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Alexander Hamilton

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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.

818 pages, Paperback

First published April 26, 2004

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About the author

Ron Chernow

42 books4,990 followers
Ron Chernow was born in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating with honors from Yale College and Cambridge University with degrees in English Literature, he began a prolific career as a freelance journalist. Between 1973 and 1982, Chernow published over sixty articles in national publications, including numerous cover stories. In the mid-80s Chernow went to work at the Twentieth Century Fund, a prestigious New York think tank, where he served as director of financial policy studies and received what he described as “a crash course in economics and financial history.”

Chernow’s journalistic talents combined with his experience studying financial policy culminated in the writing of his extraordinary first book, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance (1990). Winner of the 1990 National Book Award for Nonfiction, The House of Morgan traces the amazing history of four generations of the J.P. Morgan empire. The New York Times Book Review wrote, “As a portrait of finance, politics and the world of avarice and ambition on Wall Street, the book has the movement and tension of an epic novel. It is, quite simply, a tour de force.” Chernow continued his exploration of famous financial dynasties with his second book, The Warburgs (1994), the story of a remarkable Jewish family. The book traces Hamburg’s most influential banking family of the 18th century from their successful beginnings to when Hitler’s Third Reich forced them to give up their business, and ultimately to their regained prosperity in America on Wall Street.

Described by Time as “one of the great American biographies,” Chernow’s Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1998) brilliantly reveals the complexities of America’s first billionaire. Rockefeller was known as a Robber Baron, whose Standard Oil Company monopolized an entire industry before it was broken up by the famous Supreme Court anti-trust decision in 1911. At the same time, Rockefeller was one of the century’s greatest philanthropists donating enormous sums to universities and medical institutions. Chernow is the Secretary of PEN American Center, the country’s most prominent writers’ organization, and is currently at work on a biography of Alexander Hamilton. He lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York.

In addition to writing biographies, Chernow is a book reviewer, essayist, and radio commentator. His book reviews and op-ed articles appear frequently in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He comments regularly on business and finance for National Public Radio and for many shows on CNBC, CNN, and the Fox News Channel. In addition, he served as the principal expert on the A&E biography of J.P. Morgan and will be featured as the key Rockefeller expert on an upcoming CNBC documentary.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 9,808 reviews
Profile Image for Jon.
Author 1 book60 followers
October 13, 2015
It had a lot less hip-hop than I was expecting, but I still really liked it.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,235 reviews381 followers
March 8, 2018
"...the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me." -Burr

This book is utterly exhaustive in its scope. Dry and dull in a few places, exhilarating and taut and heartbreaking in others. This feels like a life done justice, although I am also curious about the biography that Eliza started and her son finished after she was gone. I loved the framing with Eliza in the prologue and epilogue. Loved piecing together where the book and musical met, loved the bits where they diverged. Loved stumbling upon the actual historical lines from letters and writings that made it into the musical's brilliant score. Shout out to Scott Brick for bringing this book to life for my ears the way few could.

"I am so tired. It is so long. I want to see Hamilton." -Eliza
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,686 followers
October 23, 2018
"I heal all wounds but those which love hath made."
- Inscription on an envelope to Eliza Hamilton from her husband Alexander.


I have read many political biographies in my 41 years, but few better. Chernow is able to walk that narrow, tricky trail between scholarship and narrative storytelling without tripping over hagiography. He presents the largeness and improbableness of Alexander Hamilton without leaving out Hamilton's excesses and flights of paranoia and inflexibility. I think Chernow gets it right that "If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government." He was a man who was infused with genius and energy, but also often tone-deaf to the political realities of his time. He was a man who knew government but was often ungovernable himself.


His talents built the frameworks that would later create both our nation's economic, government and military capacity as well as the Federalist party, however, those same skills would also help to tear down the Federalist party because of Hamilton's inability to bend or just shut up. Like those prophets that seem to gain strength and honor as the world shifts and slides into alignment with their oracle-like vision, the modern world seems able to identify and honor Hamilton because in many ways HE made it.

Chernow's biography paints the details of Hamilton's life with a vision of just how incredible a figure Hamilton was, and how his talents often unsettled those around him. Chernow also frames Hamilton around those important founding fathers that contributed to Hamilton's rise (Washington), fall (Jefferson, Madison, Adams), and death (Burr) while also showing how Alexander Hamilton also contributed to his own rise, fall, and death.


One of my favorite easter eggs from this tome was a remark Burr once made after shooting Alexander Hamilton. Chernow relates that "Only once did Burr betray any misgivings about killing Hamilton. While reading the scene in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy [an amazing book, which I recommend everyone read, btw] in which the tenderhearted Uncle Toby picks up a fly and delicately places it outside the window instead of killing it, Burr is said to have remarked, "Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me."

Anyway, an amazing man is never really captured, but this biography comes pretty close.


Finally, Chernow writes primarily about banking families and American biographies:

Chernow's Banking Dynasties:
1. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. - ★★★★
2. The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance - ★★★★
3. The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family - ★★★★

Chernow's American Political Biographies:
1. Alexander Hamilton - ★★★★★
2. Washington: A Life - ★★★★★
3. Grant - ★★★★★

Upon reviewing my reviews, I'm convinced Chernow does slightly better at writing histories of individuals rather than families; politics rather than finance. However, I should note, I've enjoyed ALL of his books and he's a master at his craft.

* Saw Hamilton the Musical on July 12 (so after Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr left, but before Daveed Diggs left) and it was kinda amazing.
Profile Image for Sean Gibson.
Author 6 books5,715 followers
August 31, 2016
I’ve been wracking my brains literally for months trying to figure out who I can compare Alexander Hamilton to on the modern politocelebrity scene (or “to whom I can compare” him, if you douchey grammar wonks prefer).

There are two reasons that process has taken months: 1) I’m currently operating with the mental processing power of an old Radio Shack TRS-80 (on the plus side, I guess that means I can run awesome software like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing!) and 2) Alexander Hamilton was one unique son of a Scottish laird.

Put Kanye West, Noam Chomsky, Donald Trump, and Steve Martin into a blender and what do you get?

Well, probably a pretty disgusting slurry of liquefied body parts.

Let me rephrase: put the personalities, intellects, and quirkiest components (not to mention the thin skin, in some cases) of Kanye, Noam Chomsky, Donald Trump, and Steve Martin into a personality, intellect, and quirk-blending processor and what do you get?

Something that comes out looking, but hopefully not smelling (given that gents of that vintage probably didn’t smell so fresh after a hot summer day traipsing about in heavy, unwashed woolen garments), a little bit like Alexander Hamilton. (I’d be willing to wager that’s the first time anyone anywhere ever has used both Noam Chomsky and Donald Trump as a comparison for an individual; that’s how singular Hamilton was. And how much of a trailblazer I am.)

Smarter people than I have written at great length about this book and its subject, so I shan’t prattle on for pages and pages. Suffice it to say, Alexander Hamilton is as influential a person as there is when it comes to shaping U.S. political history and the institutions that affect our lives every single day, and he was, perhaps, even more unique than he was influential. Sure, this book could replace the candlestick in the game of Clue just as easily as it can be an educational tool (“It was Colonel Mustard in the library with his copy of Hamilton that bludgeoned poor Professor Plum to death!”). But, there are few biographies of recent vintage that can match the immense scope, mind-boggling level of detail, and compulsive readability of this one. If you’re a history buff in any way (or just want to see what all the Broadway hubbub is about), you’ll want to give this book a whirl.

(A couple of words of warning, however: first, if you’re a Thomas Jefferson acolyte, you might want to brace yourself; Mr. Chernow does not treat our country’s second Vice President—and lifelong Hamilton rival—kindly, styling him a scheming, Francophile bon vivant of the most pernicious kind (though, really, if you’re going to be a scheming bon vivant, you might as well be of the most pernicious kind—otherwise, you’re just half-assing it, and if I believe anything, it’s that anything worth doing is worth whole-assing). Second, if ever a man was on another man’s (metaphorical) nuts, it is Ron Chernow on Alexander Hamilton’s. There are a few instances in which Mr. Chernow attempts to maintain a façade, or at least a veneer (do we think a veneer is thinner than a façade?), of scholarly distance and objectivity, but, by and large, his Hamiltonian hard-on is of such obvious and epic proportions that, I’m told, the Washington Monument has expressed concerns to the Mayor of Washington, DC, that when Chernow visits our nation’s capital, he’s in violation of the Height of Buildings Act of 1910. The Mayor has thus far refused comment, though a source indicates that he has, at the very least, asked that Mr. Chernow not wear sweat pants when he visits the District, and has asked him to, and I quote, “try to tuck it into his belt.”)

