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The #1 New York Times bestseller, and the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton!

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.

"Grand-scale biography at its best—thorough, insightful, consistently fair, and superbly written . . . A genuinely great book." —David McCullough

“A robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all." —Joseph Ellis


Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804.

Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.



9780143034759

Amazon.com Review

Building on biographies by Richard Brookhiser and Willard Sterne Randall, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton provides what may be the most comprehensive modern examination of the often overlooked Founding Father. From the start, Chernow argues that Hamilton’s premature death at age 49 left his record to be reinterpreted and even re-written by his more long-lived enemies, among them: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe. Hamilton’s achievements as first Secretary of the Treasury, co-author of The Federalist Papers, and member of the Constitutional Convention were clouded after his death by strident claims that he was an arrogant, self-serving monarchist. Chernow delves into the almost 22,000 pages of letters, manuscripts, and articles that make up Hamilton’s legacy to reveal a man with a sophisticated intellect, a romantic spirit, and a late-blooming religiosity.

One fault of the book, is that Chernow is so convinced of Hamilton’s excellence that his narrative sometimes becomes hagiographic. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Chernow’s account of the infamous duel between Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804. He describes Hamilton’s final hours as pious, while Burr, Jefferson, and Adams achieve an almost cartoonish villainy at the news of Hamilton’s passing.

A defender of the union against New England secession and an opponent of slavery, Hamilton has a special appeal to modern sensibilities. Chernow argues that in contrast to Jefferson and Washington’s now outmoded agrarian idealism, Hamilton was "the prophet of the capitalist revolution" and the true forebear of modern America. In his Prologue, he writes: "In all probability, Alexander Hamilton is the foremost figure in American history who never attained the presidency, yet he probably had a much deeper and more lasting impact than many who did." With Alexander Hamilton, this impact can now be more widely appreciated. --Patrick O''Kelley

From Publishers Weekly

After hulking works on J.P. Morgan, the Warburgs and John D. Rockefeller, what other grandee of American finance was left for Chernow''s overflowing pen than the one who puts the others in the shade? Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804) created public finance in the United States. In fact, it''s arguable that without Hamilton''s political and financial strategic brilliance, the United States might not have survived beyond its early years. Chernow''s achievement is to give us a biography commensurate with Hamilton''s character, as well as the full, complex context of his unflaggingly active life. Possessing the most powerful (though not the most profound) intelligence of his gifted contemporaries, Hamilton rose from Caribbean bastardy through military service in Washington''s circle to historic importance at an early age and then, in a new era of partisan politics, gradually lost his political bearings. Chernow makes fresh contributions to Hamiltoniana: no one has discovered so much about Hamilton''s illegitimate origins and harrowed youth; few have been so taken by Hamilton''s long-suffering, loving wife, Eliza. Yet it''s hard not to cringe at some of Hamilton''s hotheaded words and behavior, especially sacrificing the well-being of his family on the altar of misplaced honor. This is a fine work that captures Hamilton''s life with judiciousness and verve. Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Washington is revered as the "father of his country" and the "indispensable man." Jefferson is the "apostle of liberty," the author of our most sacred national document, and his idealism, though flawed, continues to inspire us. And Alexander Hamilton? He inspires admiration for his financial acumen and respect for his drive to rise above the genteel poverty of his youth. Yet he seldom is accorded the affection reserved for some of our national icons. But as Chernow''s comprehensive and superbly written biography makes clear, Hamilton was at least as influential as any of our Founding Fathers in shaping our national institutions and political culture. He was the driving force behind the calling of the Constitutional Convention, and he was instrumental in overcoming opposition to ratification. In Washington''s cabinet, he consistently promoted a national perspective while placing our economy on a sound financial footing. Chernow, who has previously written biographies of J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, acknowledges Hamilton''s arrogance, his bouts of self-pity, and his penchant for cynical manipulation. But this self-made man was capable of great compassion and was consistently outraged by the institution of slavery. Although his understanding of human limitations made him suspicious of unrestrained democracy, his devotion to individual liberty did not falter. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"...[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 prizewinning author of seven 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 Pulitzer Prize for Biography; and  Alexander Hamilton—the inspiration for the Broadway musical—won the George Washington Book Prize. His other books include The Warburgs, The Death of the Banker, Titan, and Grant. A past president of PEN America, Chernow has been the recipient of eight honorary doctorates. He resides in Brooklyn, New York.

From The Washington Post

An illegitimate orphan from the West Indies, Alexander Hamilton rose to become George Washington''s most trusted adviser in war and peace -- only to be snared in a sex scandal and killed in a duel by Vice President Aaron Burr. None of the American Founders had a more dramatic life or death than Hamilton -- and none did more to lay the foundations of America''s future wealth and power. Revered by Lincoln Republicans, Hamilton fell out of favor in the middle of the 20th century thanks to the influence, first in the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt and then in today''s Republican Party, of Southern and Western conservatives and populists for whom Hamilton''s arch-rival, Thomas Jefferson, was the greatest of the Founding Fathers. But recent scholarship has replaced the sanitized image of Jefferson as an egalitarian idealist with the theorist of states'' rights, pseudoscientific racism and agrarian economics who sold slaves to pay for his luxuries. Because Hamilton was an abolitionist, promoter of high-tech capitalism and champion of a world-class military, he is an ancestor whose attitudes do not embarrass contemporary Americans. In Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, the author of The House of Morgan, The Warburgs and Titan, a biography of John D. Rockefeller, has brought to life the Founding Father who did more than any other to create the modern United States.

The self-made man and the immigrant who achieves success are figures dear to American culture; Hamilton, alone among the prominent Founders, was both. Chernow writes, "no immigrant in American history has ever made a larger contribution than Alexander Hamilton." Hamilton, who became one of the first American leaders to call for the abolition of slavery, grew up in the Caribbean slave societies of Nevis and St. Croix. He was the illegitimate child of James Hamilton, the younger son of a Scots laird, and Rachel Faucette, a woman of British and French Huguenot descent who had fled from her first husband. (Chernow''s extensive research has uncovered nothing to substantiate claims that Hamilton, by way of his mother, was partly black.) Hamilton and his brother, James Jr., were abandoned by their father in 1765 and orphaned when their mother died in 1767. Hamilton was 12. Sent to New York as a scholarship boy, the orphan from the West Indies flourished at King''s College (now Columbia University), penned an anti-British polemic, "The Farmer Refuted," and, when the Revolution broke out, became an artillery captain whose exploits inspired Washington to make Hamilton his aide-de-camp. Hamilton''s transformation from outsider to insider was complete when he married Elizabeth "Eliza" Schuyler, a member of one of the richest and most politically influential families in New York.

