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Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary Book Poster Image
Challenging but engaging bio of the complex Founding Father.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary is filled to overflowing with facts, stories, and details about the Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention, and the first years of our new nation. Portraits of all the major characters illustrate the chapters, and there are extensive quotes from letters written by and to Hamilton. An expansive epilogue includes a timeline, short profiles of Hamilton's friends and enemies, and brief essays on subjects from "What Combat Was Like" and "Ball Gowns, Pointy Shoes, and Ornate Wigs" to "Relations with Tribal Nations" and "Federalism vs. Anti-federalism."

Positive Messages

The circumstances of your childhood life don't have to dictate your future.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hamilton overcame what seemed insurmountable odds to become -- through hard work and determination -- one of the most respected and influential figures in American history.

Violence

While much of the story is set during the Revolutionary War and there are a few graphic details, the book does convey the terrible conditions in which the war was fought. A spy is hung, and two characters die in duels.

Sex

Hamilton has an affair but intimate details are never given. It's mentioned that prostitutes frequent Army camps and are on the streets of New York.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

It's noted on a couple of occasions that soldiers are drunk. Characters celebrate with a glass of wine or ale.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Martha Brockenbrough's Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary is the story of one of America's most brilliant and complex Founding Fathers. Born out of wedlock on a small Caribbean island, Hamilton came as an impoverished teenage immigrant to New York City. Only a few years later, he became George Washington's most trusted aide during the American Revolution, and after independence, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, laying the groundwork for the nation's economy. The book covers the scandals in his personal life: an adulterous affair that resulted in blackmail and his fatal duel with Aaron Burr over a matter of "honor." Readers who aren't passionate about history could find themselves overwhelmed, as many of the chapters are densely packed with people, places, and events with which they may be unfamiliar. Teens who already have a good background in the time period should find it a captivating and exciting read.

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What's the story?

ALEXANDER HAMILTON, REVOLUTIONARY came from a background unlike any other Founding Father. Born out of wedlock on Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean, he was orphaned at 13. Through a combination of stunning intellect, hard work, and luck, he won a scholarship to continue his education in America and never looked back. During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton became an aide and eventually chief of staff to George Washington, was sent on horseback in hot pursuit of the traitorous Benedict Arnold, and commanded troops at the Battle of Yorktown. He married the daughter of a wealthy and powerful family and after the war settled in New York City as a lawyer. A delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, he helped write the first seven articles of the Constitution. As the new country's first Secretary of the Treasury, he founded the Coast Guard, the Customs Department, and the Bank of the United States. But, like so many influential characters from history, Hamilton was a flawed man. He cheated on the wife to whom he was devoted and was blackmailed by his mistress' husband. Although he was outspokenly anti-slavery, he negotiated the sale of slaves for his in-laws. He actively tried to sink the presidential aspirations of Jefferson and John Adams. Although he didn't believe in dueling, he would lose his life in a duel with then Vice President Aaron Burr, who felt Hamilton had once too often attacked his reputation.

Is it any good?

This lively, insightful, often surprising, and sometimes demanding read brings to life a brilliant and complex Founding Father and the turbulent times in which he lived. Author Martha Brockenbrough's use of Hamilton's letters to his wife and close friends gives readers an intimate and revealing look at a man too often known only for being the face on the $10 bill or, most recently, as the subject of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. The abundance of archival artwork and photographs and new illustrations let readers "see" the most important people and places in Hamilton's life.

The only caveat for many teens is that there's a large amount of historical territory covered in the book and an often daunting amount of details included in the story. That said, this is a biography well worth the effort for readers (or their parents) who want to better understand the extraordinary people who gave birth to a new nation.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary portrays the relationships among our Founding Fathers. Did you know they had so many serious disagreements -- both political and personal?

  • Newspapers and pamphlets were the social media of Hamilton's time. If Hamilton lived today, how do you think he would use social media to advance his political point of view?

  • Hamilton was willing to risk everything to defend his honor in a duel with Aaron Burr. Do you think he made the right decision or the wrong one?

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For kids who love history and the American Revolution

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