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Alexander Hamilton

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From his less than auspicious start in 1755 on the Caribbean Island of Nevis to his untimely death in a duel with his old enemy Aaron Burr in 1804, Alexander Hamilton, despite his short life, left a huge legacy. Orphaned at thirteen and apprenticed in a counting house, Hamilton learned principles of business that helped him create the American financial system and invent th From his less than auspicious start in 1755 on the Caribbean Island of Nevis to his untimely death in a duel with his old enemy Aaron Burr in 1804, Alexander Hamilton, despite his short life, left a huge legacy. Orphaned at thirteen and apprenticed in a counting house, Hamilton learned principles of business that helped him create the American financial system and invent the modern corporation. But first the staunch, intrepid Hamilton served in the American Revolution, acting as General Washington’s spymaster. Forging a successful legal career, Hamilton coauthored the Federalist Papers and plunged into politics. Irresistibly attractive, he was a man of many gifts, but he could be arrogant and at times a poor judge of character. In this meticulously researched, illuminating, and lively account, Willard Sterne Randall explores Hamilton’s life—his illegitimate birth, little-known military activities, political and diplomatic intrigues, and scandalous affairs—and its indelible impact on modern America.

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From his less than auspicious start in 1755 on the Caribbean Island of Nevis to his untimely death in a duel with his old enemy Aaron Burr in 1804, Alexander Hamilton, despite his short life, left a huge legacy. Orphaned at thirteen and apprenticed in a counting house, Hamilton learned principles of business that helped him create the American financial system and invent th From his less than auspicious start in 1755 on the Caribbean Island of Nevis to his untimely death in a duel with his old enemy Aaron Burr in 1804, Alexander Hamilton, despite his short life, left a huge legacy. Orphaned at thirteen and apprenticed in a counting house, Hamilton learned principles of business that helped him create the American financial system and invent the modern corporation. But first the staunch, intrepid Hamilton served in the American Revolution, acting as General Washington’s spymaster. Forging a successful legal career, Hamilton coauthored the Federalist Papers and plunged into politics. Irresistibly attractive, he was a man of many gifts, but he could be arrogant and at times a poor judge of character. In this meticulously researched, illuminating, and lively account, Willard Sterne Randall explores Hamilton’s life—his illegitimate birth, little-known military activities, political and diplomatic intrigues, and scandalous affairs—and its indelible impact on modern America.