Like Washington, Hamilton sought to replace the Articles of Federation with a stronger national constitution and took part in the Philadelphia convention. In the fall of 1787, Hamilton recruited John Jay and James Madison to help him write the essays that became the Federalist Papers, to persuade New York''s ratifying convention to approve the new federal constitution. According to Chernow, "Hamilton supervised the entire Federalist project. He dreamed up the idea, enlisted the participants, wrote the overwhelming bulk of the essays, and oversaw the publication." While romantic agrarians like Jefferson dreamed of an isolationist America uncorrupted by manufacturing, Hamilton realized that to survive in a world of rival great powers the United States would have to adopt selected elements of the economic and military policies of Britain and France. As Washington''s secretary of the treasury, Hamilton infuriated populists by refusing to distinguish between the original holders of Revolutionary War-era debt -- many of them soldiers -- and the speculators who had bought them out. In Chernow''s words, Hamilton''s refusal "established the legal and moral basis for securities trading in America: the notion that securities are freely transferable and that buyers assume all rights to profit or loss in transactions." Jefferson, Madison and other Southern agrarians were bribed into acquiescing in Hamilton''s financial system by the decision to place the permanent U.S. capital on the Potomac. According to Chernow, "Madison and Henry Lee speculated in land on the Potomac, hoping to earn a windfall profit if the area was chosen for the capital." Hamilton went on to oversee the creation of the First Bank of the United States, the ancestor of today''s Federal Reserve.

Even more important for America''s future prosperity were Hamilton''s plans for government-encouraged industrial capitalism. His ambitious industrial corporation, the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (SEUM), was a failure. But in his Report on Manufactures (1791), he made the classic "infant-industry" argument that American industries needed assistance from the federal government if they were to catch up with British manufacturing. Hamilton''s most important successors in American politics were Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln, who, as president, presided over the enactment of Hamiltonian policies such as federal investment in railroads, national banking and support for U.S. industries by means of high tariffs (Hamilton himself had preferred "bounties" or subsidies to infant industries as an alternative to tariffs).

Hamilton had no more doubt than Lincoln did later that the constitution empowered the federal government to suppress insurrections. When an excise tax in 1794 provoked thousands of mostly Scots-Irish backwoodsmen to assault federal tax officials in what became known as "the Whiskey Rebellion," Hamilton insisted on a strong response. President Washington agreed: "If the laws are to be trampled upon with impunity, and a minority is to dictate to the majority, there is an end put at one stroke to republican government." In an echo of the Revolutionary War, the two men led a military expedition before which the rebels melted away.

A third reunion of Washington and Hamilton as military leaders came in 1798-99, when war loomed with France and President John Adams asked Washington to come out of retirement to lead an army that Hamilton organized. When Adams adopted a conciliatory policy toward France, Hamilton was furious and penned a denunciation of the president. "In writing an intemperate indictment of John Adams," Chernow says, "Hamilton committed a form of political suicide that blighted the rest of his career." Hamilton''s denunciations of Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson''s scheming vice president, led to Hamilton''s shooting death in the famous duel at Weehawken, N.J., on July 11, 1804. Hamilton, who had become an increasingly pious Christian after his son, Philip, died in a duel, deliberately missed Burr. Chernow makes the interesting suggestion that Hamilton''s willingness to fight a duel, along with his hypersensitivity about honor, reflects the influence of his West Indian background. In the West Indies as in the South, "plantation society was a feudal order, predicated on personal honor and dignity, making duels popular among whites who fancied themselves noblemen."

In this magisterial biography, Chernow tells the story not only of Hamilton but also of his wife, Eliza, a remarkable woman who died at the age of 97 in 1854. The year before, "When the ninety-five-year old Eliza dined at the White House . . . she made a grand entrance with her daughter. President Fillmore fussed over her, and the first lady gave up her chair to her. Everybody was eager to touch a living piece of American history." Generations earlier, Eliza had endured with stoic dignity the controversy over Hamilton''s affair with Maria Reynolds, a woman who seduced the treasury secretary so that her husband could blackmail him (Chernow provides a good account of this, the first political sex scandal in American history.) Today Eliza is buried next to her husband in the Trinity Churchyard in New York City, which Jeffersonians once called "Hamiltonopolis."

"The magnitude of Hamilton''s feats as treasury secretary has overshadowed many other facets of his life: clerk, college student, youthful poet, essayist, artillery captain, wartime adjutant to Washington, battlefield hero, congressman, abolitionist, Bank of New York founder, state assemblyman, member of the Constitutional Convention and New York Ratifying Convention, orator, lawyer, polemicist, educator, patron saint of the New-York Evening Post, foreign-policy theorist, and major general in the army," writes Chernow. His verdict is persuasive: "If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft. No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America''s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together."

Reviewed by Michael Lind


Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

PROLOGUE

THE OLDEST REVOLUTIONARY WAR WIDOW

In the early 1850s, few pedestrians strolling past the house on H Street in Washington, near the White House, realized that the ancient widow seated by the window, knitting and arranging flowers, was the last surviving link to the glory days of the early republic. Fifty years earlier, on a rocky, secluded ledge overlooking the Hudson River in Weehawken, New Jersey, Aaron Burr, the vice president of the United States, had fired a mortal shot at her husband, Alexander Hamilton, in a misbegotten effort to remove the man Burr regarded as the main impediment to the advancement of his career. Hamilton was then forty-nine years old. Was it a benign or a cruel destiny that had compelled the widow to outlive her husband by half a century, struggling to raise seven children and surviving almost until the eve of the Civil War?

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton-purblind and deaf but gallant to the end-was a stoic woman who never yielded to self-pity. With her gentle manner, Dutch tenacity, and quiet humor, she clung to the deeply rooted religious beliefs that had abetted her reconciliation to the extraordinary misfortunes she had endured. Even in her early nineties, she still dropped to her knees for family prayers. Wrapped in shawls and garbed in the black bombazine dresses that were de rigueur for widows, she wore a starched white ruff and frilly white cap that bespoke a simpler era in American life. The dark eyes that gleamed behind large metal-rimmed glasses-those same dark eyes that had once enchanted a young officer on General George Washington''s staff-betokened a sharp intelligence, a fiercely indomitable spirit, and a memory that refused to surrender the past.

