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Ratings and reviews for Alexander Hamilton

Ratings and reviews for Alexander Hamilton
4.7
based on 322 rating(s)
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Price: $20.00 $16.00 (20% off)
Trade In Value: $1.53
Author(s): Ron Chernow
Release Date: 3/29/2005
Binding: Paperback
Format: Bargain Price
Number of Pages: 832
Studio: Penguin Books
Manufacturer: Penguin Books
Dewey Decimal Number: 973.4092
Product Group: Book
Edition: Reprint
Sales Rank: 324
Description:

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.


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.

“Nobody has captured Hamilton better than Chernow” —The New York Times Book Review 

Ron Chernow's new biography, Grant, will be published by Penguin Press in October 2017. 

ISBN: 0143034758
UPC: 0143034758

Ratings
Reviews 1 to 10 of 322
Pageof 33
amazon logo The best Alexander Hamilton biography.
This is an excellent biography on Alexander Hamilton, a formidable and sometimes controversial figure among our Founding Fathers. He is best known for being one of the main contributors to the Federalist Papers and being the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.

There is a lot to like and be in awe about Alexander Hamilton. There is also quite a bit to dislike. Was he a visionary and a genius? Or a power hungry and greedy autocratic figure reminiscent of the British the U.S. fought away at the time. Through the past decades his place in history has gone through several reincarnations of both positive and negative revisionism.

Ron Chernow is undoubtedly on the sides of the Hamilton fan. However, even though his portrayal of Hamilton may not be totally objective. It is nevertheless fascinating due to its breadth, and depth. Hamilton comes across as a brilliant individual sometimes centuries ahead of his time. Chernow develops a convincing case that Hamilton was without peers in his developing the necessary financial and economic infrastructure of what was going to become the modern U.S.

If Adam Smith was the Scottish genius who invented modern economics, Hamilton was his American counterpart who actually applied modern economics principles in the governing of a new nation. His understanding in such matters far surpassed his more famous political opponents such as Madison and Jefferson.

Chernow mentions several examples of Hamilton's unique foresight. One was Hamilton's successful defeat of the discrimination bill. This was a nonsensical concept that proposed that capital gains on sales of treasury securities should flow back to the original investor. Hamilton quickly saw that such a concept was operationally unworkable and would prevent the development of a liquid market in tradable government securities. It would affect the U.S. ability to issue new bonds and finance both government operations and other upcoming wars. He made his case convincingly and the discrimination bill was defeated 36 to 13. Another bold move by Hamilton was to enforce the assumptions of all States' debt by the Federal Government. Thus, the fragmented portfolio of U.S. debt formerly backed by the weak credit of each specific State was now fully backed by the U.S. This reassured foreign investors, and allowed the Treasury to refinance some of the bonds with much longer terms and at lower interest rates. This prevented the U.S. to become bankrupt under the mountain of debt it had amassed as a result of its wars to fight for its independence.

After reading this book, you will feel that we would be only so lucky as to have a Secretary of the Treasury of Alexander Hamilton's caliber and genius. He loved to tackle challenging, abstract financial problems that few others could conceive. He would have been a heck of a mind to apply towards resolving our potential fiscal crisis associated with the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

Chernow's book is a rich addition to the other already excellent biographies on Alexander Hamilton, including the ones written by Stephen Knott, Willard Sterne Randall, and Forest McDonald.

231 of 243 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo White-washing Hamilton's legacy
There is a reason why Abigail Adams called Hamilton "another Bonaparte", why Noah Webster called him "the evil genius" of the United States, and why Aaron Burr, Vice-President of the United States could shoot and kill Alexander Hamilton, be under indictment in the State of New Jersey, and then calmly proceed to the United States Senate and preside over the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. Those people who knew Hamilton knew him for what he was--a scoundrel.

Chernow's portrayal of Hamilton as misunderstood Founding Father is a whitewash of his true legacy--that of a person who despised democracy, favored a plutocracy (or a new phrase---"judocracy"--rule by judges), and who is responsible in many ways for the dysfunctional nature of the federal government.