We’ll call this a strong 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,813 followers
August 1, 2016
Like a lot of people I’ve been listening to the Hamilton musical album non-stop and read this because it was the source of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s inspiration to create the brilliant Broadway show. The idea that a dense biography of an American Founding Father who was probably best known to the general public as the guy on the the ten dollar bill and the subject of a pretty funny Got Milk? commercial would someday lead to the creation of an incredibly popular musical that blends show tunes with hip-hop is only a little less likely than the life of Alexander Hamilton himself.

(And if you’re interested in reading a great account of the impact the show has on people I highly recommend this article that sportswriter Joe Posnanski wrote about taking his daughter to see it.)

The circumstances of Hamilton’s birth on a Caribbean island as the illegitimate son of a divorced woman and a fortune seeking Scotsman were the first strike against him, and things only got worse when his father abandoned him and his mother died. As an orphan with no money and an embarrassing social status for the time young Alexander probably should have lived a short, hard life and been forgotten by history. However, he also had a brilliant mind, a talent for writing, and an enormous appetite for work that was fueled by relentless ambition. After a hurricane devastated his island Hamilton wrote an account of the tragedy so moving that a collection was taken up to send him to America to attend college.

Hamilton arrived in New York just as the American Revolution was about to start, and his talents landed him a pivotal position on George Washington’s staff as well leading troops in the field and playing a key role during the Battle of Yorktown that essentially won the war. Hamilton’s role in the writing of The Federalist with James Madison and John Jay along with his political maneuvering was critical in getting the Constitution ratified. HIs biggest contributions to the United States probably came from his bold actions as the first secretary of the treasury when he not only got the young nation on sound economic footing but also used money as a tool to link the fates of the frequently bickering states together as a way of achieving unity and promoting a strong federal government. As Washington’s most trusted advisor Hamilton was critical in shaping the future of the country he did so much to help create.

All of this should have meant that Hamilton would be remembered as one of the most important figures in American history but he also made powerful enemies including Thomas Jefferson. The struggle between those who believed power should reside in the federal government or with the states became a bitter fight in which Hamilton was the victim of relentless political attacks that slandered his reputation and made him a perpetual lightning rod of controversy. The conflict would lead to the creation of the two party political system as well as a constant tug of war between factions about how much authority the American government should have that continues today.

Hamilton frequently didn’t do himself any favors with his outspoken nature, and his insecurities about his illegitimacy caused him to be hypersensitive to insults. His basic cynicism and mistrust of people made him wary of popular trends and leaving the fate of America in the hands of the general public who he felt could be too easily swayed by a mob mentality and demagogues. (Geez, where could he have gotten that idea?) This left him vulnerable to attacks by his enemies who smeared him as an elitist at best or a schemer plotting to return America to English control or set up an American monarchy at worst. He badly hurt his own political party by feuding with President John Adams who became another enemy who would smear Hamilton long after his death. Hamilton also had the distinction of being one of the first American politicians to be caught up in a sex scandal, and his reaction to it by publishing a tell-all memoir called The Reynolds Pamphlet was a miscalculation that severely damaged his public image.

Propaganda from his enemies and his own combative nature and thin skin hurt his standing during his life and limited his political prospects. When his long and complex relationship with Aaron Burr ultimately led to Hamilton’s death after their infamous duel his enemies would continue to slander his reputation while his widow Eliza would spend the rest of her life defending it and try to make sure his accomplishments weren’t forgotten.

What Chernow has done with this sympathetic portrait of a brilliant but flawed man is illustrate how America owes so much to Hamilton’s genius. By detailing Hamilton’s collaborations and battles with the other Founding Fathers it shows that they weren’t saints with some glorious vision of what America should be. They engaged in compromises and accepted contradictions in the interests of getting things done, and they were consumed by the fears of all the ways the country could fail. They were also just as capable of acting in short-sighted, mean spirited, and despicable ways as any politician today, Thomas Jefferson in particular comes across as a hypocritical sneaky jerkface that I would never vote for.

After reading this it’s easy to understand how Hamilton the remarkable person inspired Hamilton the remarkable musical.
Profile Image for Kenny.
494 reviews863 followers
September 24, 2022
“Hamilton was not the master builder of the Constitution: the laurels surely go to James Madison. He was, however, its foremost interpreter, starting with The Federalist and continuing with his Treasury tenure, when he had to expound constitutional doctrines to accomplish his goals. He lived, in theory and practice, every syllable of the Constitution. For that reason, historian Clinton Rossiter insisted that Hamilton’s “works and words have been more consequential than those of any other American in shaping the Constitution under which we live.”
Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow

I figured it was now or never to read Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton; I have tickets to see HAMILTON in October & I want to be up to speed when I see it. Coming in at 818 pages I thought I‘d need to allot six weeks for this monster. I was wrong. This book flew by. I finished it in less than two weeks. I had joked with a friend that 2019 would be my year of "big books." Little did I know how prophetic that remark would be.

What amazed me most about Alexander Hamilton was Chernow’s writing style. This did not read as a dry, dusty, political biography. Instead I was swept up in the character of Hamilton and the events and people that took place, not only in America's early history, but in the world of Hamilton's youth. This was one exciting read ~~ a real pot boiler!

Time to stop gushing, and start writing a proper review.


Other than George Washington, no other American leader was present at more turning points in the early years of the United States than Alexander Hamilton. He was a rarity among men: an outstanding thinker as well as excellent government visionary and executive. Ron Chernow puts forth that Hamilton was "the foremost political figure in American history who never attained the presidency, yet he probably had a deeper and more lasting impact than many who did."

Hamilton was born in the West Indies, and spent his childhood there and on St. Croix. Though Hamilton never returned to the Caribbean and rarely spoke of his upbringing, Chernow emphasizes how much he was haunted by the scenes of his youth, especially the viciousness of slave society and the languid morals of the islands.

Despite a childhood that would make Oliver Twists’s look like a picture of happiness, Hamilton found a way to rise and prosper. In 1772 or early 1773 he sailed away from St. Croix and into American history.


The book’s focus is Hamilton’s political life, especially his role in establishing a national government. As a political thinker, his greatest achievement was The Federalist Papers, written in defense of the proposed Constitution.

Chernow balances his appraisal of Hamilton by showing his shortcomings as well. Chernow makes clear Hamilton lacked self-restraint. He often made and kept mortal enemies. Chernow brilliantly observes that Hamilton was at his best when under George Washington’s authority and watchful eye. Washington was the father Hamilton had been deprived of in life.

Chernow concludes with the steps and missteps of Hamilton’s later life, down to the heartbreaking scene of his eldest son’s death in a duel in defense of his father’s honor; and finally to Hamilton’s own death at Vice President Burr’s hands in their duel at Weehawken, New Jersey in 1804.

With Chernow's biography, Hamilton has been vindicated and his reputation restored. It is Chernow's biography that served as the inspiration for Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton. Together, Chernow and Miranda have made Hamilton the hero of the founding fathers as he should be.

I also love how much attention Chernow paid to Eliza Hamilton, who outlived her husband 50 years. She impressed on her family a singular duty: “Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton.” With this breathtaking biography, Eliza Hamilton's prophecy has been fulfilled.

Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 27 books5,627 followers
May 11, 2016
I have now read the Hamiltome. (I know that's what people call the book Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote about the musical, but seriously, this thing could stop bullets.) I wouldn't have picked this book up if it weren't for the musical, and it wasn't exactly light reading, but I'm glad that I did. Before I did, I was kinda sure that Hamilton was the guy who was shot by Aaron Burr, and pretty sure he'd never been president, and if I thought for a second I'd remember that he was on the $10 bill.

