Tag Archives: Penguin Random House

Review: Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Title: Alexander Hamilton
Author: Ron Chernow
Published: 2004
ISBN-13: 9781594200090
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publisher’s Blurb:  Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.

 

Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth by Stephen F. Knott

Title: Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth
Author: Stephen F. Knott
Published: 2002
ISBN-13: 978-0-7006-1419-6
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Twitter:  @publius57
Publisher’s Blurb:   explores the shifting reputation of our most controversial founding father. Since the day Aaron Burr fired his fatal shot, Americans have tried to come to grips with Alexander Hamilton’s legacy. Stephen Knott surveys the Hamilton image in the minds of American statesmen, scholars, literary figures, and the media, explaining why Americans are content to live in a Hamiltonian nation but reluctant to embrace the man himself.

“The image of Hamilton fashioned by Jefferson and his allies has endured and flourished, and the Hamilton of American memory is a Hamilton who championed privilege and who was a foe of liberty.”  (Knott, p. 26)

Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and Stephen F. Knott’s Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth offer a unique insight to both the man, and the legend of the man.

And while I have pondered long and hard about how to write about Hamilton without turning into a Thomas Jefferson bashing machine, it is difficult to talk about one without the other.  Thanks to Jefferson and his network of devoted mouthpieces, Hamilton’s reputation remains in tatters centuries after the founding of the US.

That it took a musical based on Chernow’s book to address, and repair, Hamilton’s reputation is a statement on how deeply entrenched lies and rumors become.  It’s also a statement on how easy it is to believe the worst in people instead of looking for the best.

Not that Hamilton was a complete paragon of virtue, and could, “at moments of supreme stress, … screw himself up to an emotional pitch that was nearly feverish in intensity.”  (Chernow, p. 115) It is hard to imagine how a man with such an towering intellect could have so many blind spots, and be so stupid.

Soaring blind spots seem to go hand in hand with towering intellect.  Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and James Madison, all seemed to be intimidated by Hamilton’s intellect.  “The byzantine, interrelated nature of his programs (e.g. central banking, professional standing military, international trade with Britain) made him all the more the bane and terror of his opponents.”  (Chernow, p. 349)

Nuance, and the lack of understanding thereof, is the two-edged blade of smart people everywhere.  It’s baffling how so many around us just don’t understand what we think is an easy idea. “… things were so blindingly self-evident to Hamilton that he was baffled when others didn’t grasp them quickly – an intellectual agility that could breed intolerance for less quick-witted mortals.”  (Chernow, p. 119)

Knott picks up this thread, “At bottom, Jefferson could not countenance the fact that an immigrant upstart without the appropriate pedigree … dared challenge him.”  (Knott, p. 11)

Jefferson presented the image of a down-home gentleman farmer who understood the agrarian slave-holding farmers of Virginia.  He came from wealth, owned property and was a slaveholder. That the bastard child of poverty from the island of Nevis in the Caribbean should rise up and challenge him was more than Jefferson could tolerate.

As is also sometimes true of very smart people, Hamilton was not a crafty plotter and “often could not muzzles his opinions.”  (Chernow, p. 176) The myth which has stuck to Hamilton most is that the people are a “great beast,” not to be trusted with direct democracy.

Hamilton was right, but there’s a nuance long missed by his detractors.  Trusting a mob mentality to make sensible decisions, especially those involving running a government is a bad idea.  As individuals, we are smart and sensible. Of course we know, individually, what we want and need from our government leaders.  Put us in a big group and mob mentality takes over, and no one has a good idea, not even what’s for dinner.

This myth about Hamilton continues to live because of he understood the unruliness of a mob.  On this point, he was accused of hating all people, especially the less-privileged and standing for something like a monarchy in America.  Lesser minds were too busy making up lies and spreading gossip to try to understand the nuance in Hamilton’s statements.

He wasn’t against a democracy per se, he was against allowing the unruly mob have such power.  Among other political factors, this is one of the reasons we’re stuck with the electoral college.  How else to avoid the mistakes of mob rule?

In the late 18th century it was impossible to believe the republic would ever be big enough, educated enough, and sensible enough to have good decision making processes.  Women read? Slaves freed and owning land? Hah, never happen.

Except Hamilton sort of expected it, even if he couldn’t get past the hypocrisy of being white, educated, (male), and marrying into money.  His heart and ideals were in the right place, though. His background prepared him well to understand why paying and supplying the militias was important.  He championed a standing professional army, precisely because farmers arriving on the field of battle with a pitchfork were woefully unprepared for the rigors of professional fighting.

Hamilton even understood the need for a centralized federal bank for economic stability.  (And that’s all I’m qualified to recount because the only thing I know about banking is there are too many fees.)  He was, according to both Chernow and Knotts, an economic genius. Well, they’re not the only ones, economists over the centuries have sung his praises too.

