Review: Alexander Hamilton

Review Alexander Hamilton

After seeing the touring company’s production of the musical Hamilton, I wanted to read Alexander Hamilton, the book on which Lin-Manuel Miranda based his smash hit. It’s a huge biography, but it reads almost like a novel.

From the publisher:

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.

It’s possible that this factual account of Alexander Hamilton’s life makes his accomplishments even more impressive than the fictionalized stage version of his life story.

I came away with an even greater appreciation for how instrumental Hamilton (empowered by President George Washington ) was in shaping institutions that ensured the survival of the nascent nation.

I also lost a ton of respect for Thomas Jefferson. He worked to oppose Washington, Hamilton and the Federalists to ensure the influence of the slave states and their wealthy property owners, over the greater good of the young country. Miranda lampoons Jefferson to some extent on stage, but the full story makes him look even worse.

Despite its length (more than 800 pages), I highly recommend Alexander Hamilton. It’s well worth the time if you’re at all interested in our ten dollar founding father.

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