New Discoveries & Research Contribute to Definitive Book on Hamilton
Rand Scholet, President and Founder of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, reviews and answers questions on the new book Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years by Michael E. Newton.
The book is an in-depth look into the first half of Alexander Hamilton's life and is set to be published in June 2015.
What is the scope of Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years?
This groundbreaking book covers the first half of Alexander Hamilton's life, from his birth in 1757 to 1782, and details his origins, youth, education, and military service during the Revolutionary War.
You received a preview copy of The Formative Years to review. What was your assessment of the book?
Yes, I was privileged to read the book manuscript. If I were to summarize my assessment of the book in one sentence, it would be:
Michael E. Newton’s Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years is THE definitive book on the first half of Alexander Hamilton’s life, which the reader can embrace with a full confidence of the facts and an expanded understanding of the nation’s key public figures.
You also wrote an official review for the book, is that correct?
Yes, my official review, which will be on the book's back cover, is the following:
Michael E. Newton’s Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years represents a significant scholarly contribution to the literature regarding the first half of Alexander Hamilton’s remarkable life story and to our understanding of the American Revolution. This extensively researched, incredibly well-documented, theme-based biography reveals new discoveries, debunks previously held myths, and objectively analyzes disputed or unknowable facts. The narrative of Hamilton’s critical role during the American Revolution and his relationships with other key Founding Fathers, most notably George Washington, is enlightening and inspiring. Readers get a fuller sense of Hamilton’s accomplishments and impact during the War for Independence and more accurate insight into the formative years of the man who subsequently shaped America’s foundations. Not only will this book serve as an invaluable reference for decades to come, it is a most engaging read, which any consumer of history books will enjoy. Mr. Newton’s scholarly findings regarding Hamilton’s origins, youth, and service in the American Revolution surpass every book that has preceded it.
What is it about Mr. Newton’s book that brings such high praise from you?
In the past five years, after reading over 54 books where Hamilton was the sole or key subject of the book, as well as thousands of pages of primary documents, certain findings became clear to me. Too many books mischaracterize who Hamilton was. Some exaggerated what he did. Many authors discovered comments that were made by Hamilton’s opponents, who were determined to undermine his programs, and asserted that that is who Hamilton was. It has made it so difficult for the average person to know who Alexander Hamilton truly was since they don’t have time to read all the primary sources. With books often in conflict with each other, even Hamiltonians end up arguing with each other.
This is the magnificence of what Mr. Newton has accomplished. He provides the actual references to support the record, or in the cases where there is no record to support a claim, he states so. Not only did Mr. Newton read the Papers of Alexander Hamilton (PAH), he also read pertinent records in the Writings of George Washington (WGW) to second-source validate the Hamilton papers. On top of that, he researched the record of often underrepresented key personalities, such as Horatio Gates, Charles Lee, Benedict Arnold, and many more that give a clearer understanding of the struggles and successes of the American Revolution and Hamilton's role in it.
You mentioned about books that have exaggerated what Alexander Hamilton did. Any examples of an exaggerated claim that The Formative Years debunks?
One of the first examples that I can think of is the claim that “Alexander Hamilton fired the first shot against the British in the Battle of Brooklyn after the Colonies declared their independence.” As Mr. Newton shows, there is no evidence that Hamilton even participated in the Battle of Brooklyn. It is not a proven fact exactly where Hamilton was during the Battle of White Plains or the Battle of Princeton either. The Formative Years shares the available records, and the percentage of likelihood of Hamilton's participation in these battles is examined in each case.
What else did you find valuable about The Formative Years compared to other books?
With more in-depth development of the other key figures and leaders in Hamilton’s early years, one can understand where his perspective was formed and how it informed his decisions later on in his life. One needs to have a good understanding of this period of Hamilton’s life before being able to interpret his positions as a statesman, when he was America’s driving force for a new form of government and economic and financial systems to strengthen the nation.
The other thing I find most valuable about Mr. Newton's book is that the citations he provides are gold! As I started my own in-depth research on Hamilton, it was surprising to me to realize how many authors cite other author’s books instead of an actual source document. Because Hamilton’s writings are so extensive, it is not surprising that this is a fallback position of many authors. But when I would check the referenced work, it would often have no citation at all to validate its assertions! This occurrs too frequently and has resulted in a lot of false information, both positive and negative, being perpetuated. The Formative Years takes on the difficult task of not only providing detailed endnotes in its own right, but fully exploring the validity of past research in the existing Hamilton literature.
With interest in Alexander Hamilton growing as a result of the hugely successful musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, would you recommend The Formative Years to those looking for a biography on Hamilton?
For a straight biography on Alexander Hamilton's full life, I would recommend Richard Brookhiser’s “Alexander Hamilton: American” (220 pages) and Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” (730 pages, plus endnotes). But I would absolutely encourage everyone to read this book, particularly those who are looking to learn more about the first half of Alexander Hamilton's life and anyone wanting to get answers on what is fact and fiction in Hamilton's life.
An interesting point to add about The Formative Years is that the book differs from traditional biographies in that it is organized in a theme-based manner, and then chronologically within each theme. This allows for a topic to be developed with a beginning, middle, and end. It frees the reader from having to keep all these slivers of information in their minds waiting for the next piece of the story in later chapters to develop. I hope Mr. Newton continues his research and writing to apply this theme-based approach to Hamilton’s efforts to create a new form of government to replace the Articles of Confederation (the US Constitution) and a national economy based on new financial systems that would pivot the United States from poverty to prosperity.
A final thought?
Yes, thank you. For any person who wants to know solid facts about the remarkable Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and the struggle for America’s independence, Michael E. Newton’s Alexander Hamilton: The Formative Years must be a key part of that study. You can get a discounted price via a successful Kickstarter campaign before the book comes out in June.
For more information on the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society (The AHA Society) and its initiatives, explore: www.theAHAsociety.com. For reference information on Alexander Hamilton, including quotes, books, timelines, and more, visit: www.AllThingsHamilton.com. Click here to support the Alexander Hamilton mission.