In the front parlor of the house she now shared with her daughter, Eliza Hamilton had crammed the faded memorabilia of her now distant marriage. When visitors called, the tiny, erect, white-haired lady would grab her cane, rise gamely from a black sofa embroidered with a floral pattern of her own design, and escort them to a Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington. She motioned with pride to a silver wine cooler, tucked discreetly beneath the center table, that had been given to the Hamiltons by Washington himself. This treasured gift retained a secret meaning for Eliza, for it had been a tacit gesture of solidarity from Washington when her husband was ensnared in the first major sex scandal in American history. The tour''s highlight stood enshrined in the corner: a marble bust of her dead hero, carved by an Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Ceracchi, during Hamilton''s heyday as the first treasury secretary. Portrayed in the classical style of a noble Roman senator, a toga draped across one shoulder, Hamilton exuded a brisk energy and a massive intelligence in his wide brow, his face illumined by the half smile that often played about his features. This was how Eliza wished to recall him: ardent, hopeful, and eternally young. "That bust I can never forget," one young visitor remembered, "for the old lady always paused before it in her tour of the rooms and, leaning on her cane, gazed and gazed, as if she could never be satisfied."

For the select few, Eliza unearthed documents written by Hamilton that qualified as her sacred scripture: an early hymn he had composed or a letter he had drafted during his impoverished boyhood on St. Croix. She frequently grew melancholy and longed for a reunion with "her Hamilton," as she invariably referred to him. "One night, I remember, she seemed sad and absent-minded and could not go to the parlor where there were visitors, but sat near the fire and played backgammon for a while," said one caller. "When the game was done, she leaned back in her chair a long time with closed eyes, as if lost to all around her. There was a long silence, broken by the murmured words, ''I am so tired. It is so long. I want to see Hamilton.''"1

Eliza Hamilton was committed to one holy quest above all others: to rescue her husband''s historical reputation from the gross slanders that had tarnished it. For many years after the duel, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and other political enemies had taken full advantage of their eloquence and longevity to spread defamatory anecdotes about Hamilton, who had been condemned to everlasting silence. Determined to preserve her husband''s legacy, Eliza enlisted as many as thirty assistants to sift through his tall stacks of papers. Unfortunately, she was so self-effacing and so reverential toward her husband that, though she salvaged every scrap of his writing, she apparently destroyed her own letters. The capstone of her monumental labor, her life''s "dearest object," was the publication of a mammoth authorized biography that would secure Hamilton''s niche in the pantheon of the early republic. It was a long, exasperating wait as one biographer after another discarded the project or expired before its completion. Almost by default, the giant enterprise fell to her fourth son, John Church Hamilton, who belatedly disgorged a seven-volume history of his father''s exploits. Before this hagiographic tribute was completed, however, Eliza Hamilton died at ninety-seven on November 9, 1854.

Distraught that their mother had waited vainly for decades to see her husband''s life immortalized, Eliza Hamilton Holly scolded her brother for his overdue biography. "Lately in my hours of sadness, recurring to such interests as most deeply affected our blessed Mother...I could recall none more frequent or more absorbent than her devotion to our Father. When blessed memory shows her gentle countenance and her untiring spirit before me, in this one great and beautiful aspiration after duty, I feel the same spark ignite and bid me...to seek the fulfillment of her words: ''Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton.''"2 It was, Eliza Hamilton Holly noted pointedly, the imperative duty that Eliza had bequeathed to all her children: Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton.

Well, has justice been done? Few figures in American history have aroused such visceral love or loathing as Alexander Hamilton. To this day, he seems trapped in a crude historical cartoon that pits "Jeffersonian democracy" against "Hamiltonian aristocracy." For Jefferson and his followers, wedded to their vision of an agrarian Eden, Hamilton was the American Mephistopheles, the proponent of such devilish contrivances as banks, factories, and stock exchanges. They demonized him as a slavish pawn of the British Crown, a closet monarchist, a Machiavellian intriguer, a would-be Caesar. Noah Webster contended that Hamilton''s "ambition, pride, and overbearing temper" had destined him "to be the evil genius of this country."3 Hamilton''s powerful vision of American nationalism, with states subordinate to a strong central government and led by a vigorous executive branch, aroused fears of a reversion to royal British ways. His seeming solicitude for the rich caused critics to portray him as a snobbish tool of plutocrats who was contemptuous of the masses. For another group of naysayers, Hamilton''s unswerving faith in a professional military converted him into a potential despot. "From the first to the last words he wrote," concluded historian Henry Adams, "I read always the same Napoleonic kind of adventuredom."4 Even some Hamilton admirers have been unsettled by a faint tincture of something foreign in this West Indian transplant; Woodrow Wilson grudgingly praised Hamilton as "a very great man, but not a great American."5

Yet many distinguished commentators have echoed Eliza Hamilton''s lament that justice has not been done to her Hamilton. He has tended to lack the glittering multivolumed biographies that have burnished the fame of other founders. The British statesman Lord Bryce singled out Hamilton as the one founding father who had not received his due from posterity. In The American Commonwealth, he observed, "One cannot note the disappearance of this brilliant figure, to Europeans the most interesting in the early history of the Republic, without the remark that his countrymen seem to have never, either in his lifetime or afterwards, duly recognized his splendid gifts."6 During the robust era of Progressive Republicanism, marked by brawny nationalism and energetic government, Theodore Roosevelt took up the cudgels and declared Hamilton "the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time."7 His White House successor, William Howard Taft, likewise embraced Hamilton as "our greatest constructive statesman."8 In all probability, Alexander Hamilton is the foremost political figure in American history who never attained the presidency, yet he probably had a much deeper and more lasting impact than many who did.

Hamilton was the supreme double threat among the founding fathers, at once thinker and doer, sparkling theoretician and masterful executive. He and James Madison were the prime movers behind the summoning of the Constitutional Convention and the chief authors of that classic gloss on the national charter, The Federalist, which Hamilton supervised. As the first treasury secretary and principal architect of the new government, Hamilton took constitutional principles and infused them with expansive life, turning abstractions into institutional realities. He had a pragmatic mind that minted comprehensive programs. In contriving the smoothly running machinery of a modern nation-state-including a budget system, a funded debt, a tax system, a central bank, a customs service, and a coast guard-and justifying them in some of America''s most influential state papers, he set a high-water mark for administrative competence that has never been equaled. If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft. No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America''s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together.

Hamilton''s crowded years as treasury secretary scarcely exhaust the epic story of his short life, which was stuffed with high drama. From his illegitimate birth on Nevis to his bloody downfall in Weehawken, Hamilton''s life was so tumultuous that only an audacious novelist could have dreamed it up. He embodied an enduring archetype: the obscure immigrant who comes to America, re-creates himself, and succeeds despite a lack of proper birth and breeding. The saga of his metamorphosis from an anguished clerk on St. Croix to the reigning presence in George Washington''s cabinet offers both a gripping personal story and a panoramic view of the formative years of the republic. Except for Washington, nobody stood closer to the center of American politics from 1776 to 1800 or cropped up at more turning points. More than anyone else, the omnipresent Hamilton galvanized, inspired, and scandalized the newborn nation, serving as the flash point for pent-up conflicts of class, geography, race, religion, and ideology. His contemporaries often seemed defined by how they reacted to the political gauntlets that he threw down repeatedly with such defiant panache.

