Well written and well read. Anyone interested in the foundations of our democratic republic and our banking system, will find this book fascinating. Further, it is a great reminder that the formation of our government was not as simple or collegial as we often believe -- our founding fathers fought like cats and dogs!
This is a wonderful account of the life of Hamilton. Always thought of as "the founder who was shot in a duel" or "the founder who had scandalous affairs", this book reveals the intelligence and wisdom of the key author of the papers upon which the Constitution was based. The speaker makes the text come alive well - I was totally fascinated with Alexander Hamilton.
I have read other bios by this author and I chose this audio book based on his past books not because of any interest in the subject. I was pleased again......outstanding
Arguments over Alexander Hamilton generated tremendous passion in his own time; indeed they largely defined the first decade or two of politics in the new republic. If this biography fails to rise above those old debates and give us a rounded, warts-and-all perspective on this undeniably great man, you could attribute this to Hamilton's singular extraordinariness. Ron Chernow would undoubtedly attribute it Hamilton's magnificent genius, still to polarize opinion two centuries on. I, though, blame it on Chernow being a crummy biographer.
Time and again, this book reads like a defense of Hamilton against scurrilous accusations in the contemporary political press. Some of these defenses are valid, interesting, and worth including: it appears, for example, (if you believe Chernow, though the rest of the book gives me a little pause on this) that Hamilton was in fact rather scrupulous about financial conflicts of interest, and charges of personal corruption are baseless. On the other hand, Chernow spends an inordinate amount of time defending Hamilton from accusations that come off as trivial and strange, such as that he had an undue fondness for Julius Caesar. In response, Chernow points out that Hamilton frequently compared others he disliked (e.g. Jefferson) to Caesar. This puts the lie, Chernow tells us, to the initial charges. I can't tell if Chernow is being disingenuous or if it honestly hasn't occurred to him that one way smart people win arguments is by twisting their opponents' criticisms back upon them, thereby disguising their own views.
Nobody doubts Hamilton's intelligence; time and again, he was right on weighty matters. Chernow, however, never misses an opportunity to give Hamilton credit for incredible insights when he makes the ordinary observations of a reasonably smart observer. Yes, Hamilton perceived the weakness in the Articles of Confederation from very early on. He also was convinced that guillotines were destined to roll through the streets of Philadelphia.
Chernow's reverence for Hamilton is at its strangest in his discussion of Hamilton's womanizing. Around age 14, Hamilton apparently published two love poems in a local paper, one praising an invented woman as chaste and pure, the other presenting a different woman in equally desirous terms as a vixen and Harlot. I'll grant that this is edgy and precocious, but Chernow rhapsodizes over how it demonstrates Hamilton's paradoxical complexities. Right. The truth is, Hamilton's relations with women were embarrassingly ordinary. He was a shameless flirt who wrote comically solicitous letters to women (it's hard to tell with 18th century writing, and Chernow doesn't really make this clear, but my sense is that they came off as comical to Hamilton's contemporaries as well, at least to his detractors), married a good solid woman, then fell for and had an affair with another woman whose con-artist husband proceeded to extort him.
Chernow's biased style is mostly, as I've presented it, amusing; but ultimately it really did leave me wondering if I was missing the truth. About the only thing Jefferson and Adams agreed on, for example, was that Hamilton was not to be trusted. I'm inclined to believe there was more to this than Chernow lets on. There are moments when Hamilton's real, dark faults (not the foibles of excessive pride that Chernow presents in the interest as feigned balance) shine through the cracks of Chernow's well constructed defense. During the Whiskey Rebellion, for example, Hamilton personally leads the army to Western Pennsylvania, where among other things, he spends two days personally overseeing the interrogation of a local notable before Hanilton concludes that the man is, in fact, a loyal citizen, and lets him go. Chernow claims this is exemplary behavior that should have convinced Hamilton critics--after all, he let the man go. But to me it sounds downright bizarre and creepy: spending two days dangling the prospect of execution over this unfortunate and, ultimately even in Hamilton's view innocent, man.
This is, unfortunately, the best (only) biography of Hamilton on audible at the moment. My recommendation is not to get it, and if you're interested enough in Hamilton, to search elsewhere in print. As to the big question, whether the abridged version will suffice: in my view, two thirds of this book could easily have been cut without any great loss.
There's always a caveat to audiobooks or books like this. They will enrich your knowledge so much, but are so voluminous that you must commit weeks or months to completing them. I did not know much about Alexander Hamilton before reading this, other than a vague sense that he was one of those white dudes who founded the country. This audio book blew me away with knowledge about all the struggles he and George and others went through to get this country started on the right foot and keep it there as long as they lived. Truly remarkable. I feel like if every American read this, maybe we wouldn't squabble so much over petty things and understand truly what a remarkable country this is and how tumultuous was its birth.