Continuing on with my American Revolution/colonial America reading, I eagerly delved into Alexander Hamilton. I had already read Chernow’s Washington and deemed it the best biography I’ve ever read.
Alexander Hamilton started out meeting all my expectations. Chernow’s excellent research and depth in reporting the events surrounding Hamilton’s life established a terrific launching point and I was completely engrossed.
Here’s what I loved about the book: Additional details about the revolutionary war and Hamilton’s relationship with George Washington were fascinating for me. Once the war was over, the nation building began. All the books I’d read up until this point were short on this subject, and Chernow relates Hamilton’s genius in establishing a central banking system, the stock market, the treasury department, and foreign trade with an understanding of economics that is simply pure genius. He also goes into great detail explaining Hamilton’s opposition, namely Thomas Jefferson and Republicans, and why they disagree with Hamilton’s policies to the point of venomous attacks on his character. Understanding this period of American government/politics certainly helps one put in perspective the vitriol that occurs in politics today. After all, if the hostilities were so great then, (and both Hamilton and Jefferson were willing to toss constitutional protections out the window to achieve their own ends), the “happy ending” of the survival of our system of government, should make us breathe a little easier, in the knowledge that we can still come out this turbulence relatively unscathed.
What didn’t I like about the book? Two things. First, a friend told me that she felt Chernow exhibited bias in his Washington book. At the time, it didn’t bother me because it’s my opinion that all historians show some bias, whether they intend to or not. On further reflection, I recalled how the author seemed to deliberately show negative characteristics of Thomas Jefferson. If those traits were pushed to the forefront in Washington, they were used to crucify the man in Alexander Hamilton. I don’t think Chernow had one bit of praise for Jefferson – he saved it all for Hamilton. And yet, Hamilton had many, many enemies. How is it that a man with seemingly few faults could be so hated? I know it’s politics, but these men actually knew each other. There must have been something in Hamilton’s character that rubbed people the wrong way. That’s not to say that Chernow avoided Hamilton’s faults altogether. It’s just that he barely touched on them, while putting him on a high pedestal at the same time.
The second issue I had with the book was the amount of time spent on the accusations that flew back and forth between Hamilton and the Federalists versus Jefferson and the Republicans. This seemed to take up 25% of the book, and it was a very long book.
That said, it was still an excellent work and worth 4 1/2 stars (I just had to knock that half star off for the bias and the extra time spent on the verbals attacks). It would actually be interesting if Chernow were to write a biography of Thomas Jefferson. The different perspective would be interesting, but I don’t know if Chernow would appreciate the hate-mail that would likely ensue.
4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2004
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