Hamilton was an exuberant genius who performed at a fiendish pace and must have produced the maximum number of words that a human being can scratch out in forty-nine years. If promiscuous with his political opinions, however, he was famously reticent about his private life, especially his squalid Caribbean boyhood. No other founder had to grapple with such shame and misery, and his early years have remained wrapped in more mystery than those of any other major American statesman. While not scanting his vibrant intellectual life, I have tried to gather anecdotal material that will bring this cerebral man to life as both a public and a private figure. Charming and impetuous, romantic and witty, dashing and headstrong, Hamilton offers the biographer an irresistible psychological study. For all his superlative mental gifts, he was afflicted with a touchy ego that made him querulous and fatally combative. He never outgrew the stigma of his illegitimacy, and his exquisite tact often gave way to egregious failures of judgment that left even his keenest admirers aghast. If capable of numerous close friendships, he also entered into titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr.

The magnitude of Hamilton''s feats as treasury secretary has overshadowed many other facets of his life: clerk, college student, youthful poet, essayist, artillery captain, wartime adjutant to Washington, battlefield hero, congressman, abolitionist, Bank of New York founder, state assemblyman, member of the Constitutional Convention and New York Ratifying Convention, orator, lawyer, polemicist, educator, patron saint of the New-York Evening Post, foreign-policy theorist, and major general in the army. Boldly uncompromising, he served as catalyst for the emergence of the first political parties and as the intellectual fountainhead for one of them, the Federalists. He was a pivotal force in four consecutive presidential elections and defined much of America''s political agenda during the Washington and Adams administrations, leaving copious commentary on virtually every salient issue of the day.

Earlier generations of biographers had to rely on only a meager portion of his voluminous output. Between 1961 and 1987, Harold C. Syrett and his doughty editorial team at Columbia University Press published twenty-seven thick volumes of Hamilton''s personal and political papers. Julius Goebel, Jr., and his staff added five volumes of legal and business papers to the groaning shelf, bringing the total haul to twenty-two thousand pages. These meticulous editions are much more than exhaustive compilations of Hamilton''s writings: they are a scholar''s feast, enriched with expert commentary as well as contemporary newspaper extracts, letters, and diary entries. No biographer has fully harvested these riches. I have supplemented this research with extensive archival work that has uncovered, among other things, nearly fifty previously undiscovered essays written by Hamilton himself. To retrieve his early life from its often impenetrable obscurity, I have also scoured records in Scotland, England, Denmark, and eight Caribbean islands, not to mention many domestic archives. The resulting portrait, I hope, will seem fresh and surprising even to those best versed in the literature of the period.

It is an auspicious time to reexamine the life of Hamilton, who was the prophet of the capitalist revolution in America. If Jefferson enunciated the more ample view of political democracy, Hamilton possessed the finer sense of economic opportunity. He was the messenger from a future that we now inhabit. We have left behind the rosy agrarian rhetoric and slaveholding reality of Jeffersonian democracy and reside in the bustling world of trade, industry, stock markets, and banks that Hamilton envisioned. (Hamilton''s staunch abolitionism formed an integral feature of this economic vision.) He has also emerged as the uncontested visionary in anticipating the shape and powers of the federal government. At a time when Jefferson and Madison celebrated legislative power as the purest expression of the popular will, Hamilton argued for a dynamic executive branch and an independent judiciary, along with a professional military, a central bank, and an advanced financial system. Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton''s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.

--from Alexander Hamiton by Ron Chernow, copyright © 2004 Ron Chernow, published by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher."

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Clem
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Worth all of the press and all of the accolades
Reviewed in the United States on September 30, 2017
All the hype that you have heard about this book is true. It is an outstanding biography. I admit I was somewhat skeptical. When I saw how much this book was dominating every single best-seller list, I figured the reason might be because of the highly successful musical... See more
All the hype that you have heard about this book is true. It is an outstanding biography. I admit I was somewhat skeptical. When I saw how much this book was dominating every single best-seller list, I figured the reason might be because of the highly successful musical (which I have not seen, nor plan to see). After completing the book, I can’t help but feel the reverse is true – someone, somewhere found a great biography about a great man, and then decided to make it into a musical.

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.
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Daniel Putman
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Full and well-drawn portrait of Hamilton; less so for his opponents
Reviewed in the United States on July 30, 2016
This book is a beautifully rendered portrait of Hamilton, both his public life and his private life. As so many other reviewers have noted, the book is an example of first-rate biographical research and most of the book is well-written. Up to chapter 16, “Dr.... See more
This book is a beautifully rendered portrait of Hamilton, both his public life and his private life. As so many other reviewers have noted, the book is an example of first-rate biographical research and most of the book is well-written.

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.
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J. A. Murphy
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Scandals and Insults among our Founding Fathers that could be ripped from Today''s Political Headlines !
Reviewed in the United States on August 23, 2016
I read a good deal of history - some historians are better writers than others. EX: I enjoy McCullough more than Kearns-Goodwin. So I like to learn about the great leaders and events of our past, but it is tricky to find both a compelling story and compelling storyteller.... See more
I read a good deal of history - some historians are better writers than others. EX: I enjoy McCullough more than Kearns-Goodwin. So I like to learn about the great leaders and events of our past, but it is tricky to find both a compelling story and compelling storyteller. This book has gotten a lot of attention because of Miranda''s revolutionary (play on words?) play. Chernow''s book is not flawed, but it is exhaustive.

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....
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RZ
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Can not get past the love affair with the subject
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2019
I looked forward to reading this, but the author is so deeply in love with Hamilton that it is difficult to believe most of it. As either a 13, 14 or 15 year old, "Hamilton exuded an air of crisp efficiency and cool self-command". The reader is subjected to multiple... See more
I looked forward to reading this, but the author is so deeply in love with Hamilton that it is difficult to believe most of it. As either a 13, 14 or 15 year old, "Hamilton exuded an air of crisp efficiency and cool self-command". The reader is subjected to multiple superlatives about the Hamilton child, with little documentation.

