Tuesday 21 August 2018

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

 The Prologue sets out (partly) why this book needed to be written:

"Yet many distinguished commentators have echoed Eliza Hamilton's lament that justice has not been done to her Hamilton. He has tended to lack the glittering multivolumed biographies that have burnished the fame of other founders. The British statesman Lord Bryce singled out Hamilton as the one founding father who had not received his due from posterity.

From Goodreads:

"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."

This is a well-written, detailed and factual account of the man - Alexander Hamilton. As one who has not had much exposure to American history, I found the contextualisation of his story fascinating. The debates, the views, the arguments, the scandals - from the Federalist papers through each contested election to the duels and disagreements - published in (often pseudonymous) articles in the public domain, were all so entertaining. I'm not qualified to comment on whether Eliza and Lord Bryce were correct in their assessment that Hamilton hadn't received sufficient acclaim relative to other founding fathers, but this book - certainly in length - attempts to provide some redress.

Listening on Audible to all 39 or so hours though, was gruelling. It made fairly laborious work of the story. And there is so much reference material here, that I think that it would be better to have a paper/electronic version. I loved the prose - some memorable quotes show what I mean.

"It was all very pleasant and balmy, supremely beautiful and languid, if you were white, were rich, and turned a blind eye to the black population expiring in the canebrakes."

"If we must have an enemy at the head of the government, let it be one whom we can oppose and for whom we are not responsible."

"Both Hamilton and Jefferson believed in democracy, but Hamilton tended to be more suspicious of the governed, and Jefferson of the governors."

"If forced to choose, Hamilton preferred a man with wrong principles to one devoid of any."

"If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government."

I don't want any of that time I spent reading it back, I just hope that I do justice to the experience by recalling more than I usually do of this type of book. It also casts into stark and unflattering light the level of the debate on social media today - oh for the eloquence and subtlety of those brilliant founding fathers, flawed, but honest and with aspirations for growth and progress in all aspects  - moral, economic and political.

An authoritative and brilliant book, inspirational and enlightening.

5 stars

ISBN: 9780143034759

No comments: