Book Review: Alexander Hamilton’s Guide To Life

Alexander Hamilton’s Guide To Life, by Jeff Wilser

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Three Rivers Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I have not previously read any of the author’s other books, although reading this book makes me want to become more familiar with the author’s body of work.  I have also never seen Lin-Manuel Miranda’s well-regarded Broadway show, although this is the sort of book that would encourage one to become more familiar with that work.  However, I am very familiar with Chernow’s excellent and lengthy biography of Alexander Hamilton [1], and am someone who relates quite well to many of the complicated tendencies that can be found within Hamilton’s life and within this excellent book as well, including his tendency to read and write at alarming rates and amounts, his harrowing background, and his alarming tendencies towards rigid honor and integrity and a nearly tragic sense of personal honesty.  This book does not leave aside the more colorful and controversial aspects of Hamilton’s life, from his racy flirtation with his wife’s attractive older sister to his own affairs and possible bisexuality, but it comes across as being written by someone who is an obvious partisan of Alexander Hamilton, and who is writing to people in such a way as to encourage them to become partisans as well, whether they enter with very little background knowledge or whether they are budding scholars of Hamilton’s life and writings and thought and the massive influence he has had over contemporary American society even in ways that are often unrecognized.

This book is written as an advice guide, and can either be taken in one gulp, as I did, or in much smaller chunks given the fact that the advice and stories are thematically organized and often short in length.  As a whole, the book is about 300 pages, but it reads far shorter and if someone is a reasonably fast reader it can be profitably and entertainingly read in about a couple of hours.  There are stories listed under the following sections:  Self-Improvement, Career Advancement, Romance, Money, Style & Etiquette, Leisure (although the author notes that Hamilton had nothing to say about leisure, seeing as he was a busy and insanely productive man who did more worthwhile activity before 9AM than most people do in their lives), Friends & Family, Leadership, Office Politics, and Honor.  Not only is this book full of both factual comments and a great deal of humor, but it also encourages readers to look at more of the Hamilton body of work, which extends over more than twenty volumes of material in its full detail, as well as thoughtful books written about Hamilton and his words and deeds.  One would think that Hamilton would have been happy about this book, and would have been honored to have been remembered and seen as a model of how to rise from abject squalor and a horrifying childhood to a position of lasting honor and respect for his greatness.

There are some obvious takeaways from this book, which manages to speak greatly to Hamilton’s greatness as well as his flaws, including having a somewhat overly sensitive and prickly sense of honor and personal dignity and an inflexible refusal to accept dishonor.  Perhaps the horror of growing up in abusive circumstances and having such a stain on his own name because of the sins of his own parents made him feel as if he was permanently against the world and had to prove himself and did not have the wherewithal to let any stain upon his honor go unchallenged.  Some of us can certainly relate to that problem.  Aside from the obvious informational value of reading advice from the life of someone whose success can be an inspiration to those of us whose passion for self-improvement and whose tendencies to both read and write at an alarming clip are not unlike his own, this book is particularly enjoyable to read because it captures some of the swagger of its confident subject.  Wilser may not be as prolific a writer as Alexander Hamilton, but he has a sense of the brashness and confidence and ballsy courage of the silver medalist of the Hamilton-Burr duel, and he writes with a vivid and colorful style that makes Hamilton’s writing and action come alive for a contemporary generation.  Here’s a book you don’t want to miss if you love Miranda’s play or Chernow’s biography and want a fresh and immensely practical guide to advice from one of our most colorful Founding Fathers.  Mic drop.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Book Review: Alexander Hamilton’s Guide To Life

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