Essential Books on Alexander Hamilton
There are countless books on Alexander Hamilton, and it comes with good reason, he was a Nevisian-born American military officer, statesman, and Founding Father who served as the first Secretary of Treasury from 1789 to 1795 during George Washington’s presidency.
“Men give me credit for some genius. All the genius I have lies in this: when I have a subject in hand, I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort that I have made is what people are pleased to call the fruit of genius. It is the fruit of labor and thought,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to the heights of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 best books on Alexander Hamilton.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time.
“To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.
Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power.
Jefferson and Hamilton by John Ferling
The decade of the 1790s has been called the “age of passion.” Fervor ran high as rival factions battled over the course of the new republic – each side convinced that the other’s goals would betray the legacy of the Revolution so recently fought and so dearly won. All understood as well that what was at stake was not a moment’s political advantage, but the future course of the American experiment in democracy. In this epochal debate, no two figures loomed larger than Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
Both men were visionaries, but their visions of what the United States should be were diametrically opposed. Jefferson, a true revolutionary, believed passionately in individual liberty and a more egalitarian society, with a weak central government and greater powers for the states. Hamilton, a brilliant organizer and tactician, feared chaos and social disorder. He sought to build a powerful national government that could ensure the young nation’s security and drive it toward economic greatness.
This is the story of the fierce struggle – both public and, ultimately, bitterly personal – between these two titans. It ended only with the death of Hamilton in a pistol duel, felled by Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s vice president.
Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins
In the closing days of 1799, the United States was still a young republic. Waging a fierce battle for its uncertain future were two political parties: the well-moneyed Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the populist Republicans, led by Aaron Burr. The two finest lawyers in New York, Burr and Hamilton were bitter rivals both in and out of the courtroom, and as the next election approached, their animosity reached a crescendo.
But everything changed when a young Quaker woman, Elma Sands, was found dead in Burr’s newly constructed Manhattan Well. The horrific crime quickly gripped the nation, and before long accusations settled on one of Elma’s suitors: a handsome young carpenter named Levi Weeks. As the enraged city demanded a noose be draped around his neck, Week’s only hope was to hire a legal dream team. And thus it was that New York’s most bitter political rivals and greatest attorneys did the unthinkable – they teamed up.
Our nation’s longest-running cold case, this hallmark among books on Alexander Hamilton delivers the first substantial break in the case in over 200 years. At once an absorbing legal thriller and an expertly crafted portrait of the United States in the time of the Founding Fathers, Duel with the Devil is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.
The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hogeland
In 1791, on the frontier of western Pennsylvania, local gangs of insurgents with blackened faces began to attack federal officials, beating and torturing the tax collectors who attempted to collect the first federal tax ever laid on an American product – whiskey. To the hard-bitten people of the depressed and violent West, the whiskey tax paralyzed their rural economies, putting money in the coffers of already wealthy creditors and industrialists. To Alexander Hamilton, the tax was the key to industrial growth. To President Washington, it was the catalyst for the first-ever deployment of a federal army, a military action that would suppress an insurgency against the American government.
With an unsparing look at both Hamilton and Washington, journalist and historian William Hogeland offers a provocative, in-depth analysis of this forgotten revolution and suppression. Focusing on the battle between government and the early-American evangelical movement that advocated western secession, The Whiskey Rebellion is an intense and insightful examination of the roots of federal power and the most fundamental conflicts that ignited – and continue to smolder – in the United States.
Duel by Thomas Fleming
The success of the French Revolution and the proclamation of Napoleon as First Consul for Life had an enormous impact on men like Hamilton and Burr, feeding their own political fantasies at a time of perceived Federal government weakness and corrosion. Their hunger for fame spawned antagonisms that wreaked havoc on themselves and their families and threatened to destabilize the fragile young American republic.
From that poisonous brew came the tangle of regret and anger and ambition that drove the two to their murderous confrontation in Weehawken, New Jersey.
Alexander Hamilton and the Battle of Yorktown, October 1781 by Phillip Thomas Tucker
This gem among books on Alexander Hamilton is devoted to telling the story of his key contributions toward winning the most decisive victory of the American Revolutionary War at Yorktown. Past biographies of Hamilton, including the most respected ones, have minimized the overall importance of the young lieutenant colonel’s role and battlefield performance at Yorktown, which was key to forcing the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s army.
Hamilton led the assault on strategic Redoubt Number Ten, located on the left flank of the British defensive line, and captured the defensive bastion – an accomplishment that ensured the defeat and surrender of Cornwallis’s army that won the American Revolution and changed the course of world history.
The Patriots by Winston Groom
In this riveting narrative, best-selling author Winston Groom illuminates these men as the patriots fundamentally responsible for the ideas that shaped the emerging United States. Their lives could not have been more different, and their relationships with each other were often rife with animosity. And yet they led the charge – two of them creating and signing the Declaration of Independence, and the third establishing a national treasury and the earliest delineation of a Republican party.
The Money Men by H. W. Brands
Most Americans are familiar with the political history of the United States, but there is another history woven all through it, a largely forgotten history – the story of the money men. Acclaimed historian H. W. Brands brings them back to life: J. P. Morgan, who stabilized a foundering U.S. Treasury in 1907; Alexander Hamilton, who founded the first national bank, and Nicholas Biddle, under whose directorship it failed; Jay Cooke, who helped to finance the Union war effort through his then-innovative strategy of selling bonds to ordinary Americans; and Jay Gould, who tried to corner the market on gold in 1869 and as a result brought about Black Friday and fled for his life.