30 review for Alexander Hamilton

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    There are quite a few single-volume bios of Hamilton out there, including financial historian Ron Chernow's acclaimed recent work. That one sits on my bookshelf and on my to-read list--but I started with Randall's shorter work because I'd read about Randall's fluid, engaging narrative style, and also because um, it was simply easier to hold with one hand on the subway. :) Even if it was for a goofy reason, I'm glad I did it--it was a quick, pleasurable read, and Randall did a great job of develop There are quite a few single-volume bios of Hamilton out there, including financial historian Ron Chernow's acclaimed recent work. That one sits on my bookshelf and on my to-read list--but I started with Randall's shorter work because I'd read about Randall's fluid, engaging narrative style, and also because um, it was simply easier to hold with one hand on the subway. :) Even if it was for a goofy reason, I'm glad I did it--it was a quick, pleasurable read, and Randall did a great job of developing H's character, in a coherent, entertaining Bildungsroman style. In addition, the decently researched, early part of the book painted a colorful picture of H's upbringing on St. Croix and his early struggles for social and material advancement in New Jersey and New York. Moreover, although H has long been my favorite founding father (mainly through my admiration of the Federalist Papers), Randall makes a good case for the mythic, titanic sweep of H's accomplishments and central role in creating the US we know today. It was not just the extent of H's accomplishments that amazes. Despite Randall not giving this area its proper due (see below), he is able to illustrate well enough the how-in-hell-could-one-man-do-all-this breadth and variety of foundational, critical areas in which H exercised his genius, vision, and tireless application. You get the sense from reading Randall that were it not for H's efforts and eloquence in shaping and ramming through ratification of the Constitution, and H's organizational and bureaucratic genius in establishing the power of the Treasury, among a raft of other things, the US would have pretty much ended up a confederation of inefficient and agrarian second-rate states ripe for the picking by the older European powers. It's a good, inspirational story, whetting ones appetite for more. I was disappointed in one respect. Inexplicably, following the period of the Revolution, Randall speeds up the pace and drops everything that made the first part of the book so engaging--the colorful historical details, the psychological portrait of H, and digressions on the socio-political and economic backdrop which was so important in understanding H's place and influence in American history. It's easily argued that the Federalist period is one that deserves the analytical bulk of any biography of H accounting for his influence on the formation of the republic and the growth of American economic power--Randall either seems not to have been as interested in this phase of H's life, or his publisher was pressuring him to make a deadline. Either way, the uneven treatment of the early and latter periods of H's life is too apparent for me to give the book a high rating. Nevertheless, I recommend it as a lively, quick-to-read character study of someone who by any account was a larger-than-life figure, or as an appetizer to bigger and better things.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    If one wonders why a biography of Alexander Hamilton did not stir Lin-Manuel Miranda to write his Broadway musical before Ron Chernow’s bestselling work all you have to do is look at Willard Sterne Randall’s ALEXANDER HAMILTON: A LIFE written a year before Chernow’s monograph. Randall’s effort is a clear narrative written by a traditional historian that lacks many of the details, insights on a personal level, and coverage of the most important aspects of Hamilton’s extraordinary life that Cherno If one wonders why a biography of Alexander Hamilton did not stir Lin-Manuel Miranda to write his Broadway musical before Ron Chernow’s bestselling work all you have to do is look at Willard Sterne Randall’s ALEXANDER HAMILTON: A LIFE written a year before Chernow’s monograph. Randall’s effort is a clear narrative written by a traditional historian that lacks many of the details, insights on a personal level, and coverage of the most important aspects of Hamilton’s extraordinary life that Chernow presents. Randall, who has written biographies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson before tackling his present subject seems most concerned with who was right about America, Jefferson, or Hamilton. He concludes that Jefferson was correct for the 18th century, Hamilton, for more modern times. Randall’s study is reliable and readable and mostly rests on primary materials. Other than the depth of coverage that Randall provides my major criticism is how he attributes his material to sources. His chapter endnotes are not complete and he makes it very difficult to ascertain where he gets his material. There are too many examples of; “One family historian recently observed,” or, “As one historian put it,” or, “One historian’s description,” is annoying and not the way most historians present their sources. In terms of Hamilton’s private life, Randall seems certain that Hamilton and his sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler Church were lovers. His writing is crisp, but in terms of Hamilton family relations it is very speculative, particularly the description of Elizabeth Hamilton and her relationship with her husband. In other areas Randall is on firmer ground. His discussion of Hamilton’s early years where he was fueled by the writings of John Locke and accepted the ideas of “free will” as opposed to Calvinist dogma is excellent. Randall concentrates on a number of individuals that have not been detailed by most historians. The individual that most comes to mind is Hercules Mulligan, a merchant who initially served as Hamilton’s guardian when he arrived from the Caribbean. Later, Mulligan would become a valuable spy against the British in New York during the American Revolution as well is becoming a peer of Hamilton, and one of his most important confidants. Randall will also spend a great deal of time with the back and forth between Samuel Seabury’s “True Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress” v. that of Hamilton’s “A Full Vindication,” which is important because it juxtaposes the loyalist and anti-loyalist positions visa vie the British, and the formulation of Hamilton’s basic political and economic philosophy. Important areas that Randall reviews include the Washington-Hamilton relationship, where one can see how mutually dependent each would become on the other through the revolution and leading up to Washington’s presidency. The machinations surrounding General Horatio Gates’ attempts to replace Washington during the revolution and actions taken by the general and his supporters after the revolution also receive important coverage. Randall will dissect the needs of the Continental Army and spares no criticism in his comments on the incompetence of a number of members of the Continental Congress. Randall stresses the importance of Hamilton’s relationship with John Laurence and the Marquis de Lafayette, particularly as it affected his actions during the revolution, and importantly, develops the ideological abyss that consumes Hamilton’s relationship with James Madison, especially after the Constitutional Convention. As opposed to other authors Randall does not provide a great deal of detail of Hamilton private life and career after Washington becomes president. The majority of the book deals with Hamilton’s early life, the revolution, and the period leading up to and including the writing of the constitution. Randall analyzes issues like the assumption of debt, the National Bank, the need for public credit in detail. Further, he explores foreign policy implications of Hamilton’s domestic economic agenda, but does not develop the ideological and personal contradictions with Thomas Jefferson fully. The relationship with Aaron Burr also does not receive the attention that it warrants because that relationship spanned Hamilton’s entire career. To enhance the monograph Randall should have balanced Hamilton’s career and influence on historical events more evenly and not given short shrift to the Washington presidency where he served as Secretary of the Treasury and the events that occurred following his retirement from office. Randall has written a useful biography of Hamilton, but in no way does it approach the level of Ron Chernow’s later effort.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    This is another Hamilton book I read this year and it's a decent compliment to Chernow's biography of Hamilton (the one the musical is based on). This one doesn't have as many of Chernow's literary strokes, but it does have some more detail and research that adds texture to Hamilton's story, and in some cases even provides a different perspective and conclusion about some events. It's especially interesting to read the story of how Alexander actually made it to America, which is much thoroughly This is another Hamilton book I read this year and it's a decent compliment to Chernow's biography of Hamilton (the one the musical is based on). This one doesn't have as many of Chernow's literary strokes, but it does have some more detail and research that adds texture to Hamilton's story, and in some cases even provides a different perspective and conclusion about some events. It's especially interesting to read the story of how Alexander actually made it to America, which is much thoroughly researched and explained in this book. I wish it was available as an audiobook!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marsinay