Now I know so much more. Like that he founded the Coast Guard, and the first national bank. That he wrote most of Washington's speeches as president, and dispatches during the war. I know how influential he was to politics, to industry and banking, and to the law. And he did it all by the time he was killed at 49 by Aaron Burr, who, frankly, was an asshole. (Anybody who writes detailed letters about his sexual conquests to his own daughter is an asshole. And that's not all he did.)

This was an excellent, and exhaustingly thorough biography. I didn't give it five stars because, well, it's not exactly light reading. I wouldn't pick it up again, and I will recommend it to hardcore history buffs and not necessarily your average reader. But it shed a lot of light on the early days of our country, it gave me a new appreciation for Hamilton, Washington, and others. And a healthy dislike of Jefferson, as well as John Adams, who I swear to Odin had to have been bipolar. I have no regrets about reading it, am in fact very glad that I read it. It did make me yearn for a book all about Eliza Hamilton, though. Honestly, a book just about Alexander and Eliza's family life would be fascinating, but impossible, since she really did burn all her letters.

And, musical fans: Yes, Lin-Manuel has taken liberties with storyline and whatnot. And that's okay. If you really want to know the truth, here's the book for you. If you'd rather sit back and enjoy a cabinet battle all in rap, you know where to go.

All hail the self-starter, the ten dollar Founding Father. HAMILTON!
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,413 followers
June 10, 2016
If they break this Union, they will break my heart.~Alexander Hamilton
If anybody had told me a year ago that I would be delving into an 800 page biography on arguably America's least known Founding Father, first Secretary of the Treasury and he of ten dollar bill fame, I would have said they were crazy. But like so many people who will read this book in the coming years, it all started with a mad love affair for the Broadway musical. It's literally all I've been able to think about (or listen to) since April. It's consumed my waking hours in the oddest, most unpredictable, joyous of ways. Having now read Chernow's impressive, meticulously researched book, I am no longer surprised how it was able to inspire Lin-Manuel Miranda to write his extraordinary, beautiful, emotional, smart, searing, perfect musical (and that's all I'm going to say about the musical), because I really want this review to focus on Chernow's accomplishment and his fascinating subject -- Alexander Hamilton.

One of the things that really jumped out at me while reading this, is how easily Hamilton's remarkable life and stupendous achievements could have been erased and lost to history for good. He had many enemies -- many people who wanted to re-write history minimizing his role in it, and deny his many staggering contributions. Hamilton died relatively young as well (just 49), way younger than many of the other Founding Fathers who outlived him by decades (except George Washington of course). When you don't survive to live and tell your story, you are really at the mercy of others. Remember this line from Braveheart? "History is written by those who have hanged heroes."

Was Alexander Hamilton a hero? I think by most definitions he most certainly was. Flawed for sure, but nevertheless an extremely intelligent man, with confounding reserves of energy and ambition, and a deep, abiding inner moral compass of what was ethical and right. He also possessed an unsurpassed, formidable ability to synthesize large, complicated ideas into accessible tracts and tangible plans to build meaningful and lasting governments and institutions. And oh yeah, he also wielded his pen in a terrible and mighty way that would have made Shakespeare quiver in his breeches, producing mountains of passionate and fiercely written letters and pamphlets and essays.

I also have to believe Hamilton was truly a good man, because two very intelligent women, remarkable in their own rights (his wife Eliza and his sister-in-law Angelica Church), loved him beyond measure and sang his praises for a lifetime. How do you avoid getting written out of history by those who have hanged heroes? Write brilliantly like a maniac non-stop, leaving behind some of the most important historical tracts ever penned, and be survived by a loyal and dedicated wife who will outlive you by 50 years and spend most of that time fighting for your reputation and the preservation of your rightful place in history.

Reading Hamilton whilst the sturm und drang of the upcoming American election rages in all its frightful rhetoric and bitter partisan vitriol has made for quite an echo chamber of America's shaky, fledgling, post-Revolutionary days and just how tenuous the fabric that binds all the States together really is. It was never a marriage made in heaven, oftentimes held together by duct tape, threats and sheer iron will. America was a walking contradiction, with its State vs Federal, rural vs urban, North vs South, slaveholding vs free divides. Nobody knew (and feared) these fractures more than Hamilton himself. But he also knew a United States would be stronger and better than a dissolute nation of independents jockeying for power and control and consumed with self-interest.

I do believe Chernow has proven that no other Founding Father worked as determinedly with every cell in his body (and top-notch brain), to preserve the Union, and uphold the Constitution. There were many compelling forces, and influential personalities, with the capability to topple this marvelous enterprise with a single huff, and one good blow. But it was Hamilton standing vigilant, it was Hamilton who roared, and cajoled, and screed, not on my watch, and here's why. It's also no wonder then that on his death bed, surrounded by his family and friends, that Hamilton should utter with such deep feeling: "If they break this Union, they will break my heart."

Hamilton's life (all 49 years of it) reads like a Dickensian novel. More than once while I was reading I couldn't help but smack my forehead at the stranger than fiction details, and uncanny coincidences and twists of fate both tragic and ironic. That he began his life as a poor orphan in the Caribbean only to help fight for and build a nation an ocean away is something out of a movie plot. As is his infamous death by duel, at the hands of (then Vice President) Aaron Burr (sir).

Who dies in a duel?!! Hamilton does. And a few years prior to that fateful meeting in Weehawken, his eldest son Philip (using the same pistols!) would die the same stupid way. There were many times when I wanted to shake Hamilton, and kick him, especially when he was tomcatting around and cheating on Eliza with Maria Reynolds, but this final decision to duel with Aaron Burr absolutely infuriated me. It was SO UNNECESSARY, especially given the fact Hamilton still had a wife and young children who depended on him. Of course, it was a dueling era, and duels were pretty commonplace, and Chernow makes a strong case that Hamilton wasn't suicidal, and really believed he could survive the duel with Burr (as most participants do). However, there was also a part of him that knew he could die, since he was so thorough and conscientious in his handling of his affairs. And writing a poignant, final letter to Eliza (which if I had been her I'm sure I would have pulled my hair out).

Alexander knew how utterly devastated Eliza was to lose their son Philip -- so HOW COULD HE DO THAT TO HER AGAIN??? Eliza should have been crushed by the grief -- losing her mother, her sister, her son, her HUSBAND, all in a very short time span. Yet she persevered and would survive to accomplish many remarkable things in her own right, not the least of which was to ensure her husband's rightful, prominent place in the history books.

And now I'm off to listen to the Broadway cast album AGAIN. Because I can't stop.

Profile Image for Brina.
898 reviews4 followers
July 22, 2018
Alexander Hamilton. The musical has brought much publicity to this early founding father. I have never seen the musical before, but a few Goodreads friends whose reviews I trust recently read this biography. I had been following their discussions in the nonfiction book club, but still wasn't sure. I am in the Doris Kearns Goodwin historian camp and had never read Ron Chernow before. What finally pushed me to read this book is that a Chicago Cubs player posted that it took him eighteen months but he finally finished. I was sold. With much being written about Hamilton his is what I took away from this award winning biography:

-Hamilton was the first rags to riches immigrant who embodied the American dream and achieved lofty goals, from being Washington's advisor to the first secretary of the treasury of the United States.
-Hamilton's vision for the future of the United States: his national bank, national debt and repayments, enhancing the British model of government on American soil, a model for an industrial society that would establish the United States as a key world player, the preservation of the Constitution for as long as possible and prevention of secession by any section of the country.
-Federalists vs Republicans and how divided the government was at the country's founding based on their views of agrarian vs industrial society, distrust of banks, supporting England vs France, the country being centered in the north or south and seeing presidents Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe in a completely different light than the one placed on a pedestal in school books.
-Hamilton and his wife Eliza as champions for the welfare of abused women and orphans and Eliza and her children preserving her husband's memory; as the oldest American widow during the 19th century she never remarried in fifty years.

Hamilton was a love story between him and Eliza and between him and America. It was deeply researched and had all the elements of a quality written history book that read like a story; I finished the last third in a day. I finally took the plunge and read a Chernow biography and am glad that I did, and I have a feeling that it won't be my last. This was such a compelling book about a compelling man and will most likely be in my top five nonfiction books for this year.

5 full stars
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,819 followers
March 25, 2017
I am now prepared to see the Hamilton musical. Also, I now know more about Alexander Hamilton than I ever thought I would.

