By Ron Chernow
This hefty, yet well written biography tells the story of one of our lesser studied Founding Fathers. Until this past year, when the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda became THE show to see in NYC and here in Chicago, most people recall Hamilton for two things: he is pictured on the $10 bill, and he was shot and killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. But neither shows his true importance.
In Chernow’s gentle hands, Hamilton gains his place as one of the brilliant minds (arguably the most brilliant mind) that shaped this country, its policies, and its Constitution. In this account, Hamilton’s accomplishments are well-delineated (co-author of The Federalist Papers, founder of our US Treasury and monetary system, confidant of Washington, and immersed in just about every situation the country faced, from the Revolution and beyond.) His abilities were great, yet his time here was short. Detailed in his descriptions, this biography takes the reader through his humble beginnings as a poor and illegitimate immigrant to becoming one of the most powerful men in the country.
As the country formed in the last 10-15 years of his life, Hamilton feared the despotism and terror that was happening in France, and worried that the new Republic would be undone. All this (plus his ego) caused him to make some grave errors in judgment (for example, his was the first political “sex scandal”, and his diatribes against President Adams) that ultimately ended up being his political undoing.
Although Chernow’s biography is definitely a sympathetic one, he does expose the flaws in his character and puts all the political machinations into context so the reader learns a lot about many political figures and why decisions were made on important topics such as treaties and the national debt.
In reading this work, I not only gained a whole new admiration for this individual who influenced what the U.S. has become today, but I also obtained a greater understanding of all the men who created a system that became something new and the difficulties and nuances undertaken to make a new and ultimately successful nation.
–Review by Maria Bagshaw, Reference Librarian