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A compact, compelling biography of one of the greatest, though comparatively overlooked, of the nation’s founders. While Brookhiser (Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, 1996), an editor at the National Review and a contributor to the New York Observer, is dead wrong that “there is nothing else by or about” Alexander Hamilton (what of biographies by Jacob Cooke, Broadus Mitchell, and Nathan Schachner?), his biography will quickly take its place as vastly more discerning than any of its predecessors. While Hamilton lacked the range, learning, and prudence of the other founders, he arguably possessed the most powerful intelligence of any of them. Moreover, foreign-born and illegitimate, his identity as an American, rather than as a Virginian or New Yorker, was deeper and more emotional than that of his great contemporaries. Brookhiser’s achievement is to capture the full nature of this flawed but great man—and to characterize him as nationalist, idealist, and visionary—in a lively and insightful biography. Along the way, the author gives us deft portraits of Hamilton’s contemporaries and analyses of the events in which Hamilton played a major role. Brookhiser also breaks new ground in portraying his subject as a masterful journalist and writer and raises him into the ranks of the nation’s greatest newspaper essayists—not only for his brilliant contributions to The Federalist but also for countless other works. Hamilton’s “relationship with words,” writes the author, “was intimate and inexhaustible.” Brookhiser is especially good at concise explanation of the young nation’s finances and at descriptions of the bitter political violence of the 1790s—passionate battles that make our own political squabbles seem like tea-party talk. Trying to strengthen Hamilton’s reputation, Brookhiser occasionally goes overboard in speculating about his subject’s psychological needs and extracting contemporary lessons from Hamilton’s behavior and ideas, but the results of his efforts are always plausible. Hamilton has gained a fair, sympathetic, and always objective biographer—and a biography for our time. (History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-83919-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999


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