Paperback Perils: Alexander Hamilton


Title: Alexander Hamilton
Author: Ron Chernow
Publication Date: 2004
Publishing House: Penguin Books

Lin-Manuel Miranda read this biography of Alexander Hamilton and it later inspired his musical, Hamilton. That play later inspired Miranda to write Hamilton: The Revolution.

Synopsis From Goodreads

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.

In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America. According to historian Joseph Ellis, Alexander Hamilton is “a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all.”

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.

In school we learn only the small, approved, facts about the Founding Fathers and the start of the United States. I recommend that all those that live here read a biography or two about at least one of the Founding Fathers. They were not perfect men. They had flaws, they loved, and hated, they made mistakes.

Alexander Hamilton died much younger than many of the Founding Father and as such they were able to villainize him in the history they influenced after his passing. History is written by the winning side, or those that live longer in this case. One could argue that the true hero of Hamilton’s story is his wife, Eliza. She lived for 50 years after his death and spent that time working to preserve his memory.

Chernow records Hamilton’s story with as little bias as possible, telling the good, the bad, and the incredible in equal measure with no comment on his thoughts on Hamilton’s actions. Keltin chuckles at me whenever I read non fiction because I tend to get very vocal in my opinions. Not because these long gone people did anything anymore ridiculous than something I’ve read but because they actually did it in reality.

There is a line in Hamilton the musical when the casts asks Alexander, “why do you write like you are running out of time?” This is not an exaggeration. Even presidents like Theodore Roosevelt who journaled and read books like a fiend could not match Hamilton especially when it came to published essays and letters.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. I think this is the year that we all should get in touch with the history of this country and the political ideals that founded it. Understanding the precedent set then may help us to understand and change the things happening today. I recommend this book not just to all those interested in history but to anyone that needs inspiration to be something more. Hamilton came to America an orphaned young man and worked hard and became the Secretary of the Treasury for the first president of the US. If he can do that with only his brains, what can the rest of us do? Happy reading.

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2 comments on “Paperback Perils: Alexander Hamilton”

  1. After watching the musical, I’ve read a couple books by Joe Ellis. Hamilton is one of the men he mentions most. It’s great to see these men of history through educated eyes, who give testimony and philosophical views in their books. I just may read this one also. Thanks for the suggestion Laci!

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