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Alexander Hamilton

The bestselling inspiration for the hit Broadway musical

By Ron Chernow
25-minute read
Audio available
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton (2004) tells the incredible story of a poor orphan boy whose limitless ambition, intelligence and tenacity shaped the course of American history. From his early years in the Caribbean to his role in the War of Independence and the drafting of the Constitution, this is the biography of Alexander Hamilton, the intellectual, soldier and politician who helped make the United States into the country that it is today.

  • History buffs
  • Anyone captivated by the Hamilton musical and keen to learn more about its hero
  • Fans of epic true-life stories

Ron Chernow is a journalist and writer best known for his penetrating biographies of American luminaries like John D. Rockefeller, the J. P. Morgan family and George Washington. The winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, Chernow also worked as a historical consultant on the Broadway hit Hamilton, a musical based on this book.

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Alexander Hamilton

By Ron Chernow
  • Read in 25 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 16 key ideas
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Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Synopsis

Alexander Hamilton (2004) tells the incredible story of a poor orphan boy whose limitless ambition, intelligence and tenacity shaped the course of American history. From his early years in the Caribbean to his role in the War of Independence and the drafting of the Constitution, this is the biography of Alexander Hamilton, the intellectual, soldier and politician who helped make the United States into the country that it is today.

Key idea 1 of 16

Hamilton had a tough start in life, but his intellect shone through early on.

Alexander Hamilton was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis. The date – 11 January – is recorded, but we can’t be sure of the year: some sources give 1755, others 1757. His mother was unmarried at the time, and Hamilton was stigmatized as a bastard. It was a hard start to life, but things were going to get worse.

Hamilton’s father abandoned his partner and children when Hamilton was 11. Two years later, after moving to the island of Saint Croix, Hamilton and his mother contracted a fever. He would survive; his mother wasn’t so lucky. Disinherited and orphaned, Alexander and his two-year-old brother James were alone in the world.

But it wasn’t all tragedy. A bookish child from an early age, Hamilton devoured countless volumes in both English and French, the latter language a gift from his francophone mother. His learning stood him good stead: as a teenager, he landed a job as a clerk at Beekman and Cruger, a New York-based trading firm which did business in the American colonies and further afield. It was here that Hamilton first learned the finer points of trade policy, monetary exchange rates and international relations.

When he wasn’t working, Hamilton could usually be found with a book in his hands. A chance encounter with a church minister called Henry Knox, a recent arrival in Saint Croix, opened new doors. Taking a liking to him, Knox offered Hamilton access to his vast private library. It was in Knox’s collection that Hamilton eventually came across a volume which inspired him to take up the pen himself. Like many young men before him, Hamilton was drawn to poetry – particularly of the vain and sentimental kind – but he was also asked to write reports at work.

Hamilton soon developed a powerful voice as a writer. Though he could have hardly known it at the time, this would be his ticket out of the Caribbean. In 1772, he sent his father a letter. It told the heart-wrenching story of how a hurricane had ravaged Saint Croix. The text was so moving that Knox not only had it published but used it as an example of Hamilton’s talents to raise funds for his education. The money he collected would pay for Hamilton’s move to the American colonies.

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