The presumptions and dramatic phrases are over the top - was he in "painful suspense" after his mother died , is their cousin''s black mistress proof of the "tawdry side of life", as opposed to the common situation the author states it was earlier?or busy working, or being supported handsomely by relatives of his possible father? At any and every chance the most positive spin is written. Contrast it to David McCullough''s biography of John Adams, where he appears to admire his subject, but is relatively objective.
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Y. Alexander
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Couldn''t this all have been said with less words?
Reviewed in the United States on May 28, 2018
Update: So I have completed the book and am so glad that I didn''t give up. Following some tedious verbiage, the book became interesting again. It was like seeing a movie...I couldn''t wait to see what would happen next. Even though I was aware of how his life ended, the... See more
Update: So I have completed the book and am so glad that I didn''t give up. Following some tedious verbiage, the book became interesting again. It was like seeing a movie...I couldn''t wait to see what would happen next. Even though I was aware of how his life ended, the detail that Chenow provided made me feel as though I was there in person. The fact that he was alert and still giving orders until his dying breath, through the agonizing pain, is amazing. The description of the funeral procession sounds so grand. How wonderful of the people of NYC to give this giant personality the sendoff that he deserved. Having grown up in NY, and visiting his grave site at Trinity Church, I can visualize the moment.
Kudos to Chernow for providing a more complete portrayal of this unique individual other than that he was killed in a duel. Knowing more of his character, it isn''t surprising that he died in this manner. Hamilton was certainly combative and confrontational, and had a huge ego; however the man was a genius. It''s no wonder that Washington conferred with him on relevant matters. I became so intrigued with this dynamic duo that I had to read "Washington and Hamilton: the Alliance that Forged America" by Knott and Williams. This is a much easier read than Chernow''s book. I also hadn''t realized that Chernow acquired much of the research for Hamilton from this book. Interesting!

When I first received this on my kindle and began reading, I was ready to give this 5 stars, Now 1/3 of the way in, I''m getting rather frustrated. The research and revelation is excellent...but why the difficult read? The verbiage takes away from the content. I don''t want to have to reread sentences to make sense of what is occurring.
However, I admit that I understand the character of Hamilton much more than when I began reading this biography. There is more elaboration on his attributes than what Lin Manual Miranda is able to evoke in the stage production. The biography also provides more detail on what happened before, during and after the Revolution that was not included in my history book. And the minute detail of the forming of our government is eye-opening, which has given me a new appreciation of American history.
I would like to finish this book however, based on previous reviews, I''m currently in the most tedious part.
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Kyle B.Top Contributor: Philosophy
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
So Strongly Pro-Hamilton that it Obscures Complex History
Reviewed in the United States on May 1, 2020
I am rather surprised at not really liking this biography. My previous experience with Chernow (Grant) was positive, but I think Chernow is so pro-Hamilton in this book, that at times it causes misunderstandings of history. I will concede Hamilton''s brilliance, importance,... See more
I am rather surprised at not really liking this biography. My previous experience with Chernow (Grant) was positive, but I think Chernow is so pro-Hamilton in this book, that at times it causes misunderstandings of history. I will concede Hamilton''s brilliance, importance, and generally good character, but you would think Hamilton was a prophet or a saint with some of Chernow''s descriptions. (All page numbers come from a Kindle version). Also, sorry, this is long.

The main reason I felt annoyed by Chernow''s description is how he calls Alexander an "ardent abolitionist" (p. 579), "Hamilton''s staunch abolitionism" (p. 579), "uncompromising abolitionist" (p. 592), and "fervent abolitionist" (p. 752). Now, because Chernow does not describe what an abolitionist is, let me point a common one from McPherson as "one who before the Civil War had agitated for immediate, unconditional, and total abolition of slavery in the United States". If we use this definition Hamilton clearly does not qualify. I could probably accept that Chernow is using a broader use of abolitionist, but "ardent", "staunch", etc. imply that Hamilton pushed against slavery strong and hard. Chernow never gives us any evidence of this. He certainly proves that Hamilton personally was not fond of slavery and was probably ahead of his time in thinking blacks and whites equals. We are told that his time growing up in the Caribbean must have caused him to sympathize with slaves, but there is never any documentation offered to corroborate this. Hamilton did support arming slaves and giving them their freedom in the Revolutionary War, but he couched it in being the practical thing to do against the British. His economic vision did not have slaves, but I would count that as antislavery rather than abolitionist. The only real leg of this stands on his involvement in the New York Manumission Society (note it is not called the abolition society) which advocated for people slowly, gradually giving slaves their freedom. This is to Hamilton''s credit, but he was hardly alone. The book itself points out, "One is further impressed by the sheer number of people in the Manumission Society who had been close to Hamilton since his arrival in America among them Robert Troup, Nicholas Fish, Hercules Mulligan, William Livingston, John Rodgers, John Mason, James Duane, John Jay, and William Duer." There is also the inconvenient fact that Hamilton certainly bought and sold slaves for his extended family, and may have owned slaves himself (many in the Manumission society did), and Chernow only notes as "Hamilton''s marriage into the Schuyler family may have created complications on his stand on slavery. ... There is no definitive proof, but three oblique hints in Hamilton''s papers suggest that he and Eliza may have owned one or two household slaves as well". This alone means he was not a "fervent" or "uncompromising" abolitionist for me. That these purchases "may have been made for John and Angelica Church and undertaken reluctantly by Hamilton", hardly changes the fact that Hamilton was compromising on slavery. This culminates in Chernow carefully stating "Few, if any, other founding fathers opposed slavery more consistently, or toiled harder to eradicate it than Hamilton". Then Chernow admits that "John Adams never owned a slave and had a good record on slavery, which he denounced as a "foul contagion in the human character" and then faults Adams for defending slaves as a lawyer and not using political power to free slaves (which seems to apply to Hamilton, at least to me). For Benjamin Franklin who was stridently against slavery only in his old age, he points out Franklin owned slaves in his younger years. He does not point out that Franklin wrote a petition to Congress asking for slavery to be abolished. The fact is that all of the Founding Fathers accommodated slavery because they thought the union of the United States was worth the moral stain. Hamilton was a fervent unionist and that took priority for him. He was very likely antislavery but given how prolific a writer he was, he wrote very little on the subject, which may point out the actual strength of his views. Certainly saying he was uncompromising is hyperbole of the worst degree when he bought and sold slaves for others. Because, if we believe Chernow, "Hamilton --- opinionated, almost recklessly candid --- was incapable of this type of circumspection". There is also a Phocion essay by Hamilton (in order to score points against Jefferson) that sheds some light on Hamilton''s abolitionism. Chernow describes, "He was trying to turn southern slaveholders against Jefferson by asking whether they wanted a president who "promulgates his approbation of a speedy emancipation of their slaves." Hamilton was trying to have it both ways. As an abolitionist, he wanted to expose Jefferson''s disingenuous sympathy for the slaves. As a Federalist, he wanted to frighten slaveholders into thinking that Jefferson might act on that sympathy and emancipate their slaves." Do you think a staunch abolitionist would write that? Do you find Chernow''s explanation convincing as to why someone who was an "uncompromising abolitionist" would write such a thing?