Despite its length, the book stayed generally interesting throughout. There was a section in the middle that got into the establishment of the US banking system where I got a little lost, but overall the book stayed accessible.

Another thing that helped keep things interesting was that the audio was read by Scott Brick. Brick has to be my favorite audio narrator.

The book covers a great deal of early US history - not just Hamilton. While I am sure the the author did great research and kept things factual, he definitely spun most of the storylines with Hamilton in a positive light. Because of this, many of the forefathers whom I thought were well regarded are demonized.

Hardcore Hamilton fans and history fans - check this one out!
Profile Image for Nicole~.
198 reviews243 followers
June 17, 2016
4.5/5 stars
How does a bastard orphan,
son of a whore and a Scotsman,
dropped in the middle of a forgotten
spot in the Caribbean
by providence,
impoverished, in squalor,
grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

The ten dollar founding father
without a father got a lot further
by working a lot harder,
by being a lot smarter,
by being a self starter,
by fourteen, they placed him
in charge of a trading charter.

And ev'ry day while slaves
were being slaughtered
and carted away across the waves,
he struggled and kept his guard up.
Inside, he was longing
for something to be a part of,
the brother was ready
to beg, steal, borrow or barter.

Then a hurricane came,
and devastation reigned,
our man saw his future drip,
dripping down the drain,
put a pencil to his temple,
connected it to his brain,
and he wrote his first refrain ,
a testament to his pain .

Well, the word got around, they said,
" This kid is insane, man."
Took up a collection
just to send him to the mainland.
"Get your education,
don't forget from whence you came,
and the world is gonna know your name.

What's your name, man?"

Alexander Hamilton...
My name is Alexander Hamilton.

(From Hamilton, the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Eleven Tony wins to Lin
for a brilliant broadway score,
inspired by this bio
from author Ron Cherno'.
From bastardy and poverty,
a man of many flaws,
still a visionary,
genius and maker of laws.
Driven by ambition, a financial wiz
of a fledgling nation,
controversial, tragic,
sadly ironic,
American icon,
Alexander Hamilton.

 photo image_zpsgpth7ckl.jpeg
Hamilton's monument at Trinity Churchyard in New York City:
The Patriot of incorruptible Integrity
The Soldier of approved Valour
The Statesman of consummate Wisdom
Whose Talents and Virtues will be admired…
Long after this Marble shall have mouldered into Dust.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Chernow's sprawling, weighty biography was first published in 2004 and seems to be enjoying a much deserved popularity resurgence, basking in the limelight of Lin-Manuel Miranda's smashing, 11 Tony Award-winning broadway musical inspired by its subject.

Chernow's biographical treatment might be considered the most extensively researched to date of the life of Alexander Hamilton, nevertheless, it may be found slightly biased as the reader will note, even if his patience wanes and skimming parts becomes the only alternative to fleshing out the pertinent bits in this lifetime.

Hamilton's story, in contemporary terms as Miranda has implied in his musical, is the immigrant story where dreams come true. Illegitimate, orphaned and impoverished, he never looked at his personal misfortunes as roadblocks to his future. Instead, his hard work, intelligence and drive to improve his circumstances got him noticed by benefactors who sent him to the U.S.

Though a rebel at heart, he had "a profound dread that popular sentiment would boil over into dangerous excess [and] ...even amid an insurrection that he supported, he fretted about the damage to constituted authority and worried about mob rule." Hamilton served in the American Revolution, and became aide de camp to George Washington who unreservedly had faith in him despite many who by nature distrusted foreigners, doubted his honesty and loyalty, and thought him a spy for the British.

Truly a visionary, "where other minds groped in the fog of war… Hamilton seemed to perceive everything in a sudden flash." He exerted his brilliance in drafting plans for a new American government while war was still raging on, and as Washington was selected as the first president, Hamilton became his Secretary of the Treasury founding "a central bank, a funded debt, a mint," saw America as a great manufacturing nation and laid the foundation "for both liberal democracy and capitalism." 

Amid his genius capabilities however, Hamilton showed bewildering foolhardiness: among the most notorious was a scandalous affair to which he confessed in a 90+page letter, published it en masse and distributed it to the public. Hard to imagine that this blatant act of marital suicide didn't actually end that way.

Hamilton had his share of ideological opponents who in turn had no great love for him, among them Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, with whom he exerted his quick tempered, hot headedness, verbal tongue lashing, character assassinations and nasty mudslinging (quite a familiar political climate at present, no?) His most incomprehensible act (in a manner of speaking, an unintentional suicide?), was agreeing to a duel with his political arch-enemy Aaron Burr, even after the death of his son by the same means.

In these times, this example of hatred is very potent and thought provoking, that even the most intelligent in a crowd would stoop to resolve their differences in the most destructive, senseless, fatalistic manner, by point blank pulling the trigger. For a talented visionary as Hamilton who helped lay the groundwork for a country in which freedom, justice, harmony and equality among its citizens are paved, the manner of his death seemed very shortsighted. Furthermore, by that same sort of shortsightedness, base animosity and violence would the country that this founding father helped 'birth' come to the same demise?

What would our Founding Father think of US now?

Integrity, Valour, Wisdom, Virtue....Dust?

Profile Image for Matt.
3,718 reviews12.8k followers
November 22, 2015
In an ongoing project to better educate myself about important political figures in history, I sought to return to another member of the American Founding Fathers. However, to call Alexander Hamilton a 'father' when surrounded by Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson seems slightly odd, as he was much younger than the others around the table. While that may be true, Ron Chernow effectively argues that Hamilton was a substantial, even quintessential, player in the founding and early establishment of America. Depicting the man as one who was mature beyond his years, a brilliant constitutionalist, and a stalwart statesman, Chernow illustrates how Hamilton utilised his presence around these other political giants to lay the cornerstone for the American political and economic systems in place today. A masterful piece of work that any reader with a passion for political biography ought not to miss, Chernow educates and entertains in equal measure.

Hamilton's maturity can be traced as far back as his formative years in the West Indies. Born illegitimately, Hamilton's life was further shaped when his mother died at a young age and he was shuffled off to many relatives, all of whom met the same fate in a short span. Hamilton's social and emotional maturity led his quest for knowledge and the ability to set himself apart from those around him. Chernow illustrates that Hamilton was given much responsibility while working as a young man, holding things together for his proprietor who was off in New York tending to business interests. The curiosity towards learning spurned Hamilton to arrive on the shores of the Empire State at a time when unrest was brewing, but before it reached its zenith in British-colonial clashes. While studying at what would soon be called Columbia College, Hamilton devoured all that was put before him and became a lawyer, before he found a spot within the continental army. Hamilton climbed the ranks, becoming a colonel and was handpicked by George Washington to serve as one of his aides de camp. That Hamilton was not on the front lines of the battles irked him, but this connection to Washington would curry favour between the two men and eventually lead to greater things. As shall be seen below, Hamilton's maturity seeped into his work at the Continental Congress and during the drafting of the US Constitution, as well as work in the early years at Treasury. It is not lost on the reader that Hamilton was able to effectively serve alongside other political juggernauts, as Chernow weaves many intricate stories surrounding Hamilton's abilities and effective progress in forming the America with which many are familiar today.

Hamilton was not only a key figure in the creation of the US Constitution, but a brilliant author whose absence would surely have made for a much weaker document. As Chernow argues, using historical documents and well-known publications to substantiate, Hamilton understood the nuances of constitutional creation, as well as the need to cherrypick from that which had worked before. Labelled at times as a monarchist, whose interest in keeping some aspects of Britain's system in the American sphere, Hamilton did not deny that utilising that which works effectively is better than trying to reinvent the wheel. Not only did Hamilton help forge a document that would encompass key elements necessary for running the new republic, but he wrote a large collection of papers, alongside John Jay and James Madison, to sell the state delegates whose job it was to ratify the constitution within their respective legislatures. These writings became known as The Federalist Papers and are still quoted to best understand the core elements of the Founding Fathers' mindset and general constitutional framework at the documents inception. Chernow refers to these essays throughout this section of the biography and highlights the ease with which Hamilton utilised his power of the written work to persuade and support the clauses enshrined in the constitutional document. The reader is left to wonder how a man so young could have such a strong worldly sense about him, especially since he did not travel to Europe or return to his birthplace. Chernow presents Hamilton as an effective and detailed scholar in these most important months of the new republic, crafting a document alongside Jefferson, Franklin and a handful of others, whose content has been amended 27 times as of the writing of this review. Hamilton's constitutional capabilities cannot be lost on the reader, as Chernow details the battle to create an effective set of rules by which America would run. In the latter section of the biography, Chernow exemplifies Hamilton's legal mind and constitutional prowess to argue cases before the courts, effectively presenting sound arguments to support or nullify state and federal laws on numerous occasions. A constitutional Goliath, a moniker Chernow resurrects from historical documents, properly depicts Hamilton and his vast knowledge of this key aspect of early America's founding.

