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Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation Hardcover – October 1, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 149 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“John Ferling brings to bear the considerable talents that have won him acclaim: a deep knowledge of the era, a graceful writing style and a voice that captures a reader's attention from the first page to the last. The result is a sympathetic look at two founding fathers whose visions for America are equally grand and equally compelling…Ferling is so adept at telling a story that the reader will learn much about the transition from British colonies to a new American nation.” ―Washington Post

“Ferling provides valuable perspective not only on the Founding Fathers and their accomplishments but, overtly, on today, when fierce differences divide people who say they are seeking to preserve their nation and its values. Highly recommended.” ―Library Journal

“Jefferson and Hamilton is another masterpiece penned by the eminent Revolutionary War historian John Ferling.” ―New York Journal of Books

“The author's comparative study is bold, brisk and lucid...from hammering out constitutional liberties and building the nation's banking system to jockeying in early elections, Ferling draws crisp, sharp delineations between his two subjects.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“With moments of exciting clarity, Ferling's account of two of the most famous American revolutionaries offers gossip, intrigue, and a window into their heated and turbulent relationship…astute research congeals to bring the lives of Jefferson and Hamilton, Washington and Burr, and their contemporaries into our modern world. As personalities clash and egos are wounded, Ferling gives readers a chance to rediscover the birth of the United States through the characters who helped craft its most vital institutions.” ―Publishers Weekly

About the Author

John Ferling is professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia. He is the author of many books on American Revolutionary history, including The Ascent of George Washington; Almost a Miracle, an acclaimed military history of the War of Independence; and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark. He and his wife, Carol, live near Atlanta, Georgia.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1St Edition edition (October 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608195287
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608195282
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (149 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
One of my professors in college was Broadus Mitchell. He was the foremost Hamiltonian scholar of his day, author of multiple biographies of Hamilton and associates. Not surprisingly, my freshman year at Hofstra's New College with Broadus Mitchell was an intensive study of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of America. The textbook was (surprise!) one of the several biographies of Hamilton authored by Broadus Mitchell.

When I had was given the opportunity to review this book, I was intrigued. I wondered what the author could tell me I hadn't read elsewhere and if he could tell the story better or differently, perhaps offer some fresh insights.

I have patience with history books. I don't expect it to read like fiction. Much to my delight, John Ferling's opening chapters in which he compares and examines the youth, upbringing and psychological makeup of both men is beautifully written -- entertaining and lively. Perceptive. Astute. What drove them, what inspired them to become the men who built America.

All was going swimmingly well until the war began. The Revolutionary War.

I am not a war buff and was not expecting a play-by-play of the revolution. But there it was. Battle by battle, troop movement by troop movement. I could feel my brain switch from engaged to stupefied. I'm not sure why the full details of the war are included. Aside from showcasing Hamilton's military career (doable in a few paragraphs), it adds little to my understanding of either man. As far as I'm concerned, it mainly adds hundreds of pages where a page or two of summary would have sufficed.

If you are a military history buff, you might like it. If not, skip the war and move on. It's a long book that includes a lot of great material.
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Format: Hardcover
In the preface to Jefferson and Hamilton - The Rivalry That Forged a Nation, author John Ferling writes that when he began the book, he held Jefferson in higher esteem than Hamilton. While Ferling admits that he grew more appreciative of Hamilton during the course of his work, his partiality toward Jefferson is palpable throughout this book. As a consequence, what one finds in Jefferson and Hamilton is an unbalanced portrait of these two pivotal figures responsible for America's founding as well as its enduring political legacy.

Ferling's Hamilton is seen as being primarily motivated by self-interest. Overly ambitious, he is obsessed with power and glory. Even worse, however, Hamilton's writings, speeches and policies camouflaged his true monarchical tendencies. At a dinner with Jefferson, Hamilton supposedly said that the greatest man that ever lived was Julius Caesar. Serious Hamilton biographers such as a Ron Chernow and Forrest McDonald find the story to be dubious as Hamilton's papers reveal a disapproving view of Caesar. Chernow writes that whenever Hamilton wanted to insult Jefferson as a populist demagogue, he would liken him to Julius Caesar. Yet, Ferling accepts this account without skepticism because it fits his narrative of Hamilton as a proponent of autocracy. If Hamilton truly harbored a deep passion for a British-style monarchy or autocracy in the United States, he certainly didn't show it during the election of 1800 when he backed Jefferson over Burr because Hamilton believed the latter would destroy the Constitution and erect in its place despotism.

In contrast to the dark and intriguing Hamilton, Jefferson is shown almost always in a favorable light as an indefatigable champion of democracy and egalitarianism (for at least white males anyway).
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Format: Kindle Edition
One could read the introduction to say the author believes Thomas Jefferson equals Bill Clinton and Alexander Hamilton equals George W. Bush. The introduction also contains the assertion that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that "all men are born equal" when it says we are *created* equal. After that inauspicious start, the first two-thirds of the book are well done, relatively concise, parallel biographies of the two title subjects. Readers could pick up most of what they should know about them here. Their public accomplishments and private failures are both covered in a compelling narrative.

As with all too many men who achieve greatness in public life, Hamilton and Jefferson had some incredible moral failures--Hamilton's marital infidelity and hotheadedness; Jefferson's constant personal extravagance and debt, slaveholding, and relationship with Sally Hemmings. Ferling addresses these matters without apologizing for them, but also without diminishing Hamilton's and Jefferson's immense contributions to the formation of a nation unlike any other.

It is not until two-thirds into the book that the subtitle--"The Rivalry That Forged a Nation"--begins to fit. Until then, Hamilton and Jefferson had largely operated in different spheres, apparently having no real disagreement with each other. For instance, during the Revolutionary War, Hamilton fought; Jefferson wrote the Declaration and served as Governor of Virginia. During the Constitutional Convention and the battle over ratification, Hamilton was intimately involved while Jefferson was serving in Paris. But for the next hundred pages, the text hits their disputing visions hard. The rivalry begins in the early 1790s with the two serving in Washington's cabinet and Hamilton's proposal for a national bank.
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