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Alexander Hamilton a Life Paperback – 1 Mar 2004

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (1 Mar. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060954663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060954666
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.1 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 235,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Willard Sterne Randall is the prize-winning author of thirteen books, including Ethan Allen: His Life and Times; A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin at War with His Son; Thomas Jefferson: A Life; George Washington: A Life; and Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor. A finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, he is a professor of history at Champlain College and lives in Burlington, Vermont.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9b84b48c) out of 5 stars 66 reviews
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a0e8024) out of 5 stars Hamilton bests Randall in an uneven, fascinating biography 6 April 2003
By Gregory Maier - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Willard Sterne Randall has given readers the first single-volume biography of Alexander Hamilton in many years. As a whole, the book hiccoughs along under uneven structuring and sequence, and the compressed, rushed pace of the last 100+ pages is disappointing. Randall�s work might have been a magnificent 750+ page effort like H.W. Brands� treatment of Benjamin Franklin, but like Hamilton himself, this biography is cut down in its prime. Still, it is a very accessible book with much to recommend it.
Randall�s portrait of the foremost Federalist is at times stunning, leaping with the athletic energy and enthusiasm of Hamilton�s early life until the end of the Revolutionary War �then inexplicably fades over 100 or so hurried pages that cover some of the most interesting years of Hamilton�s life, and America�s.
Nonetheless, this book is absolutely worth the read, if for no other reason than Randall�s superb portrait of Hamilton from his birth, and apprenticeship in a West Indies counting house, to the seldom seen or examined man-of-action throughout the Revolutionary War. Moreover, it is a compassionate look at an American who, by most accounts, was as vain, self-serving and egotistic as he was brilliant, dynamic and circumspect. In any case, if a reader was ever unsure about how important a part Alexander Hamilton played in the birthing of America, or doubted his loyalty and determination, this biography shows how absolutely indispensable he was in giving form to the new republic, and that while the means used by Hamilton and others may have been the cause of many petty problems, the goal was the same: A fierce love and concern for the infant United States. Hamilton simply proved to be more visionary in some respects than most of his contemporaries. Of course, there were times when he was mistaken, too, and Hamilton seldom made small mistakes; he failed on a large, grand stage and in dramatic ways, whether it was his poor judgment of the character of others, his extramarital affairs, or simply his inability to compromise and get along with his peers.
Being a bastard child, Hamilton actually had no �peers� by Colonial standards, and that was only one demon preying on the mind of the �Little Lion,� as he was dubbed. Hamilton fought many demons, real and imagined, and Randall gives the reader insight into the early psychological development of Hamilton as a boy, abandoned by his father (throughout his life Hamilton would instinctively seek out surrogate father figures, including George Washington), then left an orphan by his mother�s untimely death. Faced with poverty, then his apprenticeship in St. Croix where he honed his early financial acumen, Hamilton was at once deeply insecure but also willing to take risks; extremely sensitive to criticism, he channeled his energies into molding himself into the kind of person he wanted to be, or how he wanted to be perceived.
The reader of this biography may indeed find his or her view of Hamilton as a pretentious, preening coxcomb, changed. There is no doubt that his shortcomings were real, but so were his accomplishments, not only as a financial genius who helped stabilize and make solvent young America, but his contributions in shaping the Constitution cannot be overstated.
It is disappointing that Randall breezes through the last 10-15 years of Hamilton�s life, mentioning almost in passing the development and impact of his contribution to The Federalist, and scarcely diving into his complex relationships with James Madison, Jefferson; his role in helping to stymie the presidency of John Adams, and, of course, the turbulent dynamics between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, festering for a decade, that led to the fateful �interview� between the two men in 1804. There is much more to Hamilton�s story, and to help flesh out what Randall omits, one would benefit from reading McCullough�s recent biography of John Adams, and Ellis� �Founding Brothers.�
To Randall�s credit, he has rendered Hamilton�s economic philosophy and development of the Treasury Department in a manner easy to understand and interesting to read. It�s a pity the author did not �for unknown reasons�pursue other aspects and episodes of Hamilton�s life with the same apparent enthusiasm and attention.
