In This Review

Alexander Hamilton: A Life
Alexander Hamilton: A Life
By Willard Sterne Randall
HarperCollins, 2003, 480 pp.

Hamilton's ideas on both foreign and domestic policy have resonated through every American generation. To write a first-rate Hamilton biography would be one of the most important and, given the craze for biographies of the founders, most lucrative tasks an American historian could undertake. This book, alas, does not fit that bill. There is too much heavy breathing over incidents such as the Peggy Arnold affair, too much lubricious analysis of punctuation irregularities (don't ask) in Hamilton's letters to his sister-in-law, and much too much attention to side issues such as Vermont's long quarrel with New York. By contrast, major episodes such as Hamilton's role in the fight to ratify the Constitution and his efforts to put the public finances of the new republic on a sound footing receive less attention, and less insight, than they require. Inexplicably, the last ten years of Hamilton's career get fewer than ten pages. The book seems less finished than abandoned.