Review:: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

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.


I’ve always liked history, but I’ve never gotten into biographies because I have a harder time following along with the heavy details. So, when I heard about a biography in musical form by the name of Hamilton, I figured I’d give it a shot. Needless to say, I fell absolutely in love with it. When I found out that that it was inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, I knew I had to read it.

I did a little more research and realized that Chernow was a Pulitzer Prize winner, and I couldn’t wait to start reading this biography. I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed in Alexander Hamilton at all. One of the things I have to have in a biography is a good author’s voice, one that is friendly and not too weighed down. Chernow’s voice was incredibly easy to read. While he cited the primary sources that he learned from, he translated much of it into readable language for the modern reader.

I really enjoyed reading my way through Alexander Hamilton, and I loved learning about his feuds with just about everybody. Reading this biography took me a while because I checked it out of the library at first, but didn’t finish it before it had to be returned. After I got it for Christmas, (Thanks, Dad!) I just kept working my way through it in 100 page chunks, because there’s so much information in this huge book.

While I was reading this, I noticed that Chernow had a tendency to say that Hamilton did things, like his predictions of a Civil War, but when others that Hamilton didn’t get along with did the same thing, he just stated it and let it go by, as if it wasn’t as important for them to have said it. Given that it’s an Alexander Hamilton biography, and not a biography of all of the founding fathers, I’ll give him a pass on it, but it kind of bugged me while I was reading it. That being said, it was interesting to learn about Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson from Hamilton’s perspective.

Hamilton was a really interesting person to learn about, although I don’t think I would have liked him as a person. He seemed to have been a huge pain in the ass, but he was really great at what he did. And he did a lot.

I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys American history, biographies or who enjoyed Hamilton: The Musical. It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s full of really good information.

Five stars

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