Chernow is subtle in his reclamation project. For example, Hamilton's last written words, except his instructions to his wife upon his death, are that secession of the New England states from the union, a cause which he supported in general, would offer "no relief to our real Disease; which is DEMOCRACY, the poison of which" [emphasis and capitalization in original, but not in Chernow's version] would only be more concentrated if New England were to secede. Chernow can't write a biography without mentioning Hamilton's hatred for rule by the people, but he can soften it, by removing the emphasis which Hamilton intended to be there.

Chernow's talent as a writer is undeniable. He observes that "today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton's America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world." Precisely.

If you relish living in a country with unfulfilled pretensions to democracy, a muscular judiciary, an executive that governs by administrative fiat, and an unwieldy and ineffective legislative branch, then you will relish Hamilton's America. If you are saddened by the unfulfilled promise of democracy in America, you should find out who the true Hamilton was---as portrayed by others besides Chernow.

69 of 182 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo One-sided analysis of history
With this review I aim to be the voice of reason. Most people reviewing this book have given it 5 stars. They have largely done so because this book is very readable, its research is phenomenal, and it revives in vivid detail the character and life of Hamilton.

If that is all this book accomplished, I would also give it 5 stars. I have given it only 3, however, because of Chernow's treatment of every one of the other founders and his slanted vision of history surrounding all except Hamilton. In trying to resurrect Hamilton's image, Chernow attempts to extinguish the contributions of each of the other founders -- including Washington. For example, Jefferson is a two-sided politician that simply played to the passions and prejudices of the people; Adams was an egotistical know-it-all that attempted to ruin Hamilton almost as a second career; Washington was a great leader but unintelligent, and relied on Hamilton to direct him and decide major issues for him. While all of these statements may hold some grain of truth, Chernow relies solely on these ideas to prove that Hamilton single-handedly built the nation and held it together until he was killed by Burr. Again, while Hamilton's contributions are real, such a one-sided version of history is just not accurate. The truth lies far closer to the middle ground. Hamilton, like all of the founders, built this nation and contributed to its many features we today take for granted.

I believe that Chernow is an excellent writer but I believe he vastly distorts the history surrounding all of the other founders. If this book were about Hamilton in a vacuum, this is a five-star book. Because Chernow's treatment of all other subjects is so unfair -- he makes the founders out to almost be cartoon villians -- he gets only 3 stars from me.
102 of 121 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo The Most Important American Figure Never to Become President
During the 1980s, during the period when Bank of New York launched its hostile take-over of Irving Bank, the following anecdote circulated.

As Alexander Hamilton was getting into the boat to be rowed across the Hudson River to Weehawken where he was scheduled to duel Aaron Burr, he turned to his aide and said, "Don't do anything until I return."

The story concluded, unfortunately, the aide and all of his successors took Hamilton at his word.

The anecdote, though funny at the time of the take-over, could not have a weaker historical foundation. Ron Chernow's biography relates the details of an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan who rose to become George Washington's key aide-de-camp, battlefield hero, Constitutional Convention delegate, co-author of The Federalist Papers, Federalist Party head and the country's first Treasury Secretary.

Hamilton was a rare revolutionary: fearless warrior, master administrator and blazing administrator. No other moment in American history could have better employed Hamilton's abundant talents and energy.

As Treasury Secretary, the country benefited from his abilities as a thinker, doer, skilled executive and political theorist. He was a system builder who devised and implemented interrelated policies.

As in the Revolution, Hamilton and Washington complemented each other. Washington wanted to remain above the partisan fray. He was gifted with superb judgment. When presented with options, he almost always made the correct choice. His detached style left room for assertiveness. Especially in financial matters, Hamilton stepped into the breach.
Washington was sensitive to criticism, yet learned to control his emotions. Hamilton, on the other hand, was often acted without tact and was naturally provocative.