    Ultimately an uneven treatment: the first part of Hamilton’s life (up through the Revolutionary War) is rendered in detail but the latter part (including the Constitutional Convention, The Federalist Papers, and his role as Secretary of the Treasury) is abbreviated and comparatively glossed over. Was the author under deadline, over his page limit or did he assume AH’s later life already had been covered extensively elsewhere? Whatever the reason, I found the change to be jarring. Walter Isaacson Ultimately an uneven treatment: the first part of Hamilton’s life (up through the Revolutionary War) is rendered in detail but the latter part (including the Constitutional Convention, The Federalist Papers, and his role as Secretary of the Treasury) is abbreviated and comparatively glossed over. Was the author under deadline, over his page limit or did he assume AH’s later life already had been covered extensively elsewhere? Whatever the reason, I found the change to be jarring. Walter Isaacson summed it up well when he referred to Randall’s book on Benjamin Franklin and son William as “a fascinating but somewhat speculative account.” I suspect the same is true about parts of this biography of Hamilton. Although I haven’t read the primary sources he had access to, some of Randall’s interpretations seem odd (e.g., his conviction that Elizabeth Schuyler had originally been in love with British officer John Andre and hints that she contemplated breaking off her engagement to AH after learning of Andre’s execution). To be fair, I may be unduly biased in favor of Chernow’s superlative AH biography. And whereas Chernow is careful to suggest possible interpretations of certain events, Randall instead decides on one and presents it as fact, which seems a bit disingenuous.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Daryl

    Very well written and made excellent use of new materials. THE most interesting parts were the interaction with Washington and the founders of the rebellion and country.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Hauck

    This book did a good job with Hamilton's early life and his career during the revolution. It skimped on his life after serving as Secretary of the Treasury and his death.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gary Sedivy

    This is an impressive look into one of the founders of our nation. Hamilton's work ethic, his intelligence, his dedication to this country is astounding. I am continuously overwhelmed at the depth and breadth of the reading the men that started our nation. They did not read fluff, like 'Stephanie Plum' or 'Spenser' novels - they read Locke, and Adam Smith, and other great thinkers. Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton - some were definitely geniuses, and all had a desire to learn and know so as to regul This is an impressive look into one of the founders of our nation. Hamilton's work ethic, his intelligence, his dedication to this country is astounding. I am continuously overwhelmed at the depth and breadth of the reading the men that started our nation. They did not read fluff, like 'Stephanie Plum' or 'Spenser' novels - they read Locke, and Adam Smith, and other great thinkers. Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton - some were definitely geniuses, and all had a desire to learn and know so as to regulate their lives. They contributed to this great country. Hamilton came from near destitution as a child in St. Croix to become a self taught business man at the age of 17. He came to the U.S. to go to college, but had to attend prep school first, and did three years work in about one year. He then went to college, and was going to finish early when the Revolutionary War started. He distinguished himself in battle. George Washington asked him to serve as his aide de camp, which he did so well that Washington trusted him fully. He then was instrumental in the Constitution Convention, and was vital in getting the Constitution ratified (he wrote most of the 'Federalist Papers'). Washington asked him to be the Secretary of the Treasury where he almost single-handedly saved the US government from bankruptcy and collapse.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    Leans towards the hagiographic. If Hamilton and Washington disagreed, Hamilton was always right...If Washington presented a good idea, it might well have come from Hamilton. It seems at times that his long affair with his wife's sister is rather brushed over with an air of "well, can you blame him?" Randall doesn't deal at all with Hamilton's children--his son's death in a duel is only mentioned when Hamilton's own is and without detail. One doesn't get any sense of their relationship. It is cer Leans towards the hagiographic. If Hamilton and Washington disagreed, Hamilton was always right...If Washington presented a good idea, it might well have come from Hamilton. It seems at times that his long affair with his wife's sister is rather brushed over with an air of "well, can you blame him?" Randall doesn't deal at all with Hamilton's children--his son's death in a duel is only mentioned when Hamilton's own is and without detail. One doesn't get any sense of their relationship. It is certainly readable but I'd match it with a dose of a more balanced biography.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    The books lacks a sense of prioritization. There were some interesting aspects to Hamilton's life included in the book, but much of it was devoted to detailing unimportant events. Not only that, but the end of the book is horribly rushed.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    A great man, arguably the greatest American economist, but his self-absorbed nature was ultimately his undoing. Fascinating reading, a bit dry in some places but overall a well written biography.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Apparently I am a Federalist. I picked this book up on a whim (it was on sale for $1.99) and am so glad I did. I learned how much I didn't know about the years immediately before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. Hamilton lived a fascinating life, and it was just a great lens through which to view that time period.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chris Laskey