Hamilton moved from being a Founding Father to an effective statesman in the first Cabinet under Washington, formulating essential laws and laying the groundwork for many plans taken for granted in the 21st century. In choosing Hamilton to serve in his first Cabinet of three(!) members, Washington invested a great deal of pressure on, and power in, him. Hamilton coveted the chance to serve as Secretary to the Treasury and was given the chance to impress with his significant understanding of financial issues. The position allowed Hamilton to formulate some of the early financial, economic, and monetary policy for America, which could serve it well in its infancy. With a mind well-tuned to the nuances of financial matters (was there anything this man could not do?), Hamilton saw the importance not only of running an effective government that could be self-sufficient, but also the necessity to deal with its war debts and move forward. The greatest issue that Hamilton faced was creating policy and legislation for Congress that set in place certain taxes, levies, and money garnering endeavours that did not sour the populace. As Chernow reminds the reader, the Revolutionary War was fuelled by a push not to allow many of the same taxes that Hamilton now proposed. However, with the need to sustain the coffers of America, now that the British were gone, these plans had to return, alongside a means of communicating the essential nature of their presence to a populace still stinging. Hamilton also created what is now the Coast Guard to inspect ships looking to bring goods into America, as well as a Mint to strike coins and print paper money for use within the states, as well as unifying the monies used and permitting inter-state travel. These were major struggles, but Hamilton effectively navigated the waters and brought about key fiscal elements to unite rather than divide the country. Even after leaving Washington's Cabinet, Hamilton used his statesman abilities and knowledge of the constitution to pen essays on various topics, swinging sentiment in one way or the other. Hamilton always sought to use well-grounded arguments to support his views, which would sway public and congressional opinions as major pieces of legislation came up for debate or vote. Chernow exemplifies this statesman persona quite seamlessly and does offer a thorough examination of the decisions Hamilton undertook while a member of America's political elite.

Chernow's book also examines some other highly interesting aspects in the American political development. Hamilton was at the heart of the first political schism that saw the creation of the Republican Party, as well as the Federalist and anti-Federalist labels affixed to certain segments of the political population. The birth of this non-constitutionally recognised political animal proves highly intriguing to the curious reader and Chernow does a wonderful job in narrating its methodical emergence. As well, no political biography is complete without a little scandal and Chernow attributes the first American political sex scandal to Hamilton, who was fond of women in all their glory. Again, Chernow delves into this story, but, as might be a sign of the times, things remain above board and the gaudy details remain hidden, which may depress any reader seeking salacious crumbs within these pages. Any attentive reader who reaches the point of the biography when Hamilton leaves Treasury is sure to ask, 'why no presidential run in '96?', to which Chernow has numerous speculative responses, all grounded in fact and and personal comments shared by Hamilton. This book is full of many anecdotes and keeps history's ever-changing narrative as a key driving force to propel the story forward.

Chernow does a wonderful job examining the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, from the mysteries of his birth in the West Indies through to his death at the hands of Aaron Burr in a duel, itself a dramatic and detailed story in the waning chapters of the biography. The narrative is full of wonderful tidbits of information and stories to better exemplify some of the larger events in early American political history, as well as some key sub-plots showing that Hamilton had his detractors, including: Thomas Jefferson, George Clinton, James Madison, and Aaron Burr. The book is very well laid out and its detail shows considerable effort on Chernow's part to offer as full a picture as possible for the reader to better understand how Hamilton shaped the world around him and was influenced by its happenings.

Kudos Mr. Chernow for this wonderful political biography that touches on many aspects of Hamilton's life and that of the early America. Full of poignant vignettes that include other political heavyweights, Chernow shows the breadth of Hamilton's influence during his life, cut short by a draconian means of settling disputes.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews515 followers
June 28, 2019
Rise Up! Time to Take a Shot!

Reviewing a historical biography can be a difficult task, a genre for which the writing can veer to the monotonous. Here, Ron Chernow does a kingly job with his impeccable research and suaviloquent writing. More significantly of late, this bio served as the basis for the fantastic new blockbuster Broadway musical Hamilton. I'll step back and let Lin-Manuel Miranda's daedal lyrics give you the players and a sketch of part of the story. And well, you know how it ends. It's history, after all.

You want answers to the question?
"How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?"

For one, go into everything exclaiming, "Hey yo, I'm just like my country, I'm young, scrappy and hungry, and I'm not throwing away my shot!" "When are these colonies gonna rise up?" "We're gonna rise up! Time to take a shot!"

Acquaints himself with two beautiful New York women of Dutch origin. The Schuyler Sisters. Angelica: "I've been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine. So men say that I'm intense or I'm insane. You want a revolution? I want a revelation. So listen to my declaration: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."

The sister he marries, Eliza: "Grab[s] my sister, and whisper[s], "Yo, this one's mine. My sister made her way across the room to you and I got nervous thinking 'What's she gonna do?' She grabbed you by the arm, I'm thinkin' 'I'm through.' Then you look back at me and suddenly I'm Helpless!"

Fighting a King who proclaims, "You'll be back, like before. I will fight the fight and win the war for your love, for your praise, and I'll love you till my dying days. When you're gone I'll go mad, so don't throw away this thing we had. Cuz when push comes to shove, I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love."

Get close to a General who, with 32,000 troops in New York harbor surrounded by British ships, barks, "We are outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned. We gotta make an all out stand. Ayo, I'm gonna need a right hand man. ... Can I be real a second?... Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second? Now I'm the model of a modern major general, the venerated Virginian veteran whose men are all lining up, to put me up on a pedestal, writin' letters to relatives embellishin' my elegance and eloquence, but the elephant is in the room, the truth is in ya face when ya hear the British cannons go... BOOM!"

Though, beware the seeds of resentment planted in Aaron Burr, your arch-enemy: "Death doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes and we keep living anyway. We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes. And if there's a reason I'm still alive when everyone who loves me has died. I'm willing to wait for it....
I am the one thing in life I can control. I am inimitable. I am an original. I'm not falling behind or running late. I'm not standing still, I am lying in wait.
Hamilton faces an endless uphill climb. He has something to prove. He has nothing to lose. Hamilton's pace is relentless he wastes no time.
What's it like in his shoes? Hamilton doesn't hesitate. He exhibits no restraint. He takes and he takes and he takes and he keeps winning anyway. He changes the game. He plays and he raises the stakes. And if there's a reason he seems to thrive when so few survive, then Goddamnit- I'm willing to wait for it."

And, in the Battle of Yorktown, 1781, make a move:
"HAMILTON: I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. This is where it gets me: on my feet, the enemy ahead of me. If this is the end of me, at least I have a friend with me, weapon in my hand, a command, and my men with me. Then I remember my Eliza’s expecting me... Not only that, my Eliza’s expecting. We gotta go, gotta get the job done. Gotta start a new nation, gotta meet my son! Take the bullets out your gun!
We move under cover and we move as one through the night. We have one shot to live another day. We cannot let a stray gunshot give us away. We will fight up close, seize the moment and stay in it. It’s either that or meet the business end of a bayonet. The code word is ‘Rochambeau,’ dig me?
You have your orders now, go, man, go! And so the American experiment begins with my friends all scattered to the winds..."

Quotations to lyrics from Hamilton, An American Musical , written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, from songs, in order of quotes, "Alexander Hamilton," "My Shot," "The Schuyler Sisters," "Helpless," "You'll Be Back," "Right Hand Man," "Wait for It," and "Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)."

