for the defence of the country by the patriotic young men of this city under the command of Captain Fleming.” Fish and Robert Troup, both classmates of Hamilton, were among the earnest cadre of King’s College volunteers who drilled before classes each morning in the churchyard of nearby St. Paul’s Chapel. The fledgling volunteer company was named the Hearts of Oak. The young recruits marched briskly past tombstones with the motto of “Liberty or Death” stitched across their round leather caps. On short, snug green jackets they also sported, for good measure, red tin hearts that announced “God and our Right.”

Hamilton approached this daily routine with the same perfectionist ardor that he exhibited in his studies. Troup stressed the “military spirit” infused into Hamilton and noted that he was “constant in his attendance and very ambitious of improvement.” Never one to fumble an opportunity, Hamilton embarked on a comprehensive military education. With his absorbent mind, he mastered infantry drills, pored over volumes on military tactics and learned the rudiments of gunnery and pyrotechnics from a veteran bombardier. There was a particular doggedness about this young man, as if he were already in training for something far beyond lowly infantry duty.

On April 24, a huge throng of patriots massed in front of city hall. While radicals grew giddy with excitement, many terrified Tory merchants began to book passage for England. The next day, an anonymous handbill blamed Myles Cooper, the Tory president of King’s College, and four other “obnoxious gentlemen” for patriotic deaths in Massachusetts and said the moment had passed for symbolic gestures. “The injury you have done to your country cannot admit of reparation,” these five loyalists were warned. “Fly for your lives or anticipate your doom by becoming your own executioners.” A defiant Myles Cooper stuck to his post.

After a demonstration on the night of May 10, hundreds of protesters, armed with clubs and heated by a heady brew of political rhetoric and strong drink, descended on King’s College, ready to inflict rough justice on Myles Cooper. Hercules Mulligan recalled that Cooper “was a Tory and an obnoxious man and the mob went to the college with the intention of tarring and feathering him or riding him upon a rail.” Nicholas Ogden, a King’s alumnus, saw the angry mob swarming toward the college and raced ahead to Cooper’s room, urging the president to scramble down a back window. Because Hamilton and Troup shared a room near Cooper’s quarters, Ogden also alerted them to the approaching mob. “Whereupon Hamilton instantly resolved to take his stand on the stairs [the outer stoop] in front of the Doctor’s apartment and there to detain the mob as long as he could by an harangue in order to gain the Doctor the more time for his escape,” Troup recorded.

After the mob knocked down the gate and surged toward the residence, Hamilton launched into an impassioned speech, telling the boisterous protesters that their conduct, instead of promoting their cause, would “disgrace and injure the glorious cause of liberty.” One account has the slightly deaf Cooper poking his head from an upper-story window and observing Hamilton gesticulating on the stoop below. He mistakenly thought that his pupil was inciting the crowd instead of pacifying them and shouted, “Don’t mind what he says. He’s crazy!” Another account has Cooper shouting at the ruffians: “Don’t believe anything Hamilton says. He’s a little fool!” The more plausible version is that Cooper had vanished, having scampered away in his nightgown once Ogden forewarned him of the approaching mob.

Hamilton knew he couldn’t stop the intruders but he won the vital minutes necessary for Cooper to clamber over a back fence and rush down to the Hudson. Of all the incidents in Hamilton’s early life in America, his spontaneous defense of Myles Cooper was probably the most telling. It showed that he could separate personal honor from political convictions and presaged a recurring theme of his career: the superiority of forgiveness over revenge. Most of all, the episode captured the contradictory impulses struggling inside this complex young man, an ardent revolutionary with a profound dread that popular sentiment would boil over into dangerous excess.

About the Author

Ron Chernow is the prizewinning author of four previous books. His first, the House of Morgan, received the National Book Award. His most recent, Titan, a biography of John D. Rockefeller, was a national bestseller and a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, and was named by both Time magazine and The New York Times as one of the best books of the year.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143034758
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143034759
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,754 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Harvey Ardman on March 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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