This leads to another criticism I have. Chernow''s picture of Hamilton as recklessly candid only applies to certain aspects of Hamilton. My problem then is that Chernow is not careful with such language. He says categorical things far too often, I think. For example, "The incident [supporting federal tax collectors] again showed that Hamilton, far from being a crafty plotter, often could not muzzle his opinions", or such as quoting Nathaniel Pendleton on Hamilton as "The frankness of his nature was such that he could not easily avoid the expression of his sentiments of public men and measures and his extreme candor in such cases was sometimes productive of personal inconveniences" or Eliza Hamilton with Alexander having "a character perhaps too frank and independent for a democratic people." And again with "Throughout his career, Hamilton was outspoken to a fault" (which really does raise the question of why he didn''t say more on slavery if he was a fervent abolitionist). While at the same time acknowledging that in other cases that "To be sure, Hamilton had been cunning, quick-footed, and manipulative and had placed [John] Adams in an awkward spot". Or "Hamilton was coaxing Washington to dabble in a dangerous game of pretending to be a lofty statesman while covertly orchestrating pressure on Congress. The letter shows Hamilton at his most devious, playing with combustible forces" when Hamilton encouraged soldiers (and Washington to help the soldiers) to exert pressure on Congress. If one were looking at this encouragement of soldiers with very eyes very critical of Hamilton, it could almost seem like a coup, though I''d agree it was just Hamilton being crafty. This Hamilton is not crafty when he voices his opinions but is crafty when pursuing goals seems a bit incongruous.

This really leads to my point that Hamilton was a type of politician, and so he often would say what helped his side. Chernow appears to me to want to minimize, and I think it makes all the other people look like terrible people with Hamilton remaining untarnished as somehow less flawed. The problem is that Hamilton was flawed. The end of Hamilton''s life is especially flawed, with him supporting the Alien and Sedition Acts which showed that Hamilton''s devotion to liberty was not as strong as one would expect of the person who wrote many of The Federalist Papers. When you support putting people in prison for saying mean things about the government, you have gone wrong somewhere.

In addition, I find Chernow''s coverage of the French Revolution (and strangely, he omits the Haitian Revolution) lacks the nuance I would have expected. He gives Hamilton a lot of credit for being mistrustful of the French Revolution, and says Hamilton understood it better than those like Jefferson who had actually lived in France. On the other hand, Hamilton thought France was going to invade the US long after that was a remote possibility, so I feel it is unfair to keep giving Hamilton credit for "prescience" when he predicted so many things. He''s bound to get some right and some wrong. Hamilton could be brilliant, but I find it difficult to believe he was especially insightful about the French Revolution. Just in general, Chernow takes a very dim view of the French Revolution (and pretty much lumps all the stages of the revolution together without discussing how much the pendulum had swung back and forth between different parties) and so views it mostly through the prism of the Reign of Terror. That he never speaks of the Vendeé which is where there was far more evil killing tells me he is not analyzing the French Revolution very completely. The amount of literature debating that revolution is immense, and its consequences so huge that it is honestly hard to say anything more than that the number of people who died is a tragedy. It does appear that the end results were most likely a more republican, liberal Europe, though.

If you come at this book aware of the extreme pro-Hamilton bias, the book does offer some positives. It covers the years of Hamilton''s life fairly comprehensively, not giving short shrift to his time as Treasury Secretary or after. He does offer insight into Hamilton''s psyche and explains the life of Hamilton''s wife Eliza, who had important contributions to the country.

This is somewhat marred by Chernow often stating one view and then conceding later that the earlier view was too simplistic. For example, when he talks about the American Revolution, he begins by describing the British as having an "invincible military" (p.70) and crediting Hamilton with prescience for saying that the Americans could use militia to beat the British. The British were the strongest naval power, but their army was hardly considered invincible. It also states America faced "the military strength of the most colossal empire since ancient Rome, they decided to fight back". One need only look at the Spanish empire of the same time period (or at its peak long before 1776) to see the absurdity of this statement. This is not to say that the US would obviously be victorious, just that the British were not a military juggernaut, and were aware of the difficulty of keeping the American colonies; they just bungled it. Later, Chernow corrects this narrative, by noting how important the Continental Army, foreign assistance, the alliance with France, and European powers declaring war on Great Britain were, and so I will give him a somewhat of a break on this.

In the end, Hamilton really was quite important to all sorts of US precedents and history, and so pointing out his deserved role in history is important. I just wish it had been done without overly glorifying Hamilton at almost every turn. The end of the book is actually better in this case, because Hamilton made so many "lapses of judgment" that even Chernow must concede case after case of Hamilton saying and doing problematic things (such as support for the Alien and Sedition Act or his desire to undemocratically change the vote counting when Federalists lost).

I wish I could say that I''d recommend this book, but I cannot. I have to believe there are more objective histories of Hamilton out there that do not frame almost every Hamilton fault as a faulty misjudgment while every one of Hamilton''s enemies'' missteps are a fault of their character. Hamilton''s importance to the US constitution and government structure are undeniable, and a balanced approach to Hamilton would really be helpful in pointing this out without verging hagiography.

The rest of this review is skippable if you accept what I say above. The rest is simply me commenting on why I think Chernow''s framing is more misleading than helpful. It is not usually that Chernow is stating a wrong fact, but using an argument that seems more like excusing Hamilton or making Hamilton''s enemies sound bad than making a balanced historical judgment. I think this happens every once and a while in all works, but the number is large in this case. I have more, but a sample is below.

"At the time they met, Madison was a priggish bachelor and tight-lipped about his private affairs. No personal gossip ever smudged the severe rectitude of James Madison''s image." This is stated as a bad thing, rather than simply pointing out that Madison did not have affairs and kept his private life actually private.

"Hamilton fretted that whether by chance or design Adams might sneak past Washington in the voting. So he approached [electors in states] and asked them to deny their votes to Adams to insure that Washington became president. ... Adams came to view Hamilton''s actions as unforgivably duplicitous. In fact, Hamilton had approached only seven or eight electors, so that his actions could have accounted for just a small fraction of Adams''s thirty-five-vote deficit. And Hamilton had been motivated by a laudable desire to help Washington, not harm Adams, whom he favored for vice president." If Hamilton had explained this to Adams, it would might be laudable, but I think sneaking to electors to ask them to withhold votes should be viewed as political choice that is not very laudable.