    wow - this was a terrific read - quite informative yet very friendly - like Alison Weir's works. My only real complaint is the post revolutionary details feel compressed - a lot of information thrown at you in a pretty fast fashion. Certainly though a great read to introduce one to Mr. Hamilton and his real impact in the survival of the young United States.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carly

    As an admirer of the Founding Fathers, I very much enjoyed the story of Alexander Hamilton's life. While I am at heart a Jeffersonian, Hamilton made enormous contributions to the cause of liberty both during the Revolution and after it. I would recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about the face on the $10 bill(though he may not hold that position for much longer).

  14. 5 out of 5

    David

    Really fascinating book on the life of Alexander Hamilton. All I really knew about him was his death in a duel to Aaron Burr, so it was nice to flesh the character out a bit and learn about his time in the Revolutionary War and his role as first Secretary of the Treasury. My main complaint is the abruptness that the book ends. The last 10 or so years of his life are covered in 20 pages.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Schuyler

    I came away from this book feeling that the author put a positive spin on Hamilton's life. It felt glorified and I also felt he downplayed his faults, a romanticized point of view of the past. Still a good read though, very engaging and it read like a novel.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Vaun Healey

    A wonderful history This book was well researched and written. I prefer a book with more about a characters life outside the way he made his living. I found it dry, but that is just one woman's preference.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Applin

    Pretty interesting. I feel as though there was too much quoted from his letters, and writings. Some is great, but a every page, is over kill. I would reccomend it to my history buff friends.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gregg

    I meant to read Chernow's version. I did not realize how important Hamilton was the formation of the country.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I found this to be an extemely informative and easy to read narrative. Definitely have a much better picture of those nation-forming days and look forward to reading more of his books.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mike Huey

    Wonderful book about the most interesting founding father. Not quite as interesting as Chernow's on the same subject but full of anecdotes I had not previously read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jim Gallen

    Alexander Hamilton’s saga of an illegitimate Caribbean youth from a broken family who mastered several languages, learned business in island trading houses, relocated to New York, and obtained an education is inspiring enough. From there he became an aide to George Washington during the Revolution, promotor of the Constitution, and first Treasury Secretary who set the Federal government on the road to an independent financial basis and the America economy on the road toward industrialization bef Alexander Hamilton’s saga of an illegitimate Caribbean youth from a broken family who mastered several languages, learned business in island trading houses, relocated to New York, and obtained an education is inspiring enough. From there he became an aide to George Washington during the Revolution, promotor of the Constitution, and first Treasury Secretary who set the Federal government on the road to an independent financial basis and the America economy on the road toward industrialization before falling out of favor and ending his life on the dueling grounds at Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton’s attachment to George Washington was his ticket to success and influence. His marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, a daughter of one of the most prominent families in New York, drew him into the political elite. His unfailing hard work made him a success in the military, at law and in politics. Hamilton was a man of contradictions. Though a devoted family man he was likely duped into the first major sexual scandal in American politics. A self-made man of aristocratic pedigree but impoverished beginnings, he was publicly portrayed as a spokesman for privilege by men more privileged than himself. A Principal author of the Federalist Papers, he was suspected of harboring ambitions of establishing a military despotism. A skilled negotiator, a series of blunders removed him from the center of political action and led to his death. There are other biographies of Alexander Hamilton, so why should a reader choose this one? One reason is that it is shorter than some others while remaining thorough. Each author brings his own perspective on his subject. I find that Willard Sterne Randall devotes less ink to the details of Hamilton’s early life and more to his service in the Revolutionary War Army than some other works. From this book I derived a better understanding of Hamilton’s time in the Continental Congress and how that experience convinced him of the need for a stronger national government without which the United States might not have survived. I also feel that this tome places Hamilton in the milieu of the development of his region, with particular emphasis of New York and the disputes that precipitated the admission of the State of Vermont to the Union than I have found in other works. Whether you are looking for an introduction or a new look Willard Sterne Randall’s “Alexander Hamilton: A Life” is a worthy read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Strange