Perhaps the main reason Hamilton accomplished so much was Washington agreed with his vision of 13 colonies welded into a single, respected nation. Chernow presents a well-written and nuanced portrait that arguably is the most important figure in American history that never attained the presidency. Though his foreign birth denied him the ultimate prize, his accomplishments produced a far more lasting impact than many who claimed it.

91 of 107 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Good Effort But a Very Boring Book
I loved Chernow's book Titan. The writing was wonderful and I found out a lot about John D. I went out and purchased this book and I am sorry I did. It is really boring and Chernow's subject seems distance, stale and lacks of life. The book needs a good editor!! Some may look at the size of this book and conclude it is great, but if they would only read the book they would think differently. Finally, do we really need another book about Alex Hamilton? I dont think so. Books that are very good that really do tell good stories would be John Adams, by McCullough and Ben Franklin, Carl Van Doran. Check these out for a good read.
9 of 97 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Book is Hard To Read
The writing here is for the most part good, but the type point is so small the book is hard to read. I looked at some other Chernow books and the point is larger. I honestly have to strain to read the book. Perhaps the publisher chose this smaller type for cost reasons since the book is so large, but it is really a disservice to readers to have to wade through. The book has so many details that they get in the way of the story. This is flaw that is hard to overcome and it too is a real negative for the book.
18 of 81 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo This is as good as biography gets
It's hard to add anything new to the praise other readers have offered here, but...

1. This book is FUN to read. You will become emotionally involved with the people, and privy to their thoughts and motives. You will cheer for some and hope others lose. I'm reminded, in a way, of Puzo's The Godfather. The characters are at least as vivid.

2. Although a couple of people here have given the book single star ratings, reflecting their own current political points of view, I find that the central antagonists of this book, Hamilton and Jefferson, cannot easily be fit into today's liberal and conservative ranks.

3. Today's political junkies will find many of these 18th century battles remarkably familiar, although there are no exact analogues to today's political players.

4. If you're like me, you won't be able to keep quiet about the book. You'll find yourself reading passages to your spouse and telling stories about Hamilton to your friends.

This is a thoroughly involving book. It is long, yes, but so is a good NFL game with a couple of overtimes. Unless you're a scholar of the period, you'll learn a great deal about what made America what it is today. And you'll wish, at least for a moment, that you were alive when Hamilton was and that you could have shared a dinner with him.
76 of 79 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Was Hamilton Really the Better Man?
Ron Chernow is confident that the one thing the reader will know for sure before he begins to read is that Hamilton was killed in a dramatic duel. The book is written as a prelude to that duel which is portrayed as an American tragedy with the premise that somehow the loser is automatically the better man. The history of both men in the eventual duel is frequently bent to paint a narrative of an extraordinary hero who was killed by a man of low standards. Neither premiss could be further from the truth. Chernow's portrayal of each man is alarmingly amiss.

Chernow states that Hamilton is the "foremost" founding father never to become President and in those paragraphs there is not even a note on Franklin who was the most ingenious, productive and respected American of his time, as well as one of only eight persons to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He was also the founder of the Abolitionist Movement.

Hamilton spent half his life baiting Burr, of whom he as well as his biographer were insanely jealous, and tried to destroy with invective and diatribe. Hamilton, who was an officer in the American Revolution surprisingly never wanted what the vast majority of his compatriots wanted which was a democratic constitutional republic with strong individual rights. He felt that Washington should have been king for life and if there were to be senators, they too should serve for life. He wanted to reestablish in America a second Europe. Hamilton was born in the West Indies to an unmarried French woman from whom he got his early training. Chernow uses that to somehow demonstrate that by the time of the duel Hamilton is, of all things, a Christ-like martyr.

In 1783 Hamilton gives further hints of his un-Americanism instinct; he opens a law practice to defend, of all people, former Loyalists who had taken and in many cases destroyed the homes of patriots who in turn had been away at war for their new country. Hamilton then used his political position to "ensure"the repeal of the Trespass Act

Chernow's and Hamilton's antagonist, Aaron Burr was born into a wealthy family that had been in America since 1630. His ancestors were ministers and judges. On both sides of his family his relatives were early presidents of what is now Princeton University and from his mother's side of Yale University as well, but he never used social position to undermine.

