Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America Book Poster Image
Succinct, kid-friendly bio of America's trendiest founder.

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age 10+
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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The book touches on many of the major political events that led to the American Revolution, the crafting of the United States Constitution, and the establishment of the federal government, most of which Hamilton was directly or indirectly involved with. Complex but essential vocabulary (such as "demagogue" and "mercantilism") is defined in helpful highlighted sections throughout the biography. And the book is generously illustrated with black-and-white images of etchings, portraits, paintings, and historical documents that give readers a feel for the era, its politics, significant locations, and military battles. 

Positive Messages

Hamilton's Federalist principles can best be summed up in his own words: "There is something noble and magnificent in the perspective of a great Federal Republic, closely linked in the pursuit of a common interest."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aside from his foolish and tragic death in a machismo-fueled duel, Hamilton was and is revered as a brilliant jurist, a visionary thinker, and a skillful writer and orator. He also came from humble beginnings: He was a working-class immigrant, raised by a single mother, who through his hard work and genuine talent was able to ascend to the highest heights of influence and power in American politics.

Violence

Some description of battle scenes in the American Revolutionary War, as well as the archaic practice of dueling with pistols, including the fatal incident in which Hamilton is slain by bitter rival Aaron Burr.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America is a sweeping, informative, yet digestible introduction to the life and times of one of the most influential figures in the story of the early United States. The biography serves as an excellent supplement for middle schoolers learning about American history and government or for anyone who fell in love with Hamilton on Broadway (or just the cast album) and wants a more straightforward presentation of the material. Nicely illustrated with black-and-white images of etchings, portraits, paintings, and historical documents.

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Kid, 11 years old May 23, 2018

What's the story?

ALEXANDER HAMILTON: THE MAKING OF AMERICA is a brief but surprisingly in-depth biography for middle-grade readers by author Teri Kanefield. It traces Hamilton's journey from being a humble West Indian raised without a father to being General Washington's aide-de camp and trusted advisor, to his successes and failures in the sphere of politics and the drafting of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, to his foundational role in the creation of the United States Treasury and the first national bank. Kanefield highlights the once-polarizing figure's enduring legacy and impressive foresight into the trajectory of American history. Self-conscious of his humble origins, fiercely opposed by jealous rivals, and intellectually superior to all challengers, Hamilton's tragically brief but remarkable life and career are the embodiment of the American dream as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, the esteemed pantheon of which he is certainly a member.

Is it any good?

Informative and exciting, this dynamic story flies by in a flash, much like the titular hero. The writing in Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America is uniformly strong, peppered with solid sections of historical context, suitable introductions to basic political theories, and bits and pieces of quotes from primary sources. While the biography seems well-researched and provides citations in the endnotes, it would be nice if writers of history for younger readers weren't so shy about showing the work that went into reconstructing the record. Seeing the origins and details of where historical conclusions are drawn from is what makes the evidence reliable and relatable. That being said, the book dovetails nicely with the way American history is taught in elementary and middle school, and Alexander Hamilton is one of the most important actors in that drama.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the American history laid out in Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America. How can understanding more about how and why our government was founded and developed the way it did teach us about the present? Do you see any parallels between Hamilton's time and today?

  • Why is it important to learn history?

  • Why do you think Hamilton the musical has become such a smash hit? How do you feel about popular entertainment that can also educate?

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