And, that's only half the story.

Highly recommended for a historical biography.
Profile Image for Cinda.
Author 51 books11.1k followers
April 9, 2017
So I'm sitting on a plane crying over the ending of this book. It's not like I didn't already know how it turns out. But I didn't know Alexander Hamilton before--not in the way I do now. No lie, reading this book is a major undertaking. I am a lover of history and biography and this is one of the most compelling true stories I've read in a long time. I've always been a little obsessed with Thomas Jefferson because the man had so many conflicts and inconsistencies. This book demonstrates the power of seeing events from a new perspective. (The more I read, the more I hated TJ, LOL.) It only proves the point that so much of what we think we know about American history is superficial.

Despite Chernow's obvious affection for his subject, he does not hesitate to call Hamilton out on some of his blunders and bad judgment calls. What is so impressive to me is that this man rose through the power of his words (his top-notch brain). I agree with those who call him the one true genius among the founding fathers.
22 reviews5 followers
November 20, 2007
Alexander Hamilton will make you feel bad about yourself. When he was about 19 years old, he had not only graduated from Columbia University, he was also George Washington's aide-de-camp. When he was about 30, he was already one of the most successful lawyers in New York, he was responsible for writing the U.S. Constitution, and was in the process of building the U.S. Treasury Department from nothing. He was a genuinely brilliant and astonishing man.

But, he was also a very difficult man, and that was his undoing. He could be arrogant and condescending. He could pound you into the ground if you were wrong about anything. This kind of attitude wins you enemies, and when Hamilton's enemies - chief among them, Thomas Jefferson - came to power in 1800, he and his vast talents were frozen out of government. He was a raging bull the last years of his brief life because his talents were in their prime, but he had no meaningful outlet for them. And then he was shot dead. You can't help but wonder what might have been if he had lived.
Profile Image for Brandice.
855 reviews
September 17, 2018
Alexander Hamilton had a way with words, as does Ron Chernow. While Hamilton is a brick of a book, it was an interesting, thorough look at the life of a Founding Father: his upbringing, his challenges - both personal and professional, his accomplishments, of course, his fatal duel with Aaron Burr, and his lasting impact on the foundation of today’s nation.

This was a buddy read with my friend Cody, and it was nice to be able to share takes on certain events or actions that occurred, and gain an additional perspective. Cody’s review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Hamilton was born in the West Indies, a father of 8, and a prolific writer, using words as his chief method of expression and persuasion in most professional aspects. He wrote volumes upon volumes of work to support various American policies, systems and politicians, and sometimes, to defend his own dignity. He was a student through and through, constantly learning about new subjects and to me, painted a new picture of what a dedicated scholar looks like.

I have always enjoyed American History as a subject so this book piqued my curiosity when I first learned of Hamilton, the musical a few years ago (which I plan to see when it comes here next year). I feel very prepared now! In reading this book though, I realized how little I actually knew, and was surprised by how many new things I learned. There were several instances of events that I couldn’t help but compare to current actions of today. Sometimes history does repeat itself, for better or for worse.

In addition to learning a great deal about Hamilton himself, Hamilton provided a plethora of information on other Founding Fathers and figures who impacted the U.S. during, and following, the Revolutionary War, including Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, and others.

Though the book is packed with information chronicling Hamilton’s life and America’s progression during this time, the below paragraph, included very early on, highlights Hamilton’s vast accomplishments which are then discussed in much greater detail throughout the book:

”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 a 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 4 consecutive presidential elections and defined much of America’s political agenda during the Washington and Adams administrations, leaving copious commentary in virtually every salient issue of the day.”

Hamilton is a great read for American History fans, and those who want a detailed portrait of one of the nation’s most influential men, who helped set the stage for the U.S. becoming an industrial and economic power.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
November 10, 2020
An excellent historical biography, one of the best I’ve ever read if not the best.

More than just a biography of one of our most influential founding fathers, this is a glimpse into the heart and soul of our fledgling democracy and the sources of many of our institutions today.

Many readers will know about this book because of the popular Broadway musical, and while there are no songs in this scholarly work, there is much personality as the author fills this erudite account with asides, opinions, questions and comments. Chernow may ask, “why else would Hamilton act thus” or “what other conclusion can we draw”? And this kind of narrative quality adds depth and amusement to the history.

Expertly researched, Chernow references obscure letter writing as well as accounts of Hamilton’s time in his Caribbean youth. We follow one of the writers of The Federalist in an almost bildungsroman account of his early life to his formative years, to his immigration to New York and to his political rise and success. The author returns again and again to his illegitimate birth and how this childhood went on to not only drive this dynamic person but to also haunt him relentlessly and was the source of much of his thought and personal philosophy.

Chernow also provides a first-hand account of many of Hamilton’s peers, especially of his decades long relationship with Washington and of his antagonistic associations with Adams and Jefferson. One of the most compelling connections was with Madison, with whom he co-authored so many pamphlets, and how this friendship devolved into partisan animosity.

An exceptionally well written account of a complicated man, Ron Chernow’s work is one that should be read by any student of American history.

Profile Image for Brian.
688 reviews335 followers
October 14, 2020
“Hamilton was not the master builder of the Constitution…He was, however, its foremost interpreter…”

“Alexander Hamilton” is a biography worthy of its subject. It is detailed and overall very interesting, although at times I found Ron Chernow’s style to be a little too dry. It is clearly well researched and well sourced, which I think is a key component.
It’s a long book and there is lots that could be said about it, but I will mention that I especially enjoyed the section that focused on how the Constitution actually came into being. It is a much more in depth, and interesting, story than most people know. A main thesis of the book is that Hamilton shaped the manner in which we live under the Constitution, and also the shape and form of many of our modern governmental institutions and practices, more than any other founding father. Chernow makes it difficult to argue that point.
This biography also reinforced the point that is made for me any time I read a book about the past, “there is nothing new under the sun”. No one who bemoans the current situation (political, moral, etc.) knows anything about past ones or they would put everything in its proper context and be a whole lot less ridiculous in their assumptions. I mean, for goodness sake the original Deep State was Thomas Jefferson, the FIRST Secretary of State who was undermining his boss, and trying to manipulate the country to his designs, and not George Washington’s.
Ain’t none of it new…which I take reassurance from.
I kept having a nagging thought while reading this book. At times, I wished David McCullough had written it. Ron Chernow gave me the history with this text, but David McCullough tells you the story. Still, I will read other books of Chernow's, mainly because he has written about some topics that I would love to know more about.
All being said and done, I am very glad I read “Alexander Hamilton”, and I feel richer for the read. It is worth the time.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,430 reviews982 followers
June 18, 2019
I'm going to try to refrain from referencing Hamilton songs in this review. Yeah right! You know that's coming, I'm not going to throw away my shot!

Ok, but seriously - this book is an impressive look at one of America's perhaps lesser-known (prior to the broadway musical) Founding Fathers. There's drama! Intrigue! Feuds! Battles! And a whole lot of political/financial stuff that was obviously dumbed down for the reader but even then I am still not 100% sure I followed all of it. But here's some of the good stuff discussed:

- Who was REALLY Hamilton's father?
- His close relationship with both of the schulyer sisters
- His affair with the infamous Ms. Reynolds (Why couldn't he just say no to this?!)
- His close relationship with George Washington (he was his right hand man)
- His feuds with just about everyone including two Presidents, not just Aaron Burr
- His almost scary intuition about future events
- His genius in basically setting up America's entire system of three branches of government, plus the entire national banking/mint/credit/debt system
- Thomas Jefferson was seriously an asshole (#sorrynotsorry)

I absolutely recommend reading this book. It can be dry at times but listening to it via audiobook helps combat that a bit I think if you go that route like I did (36 hours though!).
Profile Image for Sesana.
5,181 reviews345 followers
March 31, 2016
There's no point in me pretending that I read this lengthy biography for any other reason than my current obsession with the musical Hamilton. As a Hamilton fan, I was pleased to see that Miranda had stuck fairly closely to historical fact, with a compressed chronology. And somewhat more sympathy afforded to Jefferson and Burr than Chernow has, interestingly enough. So if you're reading solely from a place of love for the musical, you won't be disappointed.