Burr had high ideals that seemed to have eaten away at Hamilton; from an early age Burr wanted a democratic America with strong individual rights for all. Aaron Burr became the second, after Franklin, major proponent of the Abolitionist Movement [the word, "abolitionist" was not in use until the 1830s but Burr's, unlike Hamilton's mind was clearly in that camp] . Burr shocked New Yorkers where in the New York legislature he zealously introduced and supported legislation to abolish slavery. History shows that at least here Hamilton, at first,is in partial agreement (but only partial as Hamilton did not want to upset his slave owner friends). In fact there was a widespread Northern sentiment to end slavery after the first generation of each slave family died off. However, Burr wanted to go so much further. He wanted immediate freedom for all slaves and to make things even more unpalatable to Hamilton he wanted more than that. Burr felt that men of color should have the same right to vote as did whites and to do something that was clearly beyond even the imagination of Hamilton and apparently of Chernow, to hold office.

The climax of Hamilton's life and Burr's life was not the duel but rather the 1800 Presidential election. Jefferson and Burr tied in the electoral college to become president. Clearly if Burr were not stopped the issues that came to roost by Lincoln in becoming President in 1861 would have emerged in 1801. Burr as President would have abolished slavery on a national bases. Virginia was threatening secession if Burr were elected. Inadvisably Hamilton involved himself to coerce one vote away from the Burr column and into the column of his old on-again off-again friend, the slave owner and Virginian, Jefferson.
The book is over 700 pages full of nearly tasteless trivialities like the allegation of an affair that Hamilton had with his sister-in-law (both his wife and sister-in-law lover were daughters of General Schuyler, head of one of Americas foremost families) and the private matters of numerous 18th century ladies that today could even make Bill and Monica blush. The tripe gets so sordid and dull and the theme strays so much away from important political events and decisions of the day that within a few hundred pages the most devout proponents of non-violence are skipping pages, ten or twenty at a time, and praying for Hamilton to finely be shot.

Through the muck a theme emerges; Chernow and Hamilton are champions of the have-nots, except for the have-nots that were also people of color. Burr is a champion of equal opportunity for all, no matter what their color. The two philosophies clash. I give it two stars rather than the one star that Chernow's lack of insight would dictate, simply because Chernow can write well. Let's hope though that before his next book he will indulge in a bit more thought as well as realize that one is allowed to write biographical history without trying to compete with Dan Rather to see who can assemble more bias.
35 of 77 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo I've Never Read So Much Speculation in a Bio Before
I read a lot of books, mostly histories and bios, and this is a definite rarity - a book that I put down for good about halfway in. I have a general rule that I'll read 50 pages of any book before deciding that it is or is not worth finishing (most get finished). This one got past the 50 page mark, primarily because I've read so little about Hamilton, but it finally got tossed on the reject pile.

There are more `probablies' in this book than in any history book I've every read. `Hamilton probably did this', `Hamilton probably did that' - there are hundreds of these speculative thoughts. (OK, not really hundreds, but it seems that way.) At first I figured this was just going to be the case while discussing Hamilton's lightly documented childhood, but it continues on through his well-known career. Even when the subject is a total non-sequitur, Chernow keeps it up: ". . . as he told a flabbergasted public about his extended sexual escapade with twenty-three year old Maria (probably pronounced "Mariah") Reynolds . . ."

I'm confident that if I read it through to the end that I will find out that Hamilton was probably shot by Aaron Burr. Instead I'll read Duel by Thomas Fleming to find out for sure.

22 of 76 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Hamilton Dressed Up for Modern Sensibilities
Historians become historians, in some cases, because they're more comfortable with documents and numbers than with people. When they turn to biography, they sometimes carve shortcuts through modern psychology that even Dr. Phil would find shallow.

For instance, writing of Hamilton's wife, Chernow says, "Eliza was either pregnant or consumed with child rearing throughout their marriage, which may have encouraged Hamilton's womanizing."

