The decade of the 1790s has been called the “age of passion.” Fervor ran high as rival factions battled over the course of the new republic-each side convinced that the other's goals would betray the legacy of the Revolution so recently fought and so dearly won. All understood as well that what was at stake was not a moment's political advantage, but the future course of the American experiment in democracy. In this epochal debate, no two figures loomed larger than Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
Both men were visionaries, but their visions of what the United States should be were diametrically opposed. Jefferson, a true revolutionary, believed passionately in individual liberty and a more egalitarian society, with a weak central government and greater powers for the states. Hamilton, a brilliant organizer and tactician, feared chaos and social disorder. He sought to build a powerful national government that could ensure the young nation's security and drive it toward economic greatness.
Jefferson and Hamilton is the story of the fierce struggle-both public and, ultimately, bitterly personal-between these two titans. It ended only with the death of Hamilton in a pistol duel, felled by Aaron Burr, Jefferson's vice president. Their competing legacies, like the twin strands of DNA, continue to shape our country to this day.
John Ferling’s Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation is a compelling exploration of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. The book is an intriguing glimpse into the lives and minds of two of the most powerful and influential men in American history.
The rivalry—which led to the first two major political parties—began when the men served together in Washington’s cabinet in the 1790s, but Ferling’s parallel biography begins years prior. The book opens by detailing both men’s family background, early years, and psychology. The author does not skim over each man’s personal failings, but instead addresses them in a straightforward and unapologetic manner and largely offers a balanced portrayal of Jefferson and Hamilton.
When discussing the personalities of the men and their visions, Ferling is engaging and even in turns entertaining, his writing style lively and his characterizations of the men astute. Too much page time is spent giving the reader a blow by blow of the American Revolution, though, when these details did not add any additional insight into the men’s characters. Therefore, the pacing of the book was uneven, the gripping insights into Jefferson and Hamilton bogged down with unnecessary instruction on troop movements and battles in the war.
While Ferling’s anachronistic and oversimplified attempt to draw parallels to today’s politics weakens some of his insights, overall Jefferson and Hamilton is a detailed exploration of these two political giants, portraying them both as fully human, both brilliant and flawed.
Recommended for fans of biographical nonfiction, particularly nonfiction focused on early America and the Founding Fathers