But as a work of history? I'm really quite pleased by the level of scholarship. Chernow's background may be as a journalist, but he knows how to walk the historian walk. This is one of the most meticulously researched works of history I've read in a long time, and Chernow uses primary sources extensively. I see the exact opposite too much when I read history, and it drives me up a wall. So it's nice to see a book that can have upwards of 100 end notes per chapter. Even the acknowledgements are ridiculously thorough.

And yet it's also a vastly entertaining read. This is, admittedly, because Hamilton's life is fascinating just from the bare facts. Chernow would have to be pretty bad writer to make him dull, and he isn't nearly that. Yes, he does sometimes throw in a ten dollar word when a fifty cent one would do, but that's what the Kindle dictionary is for. Granted, the twists and turns of Hamilton's life make for incredibly juicy material, but I honestly think that Chernow made the most of it.

There are certainly shorter accounts of Hamilton's fascinating life, but there's just so much to cover that all 700+ pages were full. There's his childhood in the Caribbean, and the unlikely way he ended up in New York at the exact right time to not just participate in the Revolution, but have a central roll in the founding of a new nation. And then he essentially sabotages his promising political career largely through an inherent inability to just shut up: about his opponents, about the other members of his own political party, and about his own affair. Hamilton with a little more impulse control would have been a rather less interesting person, but he certainly would have lived longer, because his fateful encounters with Burr would have turned out differently.

It made me happy that Chernow began and ended his book with Hamilton's wife, Eliza. She's an interesting enough person in her own right, and not just for her intense, lifelong love for her husband, which is romantic enough. Eliza had a full life after Hamilton's death, including her own efforts on his behalf. She was bright, giving, devoted to her husband's memory, and charming, if not universally. My favorite Eliza story is, of course, her telling off then-President Monroe because of her (fairly reasonable, if you ask me) grudge against him. It would be easy to overlook her, in no small part because she seemed to want history to overlook her, and I'm grateful that Chernow didn't.

The short version of all of the above is that Hamilton is inherently fascinating and Chernow's biography is both well-written and well-researched, making this quite possibly the best biography that I've ever read.

Also, I think I deserve some kind of bonus points for not quoting the musical at any point during my review. It was hard.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
657 reviews189 followers
January 24, 2019
This gets a solid 3.5 stars, but more for effort than for objectivity or verve.

I feel obligated to mention how I came to this book. I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia, which Thomas Jefferson founded and which ranked as one of the three accomplishments that Jefferson deemed worthy of constituting his epitaph (he didn't even list "President"!). The love is no less genuine or intense going the other way, either, with the school's unofficial sobriquet being "Mr. Jefferson's University." You could characterize the adoration as distortive, as honest conversations about the man's slaveholding and relationship with Sally Hemings were frowned upon in a Victorian way, such honest accounts being viewed as somehow "untoward." Gradually over my years in Charlottesville I adopted the approach that Jefferson's sins did not cancel out his accomplishments, but nor did his accomplishments expiate his sins. But as with my approach to the Catholic religion that I inherited but disavowed, though my appreciation for the original became complicated by nuance, my hostility to the enemy of the thing I originally revered never much abated. Hamilton being Jefferson's well-known bête noire, I've always been suspicious of the man. Throw in a wildly popular musical whose ubiquitous approbation among liberals beggars credulity and my hefty skepticism for the capitalism, monarchism, and corporatism with which he imbued our early country and, well: that's a sizable deficit of antipathy to overcome. So that was my predisposition before starting the book.

"Hamilton" is shopped as a biography, but veering as it did into hagiography at times, it felt less even-handed than most biographies I've come across. Chernow seems to me a small-"c" conservative, and that is only lightly occluded by the thrust of the text. Chernow repeatedly displays a clear reverence for incrementalism and tradition over Jacobin impulses, and this flatters Hamilton's approach to politics. There were moments where my jaw dropped at Chernow's pearl-clutching, particularly regarding the French Revolution. At one point, Chernow approvingly repeats a quote by William Pitt the Younger, stating that the beheading of the French monarch during the Reign of Terror was "the foulest and most atrocious act the world has ever seen." I gasped at the myopia of the statement, knowing little but sufficient enough of what gory mischief European monarchs themselves have commissioned in all of their majesty throughout the centuries; reactions such as these gave the impression that the author doubts whether the French Revolution was really worth "all the fuss," history's consensus notwithstanding.

But it's not just Chernow's approval of Hamilton's critical influence on the formation of the modern neoliberal regime that seems less than objective. Slanders and calumnies against Hamilton are dismissed almost peremptorily in a way that seems wildly inconsistent. For example, despite knowing, as we all do, that Hamilton died for his bastardry-informed inability to let stand any affront to his honor, Chernow mentions a rumor voiced by a certain Nicholson that Hamilton spirited away 100,000 pounds sterling in British banks while Treasury Secretary; curious then, that although Hamilton knew of this slur, he apparently never did anything to disprove it or "demand satisfaction" [challenge its accuser to a duel]. Yet Chernow just dismisses it as "ridiculous." Overall, Chernow tries to paint a nuanced picture of Hamilton, and one gets the sense that his obfuscations and unevenness are not deliberate, yet when he insists that Hamilton loathed the slave trade and "only" bought *a few* slaves for his brother- and sister-in-law, one wonders how truly critical he has been of all of Hamilton's other faults and inconsistencies.

Hamilton seemed by all accounts brilliant, as capable a leader of men as Washington and even more of a polymath than Jefferson (whose was certainly dulled by this account, slanted against him as this work may have been). I truly have never felt less adequate for my age than upon learning that this bastard from the Caribbean was aide-de-camp to George Washington at age 25 and is still one of the most storied politicians in American history, despite having died in his 40s!

But this book falls victim to that peculiarly (or perhaps acutely?) American foible of treating our Founding Fathers like heroes, rather than the deeply flawed, complex humans that they were. In a way, reading about fake news in the National Gazette (Jefferson said that anything was made suspicious, merely by dint of appearing in a newspaper!), and about partisan recriminations of the most vile character made our present situation that much more palatable and, well... normal. Not because I think we'll get through it (ha! who knows?), but because we've always been a nation led by self-interested, flawed men, and this is not necessarily much, much worse, just a different variety of bad. By casting the Founding as a time of pure virtue, selflessness, truth, honor and country above self, and unity above all, we do unnecessary disservice to our modern selves.

So: let us embrace the flaws in our forebears with the same tenacity with which we bemoan them in the present!
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,533 followers
March 26, 2020
This is a long daunting biography, par for the course for Chernow, but all the same an absolute masterpiece. Hamilton casts a long shadow on the American experiment i. So many ways and Chernow masterfully reconstructs his life with anecdotes and insights gleaned from a bewildering number of sources. This book is evry bit as engaging aa his biography of Grant which I also reviews on GR.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,734 reviews1,469 followers
July 30, 2018
I am not going to give you Alexander Hamilton's life story. If you are looking for that, it is this extremely thorough and well researched book you should read. Nope, my review is no “Reader’s Digest” version of the book! I am going to tell you what I like and what I think could have been better, with a mere peppering of details about Hamilton’s life.

Let me start by saying that I listened to this as an audiobook on a long, long car ride, over several days. It is perfect for this. It is clear. It is very thorough. It is extensively researched. You have no need to search for additional or explanatory information anywhere else. The presentation of facts is straightforward, well organized and balanced. Statements and quotes are not simply taken as fact but are analyzed and judged for their validity. Divergent views are discussed. Both individuals’ weaknesses and strengths are pointed out. It is however quite evident that the author does admire Hamilton.

The telling moves forward chronologically, starting with information about Hamilton’s parents and his childhood. He was born, most probably, in 1755, in Charlestown on Nevis, one of the Leeward Island. His early years were spent on the islands of the West Indies, mostly Nevis and Saint Kitts of the British Leeward Islands, and Saint Croix, of the American Virgin Islands. The date of his birth is debated, as well as who his father and siblings actually were. His mother, Rachel Faucette, was of half-British and half-French Hugenot descent.

Talented at school at a young age, he was in 1772 sent off to New York to study. Yet, his Caribbean roots were to mold him, to make him into the man he came to be--a fervent abolitionist, a supporter of the needy and orphaned, determined, motivated and self-reliant. Yet he also had a propensity for turning a quarrel into a vendetta, incapable of dropping a disagreement.