The Summer of 1787 by David O. Stewart
George Washington presided, James Madison kept the notes, Benjamin Franklin offered wisdom and humor at crucial times. The Summer of 1787 traces the struggles within the Philadelphia Convention as the delegates hammered out the charter for the world’s first constitutional democracy. Relying on the words of the delegates themselves to explore the Convention’s sharp conflicts and hard bargaining, David O. Stewart lays out the passions and contradictions of the, often, painful process of writing the Constitution.
The room was crowded with colorful and passionate characters, some known – Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Edmund Randolph – and others largely forgotten. At different points during that sultry summer, more than half of the delegates threatened to walk out, and some actually did, but Washington’s quiet leadership and the delegates’ inspired compromises held the Convention together.
War of Two by John Sedgwick
In War of Two, John Sedgwick explores the long-standing conflict between Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr. Matching each other’s ambition and skill as lawyers in New York, they later battled for power along political fault lines that would decide – and define – the future of the United States.
A series of letters between Burr and Hamilton suggests the duel was fought over an unflattering comment made at a dinner party. But another letter, written by Hamilton the night before the event, provides critical insight into his true motivation. It was addressed to former Speaker of the House Theodore Sedgwick, a trusted friend of both men, and the author’s own ancestor.
John Sedgwick suggests that Hamilton saw Burr not merely as a personal rival but as a threat to the nation. It was a fear that would prove justified after Hamilton’s death…
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton
Widely considered to be among the most important historical collections of all time, The Federalist Papers were intended to persuade New York at-large delegates to the Constitutional Convention to accept the newly drafted Constitution in 1787. Authored in parts by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, together as the pseudonym of Publius, the documents have been referred to and heavily cited countless times in all aspects of American government and politics. Together, the eighty-five Federalist essays stand among the Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense, and other work by the Founding Fathers that helped build and solidify the foundation of American democracy.
Alexander Hamilton, American by Richard Brookhiser
Alexander Hamilton is one of the least understood, most important, and most impassioned and inspiring of the Founding Fathers. At last, Hamilton has found a modern biographer who can bring him to full-blooded life; Richard Brookhiser. In these pages, Alexander Hamilton sheds his skewed image as the “bastard brat of a Scotch peddler,” sex scandal survivor, and notoriously doomed dueling partner of Aaron Burr. Examined up close, throughout his meteoric and ever-fascinating (if tragically brief) life, Hamilton can be seen as one of the most crucial of the founders. Here, thanks to Brookhiser’s accustomed wit and grace, this quintessential American lives again.
The Price of Greatness by Jay Cost
In the history of American politics there are few stories as enigmatic as that of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison’s bitterly personal falling out. Together they helped bring the Constitution into being, yet soon after the new republic was born they broke over the meaning of its founding document. Hamilton emphasized economic growth, Madison the importance of republican principles.
Jay Cost is the first to argue that both men were right – and that their quarrel reveals a fundamental paradox at the heart of the American experiment. He shows that each man in his own way came to accept corruption as a necessary cost of growth. This necessary installment to the ever-growing index of Alexander Hamilton books reveals the trade-off that made the United States the richest nation in human history, and that continues to fracture our politics to this day.
Eliza Hamilton by Tilar J. Mazzeo
Fans fell in love with Eliza Hamilton – Alexander Hamilton’s devoted wife – in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal musical Hamilton. But they don’t know her full story. A strong pioneer woman, a loving sister, a caring mother, and in her later years, a generous philanthropist, Eliza had many sides – and this fascinating biography brings her multi-faceted personality to vivid life.
Eliza Hamilton follows Eliza through her early years in New York, into the ups and downs of her married life with Alexander, beyond the aftermath of his tragic murder, and finally to her involvement in many projects that cemented her legacy as one of the unsung heroes of our nation’s early days. Featuring Mazzeo’s “impeccable research and crafting” (Library Journal), and perfect for fans of the richly detailed historical books by Ron Chernow and Erik Larson, Eliza Hamilton is the captivating account of the woman behind the famous man.
The Original Argument by Glenn Beck
Glenn Beck brings his historical acumen and political savvy to this fresh, new interpretation of The Federalist Papers, the 18th-century collection of political essays that defined and shaped our Constitution and laid bare the “original argument” between states’ rights and big federal government – a debate as relevant and urgent today as it was at the birth of our nation.
Adapting a selection of these essential essays – pseudonymously authored by the now well-documented triumvirate of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay – for a contemporary audience, Glenn Beck has had them reworked into “modern” English so as to be thoroughly accessible to anyone seeking a better understanding of the Founding Fathers’ intent and meaning when laying the groundwork of our government.
Beck provides his own illuminating commentary and annotations and, for a number of the essays, has brought together the viewpoints of both liberal and conservative historians and scholars, making this a fair and insightful perspective on the historical works that remain the primary source for interpreting Constitutional law and the rights of American citizens.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Alexander Hamilton, Check out our list of The 10 Best Books on President Thomas Jefferson!