The Broadway hit Hamilton has sparked unprecedented interest in its historical protagonist, Alexander Hamilton. For readers just discovering Hamilton or those with an insatiable appetite for books on the Founders, Tony Williams’s quick-moving, concise biography will shed new light on this American icon now experiencing a remarkable second act.
Williams (Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance That Forged America) offers a brief and bland biography of founding father (and Broadway sensation) Alexander Hamilton. Williams starts with Hamilton's upbringing on the Caribbean islands of Nevis and St. Croix, but focuses mostly on Hamilton's professional life, his service in the Revolutionary War, his role in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, and his service in George Washington's presidential cabinet as the first secretary of the treasury. Williams writes that he adopts a "consciously popular" style, opting "to modernize the quotations for readability and dispense with... referencing primary sources," and takes a streamlined approach that sacrifices both context and vividness for the sake of brevity. The lack of context, however, can be confusing, as when Williams introduces Hessian soldiers without providing any information about who they were or what role they played in the Revolutionary War. This pared-down approach works better when discussing ideas, as in the book's treatment of Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson's differences of opinion about the role of government in society, the aftereffects of which resonate today in the two-party political system. The book fails to capitalize on the current popular interest in its subject, and feels mostly like dreary lecture.