Eight children in 20 years was typical of a late 18th century family (and of an Amish one in more recent times); if it "encouraged" Hamilton's womanizing, it ought to have encouraged a general orgy of colonial bed-hopping. Yet a great many men who had large families did not philander. So we're back to where we began, except for an acquired mistrust of Chernow's easy assumptions and apologetics.

Chernow's summation of Hamilton's attitude toward slavery suffers from the same superficiality. "The early exposure to the humanity of the slaves may have made a lasting impression on Hamilton," Chernow writes, "who would be conspicuous among the founding fathers for his fierce abolitionism."

The final word there ought to run up a red flag. "Abolitionist" wasn't even used in the anti-slavery sense until the 1830s, a generation after Hamilton was dead (in his lifetime it refered only to the slave trade). Yet Chernow uses it repeatedly.

According to this view, Hamilton saw slavery first-hand in the Caribbean where he grew up and where his family owned slaves, and this instilled in him a horror of human bondage. Yet Madison and Jefferson, too, as Chernow writes, grew up "against an incongruous background of black hands stooping in the fields." And they are counted among Hamilton's opponents on the issue of slavery. So, once again, the image is insufficient to explain the story.

Yet Hamilton's "abolitionism" is a central theme in the book. "It is hard to grasp Hamilton's later politics," Chernow writes, without contemplating the "raw cruelty" of slavery he witnessed as a boy. The strain here is as obvious as the bid to contain the man in a word that didn't exist in his time.

Hamilton was a voluminous, and often embarrassingly confessional, writer. Some 22,000 pages of his works have been published so far; a pile that daunts even a dedicated historian like Chernow, who writes at one point that Hamilton "must have produced the maximum number of words that a human being can scratch out in forty-nine years."

You'd think, then, that Chernow would be embarrassed by the fact that Hamilton never makes the connection that Chernow takes as a central tenet: he make no reference to any impact of exposure to West Indian slavery on his later political positions.

The current generation of academic U.S. historians, raised in the Sixties, have busily been rubbishing Southerners generally, slave-owners especially and Thomas Jefferson particularly. It seems they've found themselves with a national narrative wanting a hero.

Hamilton, like many founders, had scruples about slavery. Unlike most of them, he avoided being personally involved in it, either through financing slave-trading voyages or owning slaves himself. Thus the rehabilitation of Alexander Hamilton. Old CW: Hamilton=silk-stocking snob and closet royalist. New CW: Hamilton=The One Who Didn't Have Slaves.

Jefferson is the arch-villain in any Hamilton story, but in this one the third president is never allowed to stray far from the image of his "stooping" slaves, the better to dismiss, without argument, Jefferson's populism and democratic liberalism. Chernow actually blasts Jefferson for spending his own money on books in Paris -- books carefully selected and which he would later donate to the nation as the Library of Congress -- because it "betrayed a cavalier disregard" for the slaves whose labor supported him.

Anyone who knows the Hamilton story knows right where to turn at this point to see whether Chernow is making a serious case that Hamilton was a man of honor while Jefferson and Madison were racist brutes, or whether he's blowing smoke.

Hamilton's 1791 "Report on Manufactures" is one of the most important documents in early U.S. history. In it, the Treasury Secretary outlines and explains in detail America's future as a great manufacturing nation. Along the way, he praises the British factory system - specifically for its employment of women and young children. "It is worthy of particular remark that, in general women and children are rendered more useful, and the latter more early useful, by manufacturing establishments than they would otherwise be."

Just after praising Hamilton for using the word "diversity," which will "please modern ears," Chernow faces the unpleasant task of explaining this passage. Hamilton notes approvingly that in British textile mills, the women and children form more than half the work force, "of whom the greatest proportion are children and many of them of a very tender age."

Yet Chernow will overlook all this, and continue his lionization of Hamilton, because, you see, child labor was "commonplace" in those days, and Hamilton naturally did not see it as exploitation - because he had grown up with it in the West Indies.
51 of 72 people found this review helpful.

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