"When Pendleton returned to the scene the next day, he tracked down Hamilton''s bullet and discovered that it had smashed the limb of a cedar tree more than twelve feet off the ground. The spot was also approximately four feet to the side of where Burr had stood---in other words, nowhere in the vicinity." I have to think that being shot at at close range is not a pleasant experience and my experience with gunshots has made it clear to me that it is often difficult to determine where they are coming from. Is it really so hard to believe that Burr thought Hamilton had shot at him and simply missed? Some simple trigonometry also shows this. They were ten paces, say that''s 8 yards or 24 feet. Four feet to the side means the angle would be about ten degrees off. In the split seconds of a gun firing it would seem a bit cockeyed but I''m not sure I''d say that it was clearly aiming to miss from a being shot at perspective.

"Once upon a time, Thomas Jefferson had lauded Louis XVI as "a good man," "an honest man." Now, he asserted that monarchs should be "amenable to punishment like other criminals."" You will notice that these two statements are not in contradiction with each other. A good person, who is a monarch and has committed a crime, should be amenable to punishment like other criminals is probably something that most people would agree with today.
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Dave Schan
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A great man, a flawed man, a challenging environment
Reviewed in the United States on March 5, 2017
Hamilton is a commitment, around 800 pages worth. It falls a bit too strongly in praise of Hamilton. He was pretty unfair, for example, in his anonymous criticisms of rival politicians. It also took a very long time to outline Hamilton''s poor relationships with Jefferson... See more
Hamilton is a commitment, around 800 pages worth. It falls a bit too strongly in praise of Hamilton. He was pretty unfair, for example, in his anonymous criticisms of rival politicians. It also took a very long time to outline Hamilton''s poor relationships with Jefferson and Adams. His affair was dealt with in painful detail. Beyond these limitations, Hamilton gives a good behind-the-scenes look at the early days of the founding of American government. Hamilton was well read and used his knowledge to set up commerce and financial systems we have greatly benefitted from. For these reasons, the book has much to offer.
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Meryl Ankori
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Five Stars
Reviewed in the United States on May 31, 2016
Great reading - & then go visit Alexander & Eliza at the Museum of the City of New York!
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Top reviews from other countries

