The best biographies help us learn about and contemplate the world. By reading about pivotal figures in history, we better understand the cultural context that we live in today. In learning the life stories of people who have faced different challenges and circumstances than we have, we can gain a deeper understanding of others, develop more empathy, and help forge our own paths. And while autobiographies and memoirs can lend an air of intimacy, biography books give you a more unbiased view of a person and an era.
Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804.
Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back on our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.
Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Walter Isaacson “deftly reveals an intimate Leonardo” (San Francisco Chronicle) in a narrative that connects his art to his science. He shows how Leonardo’s genius was based on skills we can improve in ourselves, such as passionate curiosity, careful observation, and an imagination so playful that it flirted with fantasy.
He produced the two most famous paintings in history, The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. With a passion that sometimes became obsessive, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry. He explored the math of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea, and produced illusions of changing perspectives in The Last Supper. His ability to stand at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences, made iconic by his drawing of Vitruvian Man, made him history’s most creative genius.
In the “luminous” (Daily Beast) Leonardo da Vinci, Isaacson describes how Leonardo’s delight at combining diverse passions remains the ultimate recipe for creativity. So, too, does his ease at being a bit of a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical. His life should remind us of the importance to be imaginative and, like talented rebels in any era, thinking differently. Here, da Vinci “comes to life in all his remarkable brilliance and oddity in Walter Isaacson’s ambitious new biography…a vigorous, insightful portrait” (The Washington Post).
Based on more than forty interviews with Steve Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than 100 family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing. Isaacson’s portrait touched millions of readers. At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.
Although Jobs cooperated with the author, he asked for no control over what was written. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. He himself spoke candidly about the people he worked with and competed against.
His friends, foes, and colleagues offer an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.
Steve Jobs is the inspiration for the movie of the same name starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels, directed by Danny Boyle with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin.
The celebrated Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of America. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life, he carries the reader through Washington’s troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian Wars, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention and his magnificent performance as America’s first president. Despite the reverence, his name inspires Washington remains a waxwork to many readers, worthy but dull, a laconic man of remarkable self-control. But in this groundbreaking work, Chernow revises forever the uninspiring stereotype. He portrays Washington as a strapping, celebrated horseman, elegant dancer, and tireless hunter, who guarded his emotional life with intriguing ferocity. Not only did Washington gather around himself the foremost figures of the age, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, he orchestrated their actions to help realize his vision for the new federal government, define the separation of powers, and establish the office of the presidency. Ron Chernow takes us on a page-turning journey through all the formative events of America’s founding. This is a magisterial work from one of America’s foremost writers and historians.
Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon is the first one-volume biography to take advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon’s thirty-three thousand letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation. At last, we see him as he was: protean multitasker, decisive, surprisingly willing to forgive his enemies and his errant wife Josephine. Like Churchill, he understood the strategic importance of telling his own story, and his memoirs, dictated from exile on St. Helena, became the single bestselling book of the nineteenth century.
An award-winning historian, Roberts traveled to fifty-three of Napoleon’s sixty battle sites, discovered crucial new documents in archives, and even made the long trip by boat to St. Helena. He is as acute in his understanding of politics as he is of military history. Here, at last, is a biography worthy of its subject: magisterial, insightful, beautifully written, by one of our foremost historians.