    Well written biography of this American revolutionary hero, the influential shaper of American government and politics. The narrative is well told, presenting a relatively objective look at this remarkable man, with his foibles and failures as well as his amazing accomplishments. Unlike many of the other founding fathers, he came from humble background (illegitimate son from two aristocratic families, but living in poverty, like Franklin, grappling his way to education and achievement with no ad Well written biography of this American revolutionary hero, the influential shaper of American government and politics. The narrative is well told, presenting a relatively objective look at this remarkable man, with his foibles and failures as well as his amazing accomplishments. Unlike many of the other founding fathers, he came from humble background (illegitimate son from two aristocratic families, but living in poverty, like Franklin, grappling his way to education and achievement with no advantages because of his birth). He made his way through bravery, self education, and genius to war hero status, became a trusted advisor to his mentor, George Washington, almost singlehandedly setting American government on the road to financial stability and on the way, helped determine the U.S. court system and law, influenced the division of powers between federal and state governments, safeguarded the efficacy of the Constitution as a living document, and set up both coast guard and navy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lanny

    One must remember that when an author is writing about the everyday life of an individual who lived over two hundred years ago he is in a sense writing fiction. This book is in essence a historical novel which sometimes reads like a fast paced thriller and at other times you wonder if it will collapse in a heap from the weight of it's minutiae. Alexander Hamilton, for whatever reason, has never received the exposure and veneration afforded his contemporaries and as a result has been seen as a fo One must remember that when an author is writing about the everyday life of an individual who lived over two hundred years ago he is in a sense writing fiction. This book is in essence a historical novel which sometimes reads like a fast paced thriller and at other times you wonder if it will collapse in a heap from the weight of it's minutiae. Alexander Hamilton, for whatever reason, has never received the exposure and veneration afforded his contemporaries and as a result has been seen as a footnote in American history. The recent Broadway hit "Hamilton" will go a long way to remedy that. I was a bit taken aback at the abrupt ending but otherwise the book held my interest and satisfied my curiosity. What more should one expect....

  24. 5 out of 5

    Steven Larter

    The vast majority of the book is really good, informative, but the end feels rushed and it seems to gloss over the end of his life. Basically everything after he leaves Washington's cabinet is sped through and what I'm most interested in learning about, the rupture and conflict between Hamilton and Madison/Jefferson, doesn't get nearly enough attention. I think I have another book in the queue that might answer my questions, but Randall's book is a good start.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Linda Fennessy

    This book covered Hamilton's entire life. It revealed to me the true character of his being, what made him and the true man that he was. A leader with deep values and intelligence beyond his years. A true hero. Although sometimes the old-English writing left me rereading pages, I found myself enveloped in this book. It gave me hope that if we all strive to live by the same ideals, the world would be a better place.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mike Close

    Biography of Hamilton a must resd Well-written with sufficient detail to satisfy the student of history without being too textbook-like. Length was necessary at over 400 pages but is definitely not a quick read. Adding side read of Ellis' short bio of Washington ("His Excellency") enriched this experience even more.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jane Thompson

    Secretary of the Treasury This is an excellent, comprehensive biography of a Founding Father who often does not get the attention. I knew that he gave the finances of the country a good start, but did not know he was a war hero or that he championed individual rights.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chris Jarred

    Weird book. The author spoke of the Hamilton-Angelica relationship as if he knew they were lovers, but even more annoying, he covered the last 8 years oh Hamilton’s life IN 4 PAGES!! Damn, was his history assignment due the next morning??

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    This man contributed so much to our country. His life is worth studying. Many parts of American history become clearer thru reading about Hamilton.

  30. 4 out of 5

    NANCY J. BRASSERT

    A History Lesson I learned more about our Country's history then I ever did in school. Alexander Hamilton was revelation to me On how our Country's government was established.

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