Alexander Hamilton

Kiplinger Bookshelf

Alexander Hamilton

  • Author: Ron Chernow
  • Publisher: Penguin, 832 pages

Before the musical “Hamilton,” there was this landmark biography from award-winning author Ron Chernow. After finishing this book, you might think of Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of American independence and the nation's first Treasury Secretary, as the Astounding Father. It’s a real page-turner, one of the best biographies I've read.

The 2005 work inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda a decade later to write his Broadway smash, which has raked in tens of millions of dollars. That would make Hamilton smile. (For a photo, check your wallet; his face is on the $10 bill.) Hamilton makes an entrance at nearly every pivotal point in the American Revolution. He was brilliant, but also obstinate, hot-headed and, at times, a scoundrel.

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While his ideas for how our federal financial system should operate still hold sway to this day, Hamilton wasn’t very good with his own money, a shining example of “do as I say, not as I do.” And therein lie personal-finance lessons for us all. He was paid a pittance for his role as public servant, making side scratch by 1) being a successful lawyer and 2) marrying into wealth. But he caved to scammers looking to blackmail him and lived above his means, never crafting an estate plan for his family. He died in an infamous pistol duel with Aaron Burr, leaving his family destitute and relying on the kindness of friends.

My takeaways: We all should get our personal finances in order. Plan carefully for your post-work years. And never accept a challenge to a duel in New Jersey. Ever.


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