He was an autodidact. The book follows his education, his occupations, what he did in the Revolutionary War, his governmental posts and why he is considered one the Founding Fathers. It covers his personality and personal relationships with Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, other famed men and women of those times and of course also Aaron Burr, who brought about his death in the fatal duel of 1804. A summary of Burr’s life, after the duel and until his death, is given too. Covered in detail is Hamilton’s involvement with the married couple Maria Reynolds and her husband James, then filling the gossip sheets with a tantalizing sex scandal and blackmail intrigue.

An epilog concludes with additional information about Hamilton’s ever-devoted wife and seven surviving children. His wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, lived another half a century after his death. Despite his infidelities, she dedicated herself to him and to the task of his fame being properly recorded in history. She was co-founder and deputy director of an orphanage in New York City. For eight years an orphaned child came to live with the Hamiltons, as one of their own. Actions do often speak more than words.

Hamilton’s aptitude for thinking through problems, finding solutions and then expressing his views coherently and eloquently comes through clearly.

With Hamilton being Secretary of the Treasury, I was worried that finance and economy would be too overly emphasized. This was not the case. You need not be an economist to understand or fully appreciate this book.

If anything, the book is too thorough. There is no detail left uncovered. The battles of the Revolutionary War wore me out. The years after Hamilton left the government and all he did was bicker with the likes of Adams and Jefferson could have perhaps been shortened. These were too drawn out. The fatal duel between Burr and Hamilton has a melodramatic flourish that I could have done without.

I think Scott Brick reads the book very well. He is clear and very easy to follow. He mirrors the melodrama of the author’s words in the depiction of the duel events. Incidentally, one of Hamilton’s sons also dies in a duel. Dueling was certainly de rigueur in those times!

It is worth reading the book not just to learn about Hamilton, but also to hear about the feuds and the divergent views that existed between the Federalists and the Republicans, between Washington and John Adams and Jefferson.

Books I have read by Ron Chernow:

*Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. 5 stars
*Alexander Hamilton 4 stars
*Washington: A Life 4 stars

The book is interesting to compare with:
John Adams 5 stars by David McCullough
Profile Image for leynes.
1,101 reviews2,952 followers
December 31, 2017
No words can describe what I'm feeling right now. After two months, I finished this biography at 9:38 PM tonight with tears streaming down my face, hysterically sobbing. I just have to read the concluding line of this 731-pages-tome and tears start dwelling in my eyes again.

I'm not going to properly review this biography here on Goodreads, because I discussed it at lenght in my YouTube series, "The Hamilton Diaries" , and I don't like repeating myself.

All I want to say here is that I am incredibly grateful to Lin, for introducing me to the world of Alexander Hamilton. And that I am incredibly grateful to Ron Chernow (the author of this biography) because the way he recounted Hamilton's story was so accessible and enthusiastic and passionate that I fell in love with the real story as well.

And lastly I wanna thank and honor Alexander and Eliza, for all the work they've done and to reassure them that their true story is finally being told and heard by millions of people around the world. I am in love with both of them. Both of them will forever be in my heart. Reunited, at last, I hope they have found their well-deserved rest.

Your Obediant Servant,
B. Leynes
5 reviews1 follower
June 20, 2007
I don't know that I have ever read a single book that so changed my perception of history. The Author is able to truly show the brilliance and importance of Hamilton's contribution to our government.
I have always had the mistaken perception that Hamilton was a hinderance to free Government and that it was Jefferson and Monroe that were the true authors. I learned that I could not have been more mistaken. Hamilton was a man of sheer genius. Raising from obscurity to being the founder of the basic structure of our government and our monetary system. His greatness was only exceeded by his fiery temperament that most certainly lead to his untimely death in a duel with his former University classmate Arron Burr.
Students of American history need to read this book to understand the truly great contributions made to our government.
Upon reading this book you are struck with the distinct impression that our current law that prohibits any native born American from running for President was most certainly written by the detractor of Hamilton that wanted to make certain he could never become President.
The reader will also learn of his great loyalty to Washington and that Washington was most likely the only person that could temper the fiery temper of Hamilton and pull out of him his greatness.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,225 followers
February 13, 2014
Hamilton's ability to rise above a bastard's upbringing and his unsure beginnings to one of the highest offices of the US is one of those "American dream" stories that our forefathers built the cliche upon.

Chernow handles the material, lived-out so many years ago, with a deft hand, keeping my interest even through the parts I would normally find boring, such as the country's financial structuring which Hamilton masterminded. Of course, it is Hamilton's battle of wits with Thomas Jefferson (and his nippy lap-dog Madison) that is the real draw of any true history lover's fascination with Hamilton's life, even if his almost-out-of-date-yet-still-impossibly-gallant duel with Aaron Burr that excites the masses.

Although Hamilton's politics don't exactly jive with mine, I've still got to respect the way the man carried himself. He stuck to what he believed in, his code of honor, even if it meant his own end...and what an end!
Profile Image for Calista.
3,871 reviews31.2k followers
May 13, 2018

I remember hearing a little about Alexander in school and it mostly had to do with the duel with Burr that killed him. He was not mentioned the way Washington and Jefferson were.

What a fascinating personality he is. He was brilliant and after reading this book, it is obvious that our government and many of the ideas that made our country run are because of Hamilton. He was a proficient writer and orator. I learned so much about our history and the way the country works and it even sets up the mess we are in with North vs South and so forth. It's all here. This is an important work of our country.

If he had not come up with an executive branch that held everything together, our states would have fallen apart. He really did create this country. I really am blown away. Ron makes this story live. The people have voices and motivations and the time period comes alive. When is HBO doing a mini-series? I want to see it.

I'm not a history buff and I really enjoyed this and I learned so much from it. I still need to see the musical.
Profile Image for K..
3,667 reviews1,006 followers
August 7, 2016
"Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton. And there's a million things I haven't done, but just you wait, just you waaaaaaaaait."

First things first: if you haven't listened to Hamilton, do yourself a favour and go listen to Hamilton. Because it's a freaking masterpiece.

Anyway. On with the book review.

I obviously read this because I'm Hamiltrash, as is the case with so many other reviewers. And what struck me about this were two things in particular:
1. It's an excellent biography of a truly fascinating and often overlooked individual, and
2. It's totally fascinating to see which bits Lin Manuel Miranda played with to make the story more interesting and more accessible.

The first point could basically be my entire review - Hamilton led an incredibly interesting life, and was a remarkably eloquent sass explosion a lot of the time. I highlighted a ton of quotes that I liked, and this is the first non-fiction book that's made me cry, solely thanks to Hamilton's farewell letter to Eliza.

That said, there were sections of the story that dragged more than others - namely, everything between the war ending and the point where "Mrs Maria Reynolds walked into my life". Because seriously. It's chapter after chapter of Hamilton establishing America's financial systems, and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. So. I mean, if you're into economics and banking, it might be fascinating to you. But I'm not. And it wasn't.

As to the second point, I was a little bit heartbroken to learn that the whole of Satisfied is utter bollocks because Angelica Schuyler was already married way before she met A.Ham. Also married before A. Ham? Lafayette, Laurens, and Mulligan. Also, Mulligan was like WAY older than the rest of that little band and owned the shop where he did all his spying on the British Forces and most definitely didn't go back to New York and his apprenticeship. So I felt a little betrayed by learning that because WHAAAAAT?!?!?!?! But once I got over the initial shock of the musical not being 100% historically accurate (SHOCKER), I actually grew to love those little moments of "Hey, LMM did a thing!".

So on the whole, it was fascinating from two different perspectives. Also, no power in the verse can convince me that A. Ham wasn't banging at least one of his friends, and most likely his sister-in-law. So. There's that.
Profile Image for Stacee.
2,709 reviews703 followers
June 13, 2016
Definitely not something I would have ever picked up, but after becoming obsessed with Hamilton, I was curious.

It was a bit dry, but very well written. I did skim parts of it, basically just wanting details for the sections of Hamilton's life that are highlighted in the play. The last chapters dealing with the duel and the aftermath were heartbreaking.

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