The greatest service rendered Hamilton �and the reader�in this biography, is an acute insight into a controversial, mercurial figure in American history who, in spite of his many human flaws, stands firmly cemented in a new light of understanding as one of the foremost Americans of the Revolutionary Generation. A worthwhile read, Randall may disappoint at turns, but Hamilton stands perhaps a little taller.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a0e8078) out of 5 stars Alexander Hamilton, Interrupted 21 Feb. 2003
By John J. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Randall's biography is eminently readable, but curiously organized. It starts well. Randall does a nice job of subtly suggesting how Hamilton's early life traumas, the death of his mother, abandonment by his alcoholic father, and impoverishment, drove his restless ambition and questing for surrogate fathers, such as Washington and Philip Schuyler. After this, about half the book is devoted to Hamilton's military career in the Revolutionary War, as propagandist, artillery officer, aide-de-camp of Washington, and hero of the battle of Yorktown. It is refreshing to see this side of Hamilton, the man of action; other biographers tend to portray him as a horny financial and legal wizard. This section of the book feels most complete. The rest of the book feels compressed and strangely truncated; only about a hundred pages are devoted to Hamilton's mammoth contributions to the constitutional debate and the development of the US Treasury, and a mere ten pages to the tumults, enigmas and disasters of the last ten years of Hamilton's life! It seems as if Randall had originally intended to write a 700-800 page biography, then had to scale back his conception due to boredom or publisher's deadlines.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a3d9edc) out of 5 stars A good review of Hamilton, not as complete as Chernow's book 12 July 2004
By Mike Stanley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a good solid biography of one of the most under-appreciated Americans of all time, Alexander Hamilton.
It gives you the basic rags-to-riches story and I was happy enough upon completion of the book... possibly even willing to give it as many as 5 stars.
However, about 4 months after I finished this one the attractive volume by Ron Chernow came out, and I couldn't resist purchasing IT as well. Let me tell you, Chernow's "Alexander Hamilton" is superior to Randall's in every way imaginable.
It is much more entertaining, and portrays Hamilton as the dashing young risk-taker that he was. Impetuous, ambitious, etc.
But enough... I'm supposed to be reviewing Randall's efforts here, not Chernow's.
The book is solid but not spectacular. You have to work hard to get 4 stars from me and unfortunately this volume falls just short. Worth the effort, but you can get more bang for your $10 Hamilton-faced buck in the alternative volume.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a0e8300) out of 5 stars The Original American Success Story 9 April 2003
By Brian D. Rubendall - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Willard Sterne Randall's biography of Alexander Hamilton joins the recent glut of books covering America's colonial period that have either focused on Hamilton or featured him prominently. Randall's highly readable account of Hamilton's life brings into sharp focus the man who was Thomas Jefferson's ideological counterpoint in the two competeing governing philosopys that emerged from the American Revolution. Ironically, while the aristocratic Jefferson became the champion of the "common man," it was the "commoner" Hamilton who came to favor a strong central government at the expense of individual (and state's) rights.
Hamilton's rise from the illegitimate son of a West Indies merchant to the very heights of power at a time when such avenues were normally reserved for nobility make him America's first great self-made man. Most of the other founding fathers were from either the aristocrat or merchantile classes. Hamilton, whose family's entire modest estate was confiscated at the time of his mother's death when he was a boy, was possessed of the unique ambition of an insecure man who spent his life trying to overcome his humble origins. As Randall demonstrates, Hamilton's close relationship with George Washington, who recognized his junior's incredible organizational and intellectual gifts, was of key importance to the latter's success.
The text of the book is quite sympathetic its subject, perhaps overly so at times. Though Randall does not ignore the less noble aspects of Hamilton's character, he strives whenever possible to show him in the best possible light. Thus Aaron Burr, who actually made his own important contributions to the nation, comes off mostly as a despicable villian. Burr will always be infamous for firing the bullet that ended Hamilton's life, but Hamilton was equally at fault for the feud that ended so tragically.
Oveall, Randall's book is an enjoyable and enlightening work that will most appeal to history buffs.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a0e8540) out of 5 stars Randall on Hamilton 29 Nov. 2004
By gh - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Randall's book is exhaustive in its coverage of Hamilton's life, development and texture. But the result is skimpy coverage of his greatest contributions. Hamilton's finger prints are all over American political economy.

Fascinating glimces into St Croix childhood and developing anthipathy for slavery. Women's rights, too. Interesting but exhausting detal about the Revolution: walked the reader through each season from 1776 to 1781. Likely duplicating work Randall did for his Washington biography. Cop out. Hamilton was also first secretary of the Navy; a tidbit but no meat.
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