Book review: Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander HamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the inspiration for the Broadway musical (and cultural) smash “Hamilton” (and, in fact, the author receives royalties from the musical). I have mixed feelings about this biography and mixed feelings about the subject. Alexander Hamilton was clearly a brilliant man, excellent administrator, and masterful as the first Secretary of the Treasury. He was also vain, overly sensitive, and an irresponsible husband and father. The author has done some excellent research on the less well-known aspects of Hamilton’s life, specifically, the circumstances of his birth and upbringing on St. Croix. But he also falls into the biographer’s pitfall: falling in love with his subject. The portrayal of Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds is enough to make a reader cringe (Maria Reynolds must have been in love with Alexander–never mind the minor detail that she and her husband blackmailed him over it). And the portrayals of Hamilton’s political enemies–Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and, of course, Aaron Burr–are far from objective.
That being said, this is a solid biography of a complex, complicated, and insecure man who was instrumental in the formation of the United States. In addition, one of the most endearing characteristics of the author is the credit he gives and his portrayal of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton as a partner in Hamilton’s accomplishments and someone who ensures that his legacy lives on after Hamilton’s death.
In illuminating a relatively unknown Founding Father, the author does an excellent job of bringing Hamilton to life and showcasing his considerable accomplishments. Alexander Hamilton is the quintessential American story–a poor immigrant succeeding based on his abilities and work ethic. It is a story well worth learning.

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