ALEXANDER HAMILTON: An Intimate Portrait by Noemie Emery

ALEXANDER HAMILTON: An Intimate Portrait

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The third book about Hamilton in recent months, fast on the heels of Jacob Cooke (p. 246) and Marie Hecht (p. 532)--but worthy of a small niche of its own. Emery (Washington, 1976) is chiefly concerned here with Hamilton's private, internal life: Hamilton the rational, calculating politician and statesman, about whom so much has already been written elsewhere, gets only passing attention. Fair enough, as far as it goes, because Emery's Hamilton is anything but rational or calculating. Although his attachment to powerful father-figures (Washington, Philip Schuyler) would help him maintain self-control for lengths of time, Emery says, he never really mastered himself. He was impulsive and often foolish: witness his role in the Newburgh ""conspiracy"" or his connection with William Duer. He was thin-skinned and had a terrible temper: the deterioration of his relations with Jefferson, Madison, and Adams, among others, are cases in point. And where women were concerned his behavior became downright screwy: the affair with Mrs. Reynolds being the most notorious example, but no less telling was the long flirtation with his sister-in-law, Angelica Church. Most of this has been said already--latterly, and with greater authority, by Cooke. Emery does score a few points of her own: she has some very convincing comments, for example, on the consequences of the Reynolds affair for Hamilton's relations with his wife Eliza, and there is an equally astute discussion of how Hamilton's personality began to change in the years immediately preceding the fatal duel with Burr. Though these occasional insights do not add up to a notably original interpretation, on its own modest terms (a distinction from Hecht) Emery's book might please the casual reader--of historical fiction, perhaps--who'd be daunted by the footnotes in Cooke.

Pub Date: July 12th, 1982
Publisher: Putnam