But these lofty ideas were held in contempt by those threatened by his enormous mind and his exceptional work ethic.  I can understand his disinclination to pander or be less forceful when expressing ideas. We just want to get stuff done and don’t have the energy to play the political games at which others are so good.

And those blind spots?  How about Hamilton as participant in the nation’s first sex scandal?  For over a year, Maria Reynolds, and her husband, caught Hamilton in their thrall and blackmailed him.  “Quite understandably, [there were those who] could not conceive that someone as smart and calculating as Hamilton could have stayed as long in thrall to an enslaving passion.  Hamilton could not have been stupid enough to pay hush money for sex, [they] alleged, so the money paid … had to involve illicit speculation.  In all fairness, … it is baffling that Hamilton submitted to blackmail for so long.”  (Chernow, p. 530)

And Hamilton, rather than quietly admitting it and moving on, wrote volumes to be published in newspapers describing every sordid detail.  Career was the motive for this, not worry over his marriage to Eliza and their family. After the affair, Hamilton never strayed far from his family, remaining close by until his death.

Which, of course, leads to the duel with Aaron Burr.  Hamilton, “born without honor, was exceedingly sensitive to any slights to his political honor.”  (Chernow, p. 237) Born without honor, meaning born of suspect parental lineage. Believed to be a bastard, the quickest way to get him riled up was to mention this.

“[Burr] was a chameleon who evaded clear-cut positions on and was a genius at studied ambiguity.”  (Chernow, p. 192) He was an opportunist, and could figure out endless ways to profit from any political wrangling surrounding him.  Further, Chernow writes, “… Burr was a lone operator, a protean figure who formed alliances for short-term gain.” (p. 421)

He was bent on revenge for Hamilton’s part in Burr’s ostracism from the Jefferson administration and losing the governorship of New York because Hamilton was freely quoted as saying Burr wasn’t fit for office.  Hamilton can hardly be blamed for Jefferson dropping Burr from the ticket as VP. The quote about not being fit for office, that part was true.

Weehawken, NJ on July 11, 1804 lives in infamy as the place Burr shot Hamilton, thus ending the career and loving marriage of Alexander Hamilton who only ever wanted to see the US become a strong nation.  Burr’s life ended that day too. “…Hamilton committed his last patriotic act, for he ensured that Aaron Burr would never again be a viable player in the politics of the early republic.” (Knott, p. 1)

But, Hamilton’s legend lives on.  Depending on the era, he’s been seen as selfish and elitist, interested only in money and power.  Depression-era scholars and politicians blamed the Depression on Hamilton, despite being dead for 125 years.

Even his scandalous affair made an appearance during the Clinton impeachment hearings in 1998 when his team presented “a thirty page brief to the House Judiciary Committee citing Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds and the reluctance of Congress to pursue the issue after concluding it was a private matter.”  (Knotts, p. 225)

The profound effect Hamilton had on government is immeasurable.  Chernow’s nearly 800 page biography follows Hamilton from Nevis to his rise in US politics and his death at the gun of Aaron Burr.  Chernow admires Hamilton but doesn’t let that get in the way of the facts as presented.

Stephen F. Knott also admires Hamilton and defends Hamilton against the scurrilous myths which continue to be taken as truth.  Between the two, Chernow and Knott present an interesting and entertaining read of a man too intellectual and uncompromising for the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Aaron Burr to respect.

Chernow has the best last word, “Any biographer foolhardy enough to attempt an authoritative life of Alexander Hamilton must tread a daunting maze of detail.”  (Chernow, p. 733)

Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone

Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

Title: Shadow Ops:  Breach Zone
Author: Myke Cole
Published: 2014
ISBN-13: 9780425256374
Publisher: Ace (now Penguin Random House)
Twitter: @MykeCole
Publisher’s Blurb:  In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…

Shadow Ops:  Breach Zone is book 3/3 in the Shadow Ops series

This series is a mess.  At first I thought it was because Mil SF isn’t my thing.  But then I like John Scalzi’s writing just fine.

Because I enjoyed Cole’s Sacred Throne trilogy so much (third one due in October, 2019) I had hopes for Shadow Ops.  What I will say, emphatically, is Cole has grown a great deal as a writer.  Heloise is the hero we’ve all been waiting for.

To recap, Control Point saw Oscar Britton make some of the most bone-headed, selfish decisions ever in the history of everything.  It’s in this book that Scylla is unleashed on the world.  We know in no uncertain terms, she is the most dangerous and evil creature in this world, and Britton has freed her for his own selfish reason.

Book 2, Fortress Frontier, introduces us to Alan Bookbinder, a Pentagon paper-pusher who Manifests a power no one else has and is sent to the Forward Operating Base in the Source until everything goes to hell and he ends up the commanding officer.  Oscar Britton is a bit player.