Mummy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Absolutely Brilliant!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 26, 2018
What an amazing man! A phenomenal man and yet so human and fragile, and in some ways so deeply flawed. This is an amazing book about a truly amazing man. I was fortunate to be given a free ticket to see Hamilton and although I had already bought a ticket, I happily accepted...See more
What an amazing man! A phenomenal man and yet so human and fragile, and in some ways so deeply flawed. This is an amazing book about a truly amazing man. I was fortunate to be given a free ticket to see Hamilton and although I had already bought a ticket, I happily accepted the free one and I saw the musical. I am a Hamilfan and proud of it and like so many people I have the mixtape, the original broadcast, the Hamildrops etc etc and I hang on to Lin Manuel Miranda''s every word. I also have the Hamiltome and Chernow. I decided to read Chernow because I thought it would help me understand Hamilton and enhance my enjoyment of the musical second time round. And it will because of course Lin Manuel Miranda is an amazing man and the musical brings Alexander Hamilton to life. But the book etches the man upon your soul. In some ways his death was just such an utter loss, but in other ways it was a dramatic end to a incredibly dramatic life. I finished reading this and just felt rather shell shocked. I also felt that Hamilton had a very cavalier attitude about the impact of his death on his wife and seven children. But I also feel incredibly educated, for want of a better word. I am not an American and there are things about US politics that confuse me e.g. the two party system, the political ideologies etc. I now know what it is all about! At least a little. And this means that I can go forth and bore my colleagues, friends and family to death. This also mean that when I watch the musical for the second time I will be able to pick up all the nuances and references and just have a richer experience. Ron Chernow is a brilliant author. He has written a huge tome of US history in a way that is accessible and enjoyable and I can well see why Lin Manuel Miranda was so captivated. It is the kind of book and life story that deserve a musical. Reading this has left me feeling exhilarated and hungry for more. I now want to know more about Jefferson, Burr and the other founding fathers, but I also want to know more about American slavery and so I will be reading Grant next. The unsung hero here is Eliza Hamilton who sounds like the most amazing woman. ''Bests of wives, best of women.'' And I think she would have had to be with a man like Hamilton. I wish someone would tell her story. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I am glad I started it at the beginning of the year. I now have whole year to bask in the life of Hamilton, the writing of Chernow and the music of Lin Manuel Miranda. "Alexander Hamilton We are waiting in the wings for you You could never back down You never learned to take your time Oh, Alexander Hamilton When America sings for you Will they know what you overcame? Will they know you rewrote your game? The world will never be the same, oh The ship is in the harbor now See if you can spot him Another immigrant comin'' up from the bottom His enemies destroyed his rep America forgot him We fought with him Me, I died for him Me, I trusted him Me, I loved him And me, I’m the damn fool that shot him There’s a million things I haven’t done But just you wait What’s your name, man? Alexander Hamilton" Songwriters: Lin-Manuel Miranda Alexander Hamilton lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
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Edward B. Crutchley
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Captivating
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 2, 2017
In this captivating book the reader becomes immersed in the animosities, differences of opinion and infighting between the leading characters of those days before and after independence. Hamilton’s cabinet colleague Jefferson appears to have been particularly devious, but...See more
In this captivating book the reader becomes immersed in the animosities, differences of opinion and infighting between the leading characters of those days before and after independence. Hamilton’s cabinet colleague Jefferson appears to have been particularly devious, but he is far from alone. The rivalry between the Anglophile (more commerce-minded) north and the agrarian, slave-dependent Francophile south was at the fore. With his astounding achievements, the controversial, brave and workaholic Hamilton appears the hero of those days, but his shortcomings are made clear. He succeeded in pushing for federalism versus balkanisation of the thirteen states, a standing army, the creation of the financial system, the servicing of debt, the federal assumption of state debt and market economy, not to mention the choice for the future capital. Hamilton’s concerns about tyranny of the masses, his opponents’ fear of an overreaching central government, the extensive use of fake news in order to denigrate opponents, all echo more than ever today.
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Alister Brown
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A masterpiece about an incredible man
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 8, 2017
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow is a masterpiece which has engaged me, shocked me and even brought me to tears. The life of Alexander Hamilton is without doubt worth reading about and in my opinion you would be hard pressed to find a better written, more comprehensive...See more
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow is a masterpiece which has engaged me, shocked me and even brought me to tears. The life of Alexander Hamilton is without doubt worth reading about and in my opinion you would be hard pressed to find a better written, more comprehensive book on his life. While I concede that this book is not for everyone, anyone with an interest in Hamilton, the founding of the United States or late 18th century politics will love this book. My interest, like many others I''m sure, was sparked by Lin-Manuel Miranda''s Broadway musical "Hamilton" and I have enjoyed reflecting as I progress through the book on the similarities and differences between the reality, and what Miranda showed us in his performance. Chernow does a great job of bringing the reader into the mind of many of the people of the time and gives ample credit where it is due. I would be interested now to read biographies on Jefferson, Madison and Burr to see how the "Villains" of Hamilton''s life are viewed differently in another context. If you''ve read this far chances are you are the kind of person who will enjoy this book and I can''t recommend it enough to you.
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Penguin
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A remarkable account; justice to Hamilton''s legacy
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 9, 2021
Alexander Hamilton’s story has been made famous by the popular musical that bears the same name. The musical has successfully roused my interest in his biography on which it is based because I want to fill the gaps in between scenes and have a deeper grasp of the...See more
Alexander Hamilton’s story has been made famous by the popular musical that bears the same name. The musical has successfully roused my interest in his biography on which it is based because I want to fill the gaps in between scenes and have a deeper grasp of the relationships and antagonism between characters. I also find Hamilton an intriguing, controversial and complex character worth exploring, something that a musical does not permit. First let’s appreciate the skills of the biographer. His subject was a great man with eloquence and many talents. His breath of knowledge and knowhow few could match, covering first and foremost law, then finance and economics, military administration and tactics, and science of government. He was “a thinker and doer”, “unashamedly brainy to appeal to the masses” (p.627). He was a visionary, well ahead of his time, and a fierce pioneer, who was effective in meticulously forging a way to turn his vision into reality. He laid down the constitutional framework and built the federal financial system – institutional infrastructure needed for the flourishing of this modern market economy when America was still a largely rural economy. He was a powerful steam engine spearheading towards a future that only few could see. When he was so far ahead of time, he found himself a lone voice in the wilderness. He was given the opportunity and he did not squander it but made something out it – he could because he was full of ideas. Proposals after proposals, he never lost sight of his vision. He tried to explain but out of self-interest or out of their wildest imagination, he invited critics and suspicions all his life. He put his head down as the doer, but calumnies plagued his whole career. For a man of honour, he fought many battles to clear his reputation. Sadly he “was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist of privilege and wealth” (p. 629) which was quite the opposite to who he was – a self-made man, a fervent abolitionist and a staunch believer in meritocracy. Hamilton was a prolific writer; he incessantly published papers, official reports, pamphlets, essays, newspaper articles. In addition, there were private papers and letters. Because his life intertwined with so many prominent figures of the time, one can imagine the colossal volume of materials to sieve through and sort for the biography, which demonstrates the biographer’s excellent organisational skills. The end product flows smoothly as if without effort. Secondly, I am most impressed by the versatility of the biographer’s writing skill. A biographer is naturally a narrator. However, Hamilton is a challenging subject as the biographer is required to make lucid many varied technical details of his pioneer thinking in historical critical moments that shaped the world, such as the development and debate on the Constitution, Hamilton’s federal fiscal and financial system and its opposition, the development of political thoughts for a new country, in particular the inner conflict of Hamilton if a republican government could deliver a proper balance of liberty and order. I believe the biographer has done a marverllous job in introducing us to the controversies that Hamilton was embroiled in. But my biggest enjoyment of this biography is probably not the intent of the biographer! It reads to me the redemptive story of Hamilton – his testimony of God! To me who shares his faith, it is an exhilarating read to see the providence of God working marvellously in his life. His life, plainly and faithfully told by the biographer, speaks for itself. Things that the biographer finds puzzling, like Hamilton’s injudicious behaviour in the whole Reynolds Affair at the height of his power and fame, his vision for the army during the Quasi-War with France in 1798-1800, the “execrable” idea of the Christian Constitutional Society, and his preoccupation with religion in his final years, make sense if one understands the challenges of Christian walk. For example, I see striking parallels in David sinning with Bathsheba and Hamilton sinning with Reynolds – the injudicious behaviour, the coverup and the subsequent compulsion to confess when exposed. His many inner struggles also makes perfect sense in the light of the Bible. I find his dying scene particularly moving for its gospel light. When Eliza was called to his deathbed following the duel with Burr, Hamilton’s words of comfort to her were, “Remember, my Eliza, you are a Christian.” Do we feel the weightiness of that name? He was entreating her to live like one worthy of that call. However powerful, influential and capable he was on earth, at his deathbed, he could promise nothing except to point Eliza to their Almighty God who is greater than he, loves her more perfectly and in whom their hope is found. He died a repentant sinner, having “a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He repeated to the Bishop present that “he was dying in a peaceful state, and that he was reconciled to his God and his fate.” On our measures, it was a tragic end to a great man’s life, but God single-handedly turned it into a good ending of eternal hope that we all share. Burr, on the other hand, was a contrast to Hamilton. Both were orphaned from a young age. Who was more likely to be a principled and religious man with integrity from family background? I imagine it would have been Burr because he was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, the renowned American theologian of all time, while Hamilton was illegitimate. But then Burr was “a dissipated, libidinous character” and “had been openly accused of every conceivable sin: deflowering virgins, breaking up marriages through adultery, forcing women into prostitution, accepting bribes, fornicating with slaves, looting the estates of legal clients. The grandson of theologian Jonathan Edwards had sampled many forbidden fruits (p. 682).” He lived to 77 while Hamilton died in his hand at the age of 49 in the infamous duel. What memory did he leave? “The death mask of Aaron Burr is haunting and unforgettable, with the nose twisted to the left, the mouth crooked, and the expression grotesque, as if all the suppressed pain of his life were engraved in his face by the end. John Quincy Adams left this epitaph of the man: “Burr’s life take it all together, was such as in any country of sound morals his friends would be desirous of burying in profound oblivion.” (p.722)” What biblical doctrine does it shine out for us? Election of God’s people – i.e. they are chosen by God and not the other way round. How does the biographer achieve telling all these without it being intentional? He seeks to tell the story faithfully and authentically and comprehensively, and the story will speak for itself.
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Stephen Reid
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Well written, detailed and enjoyable.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 19, 2021
I bought this book as a present after we had watched the Hamilton stage show on television. It is a large and detailed history of a man who did an immense amount of work in helping to found the United States and was then killed in a duel and not remembered as much as he...See more
I bought this book as a present after we had watched the Hamilton stage show on television. It is a large and detailed history of a man who did an immense amount of work in helping to found the United States and was then killed in a duel and not remembered as much as he should have been. It was this book that ispired the show. The book is well written, detailed and thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended.
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