Saturday 21 July 2018

Book Review: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (Non-Fiction/History)

Title: Alexander Hamilton
Author: Ron Chernow
Head of Zeus

Publication Date: 2017 (2004)
Bought Copy


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.

Wow! What a great book. Chernow's Alexander Hamilton is probably one of the best biographies I've ever read. It is packed with detail, yet the prose is still engaging and you get sucked into the story side of things. Hamilton first hit my radar a few years back when I became fascinated with John André. I loved the letter he wrote to Washington on André's behalf, and began to wonder who this Hamilton was. It was only later I also became aware of the musical. I wanted to see it when I was in London over Christmas/New Year, but it was impossible to get a ticket. Nevertheless, I got the CD, and picked up this book shortly afterwards. Hamilton has definitely joined my list of 18th century crushes now! It took me a while to read this only because it was too heavy and cumbersome to read in bed, so I had to delve into a few pages here and there during the day when I had ten minutes to spare. That did at least draw out the pleasurable experience of reading it. All up, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Hamilton or the American Revolution. It's a five-star read for me.

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