And now we come to Book 3, Breach Zone.  It’s all come together, in one big horrifying pornographic death frenzy in Manhattan.  Harlequin, a secondary character in the previous books who’s always played it by the rules, because rules are what separate the good guys from the bad, is put in charge of the defense.

Now Brigadier General Bookbinder is stuck on a US Coast Guard cutter, whose lunch is getting eaten by water goblins and leviathans, has to find his way to Harlequin’s base of operations to use Bookbinder’s unique magical power.

Oscar Britton doesn’t show up until very late in the book, still being let off the heinous thing he did in book 1.  The epitome of the misunderstood hero.  The monster he unleashed is leading an army of monsters to demolish Manhattan.  Scylla wants to start the new world order.

And just to make sure we understand why this is personal for Harlequin, intermittent flashbacks from six years before set the scene.  The romantic scene, of course.

All the complicated politics weight in.  Street gangs, loyal to no one scoff when asked to join the good fight.  Politicians and career officers want to use force against everything.  And, in typical fashion, only Harlequin and those on the front lines actually understand why fire power won’t work, only magic will.

There’s barely any mention of the Indian part of the Source, and Bookbinder’s experiences trying to save the US FOB.  Murica is truly on its own.

Then, bugles blaring, Oscar Britton arrives, makes a pretty little speech and everyone shows up to fight and save the day.  Peace, justice and the American way.

Or something …

Sacred Thrones is light years better from this.  I’ll call this a cautionary tale about back catalogues.  Cole’s worth reading, but this series isn’t.

New to the Stacks: Shadow Ops, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Other Goodness

They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason

They by Janet Mason – Read
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner ~ #LitCrit
Darkness Visible by William Styron
The Annotated Alice – annotated by Martin Gardner
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Read
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
Darkness Visible by William Styron
Annotated Alice in Wonderland
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Review: The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library Series by Genevieve Cogman

Title: The Invisible Library Series
The Invisible Library
The Masked City
The Burning Page
The Lost Plot
Author: Genevieve Cogman
Published: 2016 – 2017
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Twitter: @GenevieveCogman
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures:  LibraryMasked CityBurning PageLost Plot

Publisher’s BlurbIrene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. 

An evil book warbler called on my birthday and dropped sweet little nothings in my ear about a series featuring an interdimensional library and Librarians who time traveled to retrieve books in order to keep the balance of the universe in place.

Having just purged half my personal library and swearing no more series until I’d finished what I had on hand, I somewhat firmly told this book warbler I would have none of it.

And then he delivered the fatal blow, “it has dragons in it.”

That book warbler plays dirty he does.

“And at that moment the alligators burst into the room.”  (The Invisible Library, p. 148)

Best line in a book ever.  Ever.  If I wasn’t enjoying myself before, that line sealed the deal.  A line like that makes you sit up and take notice.

Irene is a Librarian with the Invisible Library and is sent to steal books from other timelines for the Library in order to maintain the balance of the universe.  She reminds me of a very bookish Mary Poppins with all sorts of tricks “up her sleeves.”  She gets stationed in an alternate steampunk Victorian London where she befriends the local esteemed private detective and the chief of police.

Kai is her assistant.  A student sent along to train with her.  He is gut-wrenchingly absolutely perfectly handsome in a somewhat otherworldly way.  He and Irene develop a nice friendship and professional working relationship.  But sometimes thoughts get in their heads …

And as it turns out, Kai in his non-human form, is a Chinese dragon.  Part of one of the noble ruler clans who very much disapprove of Kai’s involvement with the Library.

There are adventures, both in Irene’s home base London and other worlds, which involve various amounts of chaos between factions of the Fae.  And each adventure begins with being sent to retrieve a book and turns into solving a crime of some sort.

And, of course, there’s a big baddie named Alberich who was once a Librarian himself.  He’s gone rogue and threatens the Library itself.  Intent on killing Irene in the process, he also thinks he can outsmart her and Kai.  Despite his prodigious powers, and many close calls, he has yet to kill either of them.

Don’t expect deep philosophical debates on weighty issues within.  These are light hearted mysteries with absurdist tendencies.  What can you expect when you’re dealing with an interdimensional library, time traveling Librarians, disguised dragons and, the Fae who are out to wreak havoc as only they know how?

The evil book warbler was right, and these were a great summer read.  And the alligators?  That would be telling.

New to the Stacks: Genevieve Cogman

The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman
The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

Some evil, evil book warbler insisted upon telling me about this series about an interdimensional library, librarian spies … and dragons! I was helpless in this warbler’s clutches. Good thing I had birthday money to spend.

  • The Masked Cityread
  • The Burning Pageread
  • The Lost Plotread