Review of “Alexander Hamilton’s Guide To Life” by Jeff Wilser

Introducing the newest edition to my revolutionary library: “Alexander Hamilton’s Guide To Life” by Jeff Wilser. This book was written this past year, generating anecdotes from Ron Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical of the same name.

Before I even opened the book, I stared at the cover, Hamilton’s smugness more apparent than I’ve ever seen it. I felt that it was meant to express a mixture of farce, courageous confidence, and the arrogance of “I know something you don’t know” in one picture.


Then I opened the book, and after looking at the 2-page table of contents, the smug face of Alexander came back to greet me again, with this quote underneath it:

“‘Tis my maxim to let the plain naked truth speak for itself; and if men won’t listen to it, ’tis their own fault.”

I feel like that quote sums Hamilton up perfectly and also serves as a great introduction for how the book is going to read:

This is advice. Take it or leave it. But if you don’t use it, it’s your fault.

Wilser does a great job of intertwining history and humor to create a pleasant literary companion for anyone obsessed with the musical, obsessed with American history, or someone who is just curious to see how this person lived his life and what takeaways you can apply to your own life.

Wilser also does a good job of being up front about the book’s objectivity. As he describes it, it is “the second-most-pro-Hamilton book in history. The first? ‘The Papers of Alexander Hamilton’, written by Alexander Hamilton. It comes in 27 volumes.” But don’t worry, the book does not flinch away from Hamilton’s faults, including that one he just couldn’t say no to.

The chapters are divided according to different categories, and the chapters are written in active tense, as if you are about to read advice straight from Hamilton’s words. Some of the book’s chapters include Career, Romance, Money, and Leadership, with subtitles such as this:

  • Find Time for the Quills and the Bills (Money)
  • Flirt with the Line…But Never Cross It (Romance)
  • Separate the Merit from the Drunkards (Leadership)
  • Put the Father in Founding Father (Friends & Family)
  • Don’t. Press. Send. (Office Politics)

Some of these maxims Hamilton followed to an anal retentive tee. Others are cautionary tales based on what Hamilton did — e.g. he always pressed send.

This chapter was by far my favorite as it made me laugh out loud:

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While the book’s chapters are broken into different realms of daily life, the book is actually written in chronological order of Hamilton’s life (for the most part). It makes the book a great mix of biography and self-help that draws parallels from revolutionary dilemmas to political, economic and social issues we face today. It’s also guaranteed to make you laugh with great pop culture references.

For example, did you know that:

  • Hamilton wrote erotic poetry as a teenager and submitted his poems to the local paper in Nevis?
  • Hamilton started something akin to a “Dead Poet’s Society” while attending Kings College?
  • Hamilton, the founder of the U.S. treasury, lost money on a bad investment tip?
  • Hamilton wrote the playbook for American presidential etiquette and responsibilities?
  • Hamilton had a Forrest Gump-like quality of being at every key scene during the Revolution?

The book answers these questions and more in depth.

Dear Fans of the Musical: The other really great thing about this book is that it was written AFTER Miranda’s musical, so it makes plenty of references to scenes and quotes from “Hamilton.” It is also quick to point out differences in the musical — this actually happened, this didn’t actually happen — which makes this an even more interesting read.

For example, it was James Monroe who first found out about Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds, and he told Jefferson and Madison later (Burr was not in the room where it happened). When Hamilton found out that Jefferson knew, it prompted him to write The Reynolds Pamphlet. Wilser calls these kinds of nuances out specifically, so it’s a great companion read if you’re curious to learn more about the historical accuracy (and inaccuracies) of the musical.

All in all, if you’re looking for an extremely abridged version of Alexander Hamilton’s life beyond Chernow’s biography or if you are as obsessed with the musical as I am, I highly recommend buying a copy of Hamilton’s “Guide To Life.” It’s guaranteed to make you laugh, reflect, wonder how the heck this all came together, and appreciate how grand and fragile democracy is.

Favorite Quote:

There seriously are so many great one-liners and pop culture references in this book, but I went with one that connects me to Hamilton through our love of reading:

“Hamilton knew that books can worm their way into your brain in surprising ways, sparking ideas that power the imagination. The examples are infinite, such as the time in 2008 when, on the way to a vacation in Mexico, an artist picked  up a book to read on the beach. Thankfully this artist was Lin-Manuel Miranda, and thankfully the book was Ron Chernow’s ‘Alexander Hamilton.'”

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This book was given to me by Crown Publishing Group and the Blogging for Books program. All opinions are my own. 

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