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Kiplinger Bookshelf

Alexander Hamilton

  • Author: Ron Chernow
  • Publisher: Penguin, 832 pages

Before the musical “Hamilton,” there was this landmark biography of one of the Founding Fathers who just might be called the Astounding Father, or, as some say, the Father of American Finance (he was the nation’s first treasury secretary). It’s a real page-turner, one of the best biographies ever written.

The 2005 work inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda a decade later to write his Broadway smash, which has raked in tens of millions of dollars. That would make Hamilton smile. (for a photo, check your wallet; his face is on the $10 bill)? Hamilton makes an entrance at nearly every pivot point leading up to and through the American Revolution. Brilliant, but also obstinate, hot-headed and, at times, a scoundrel.

While his ideas for how our federal financial system should operate still linger to this day, he wasn’t very good with his own money, a shining example of “do as I say, not as I do.” And therein, lie personal-finance lessons. He was paid a pittance for his role as public servant, making side scratch by 1) being a successful lawyer and 2) marrying into wealth. But he caved to scammers looking to bribe him and lived above his means. He also planned poorly for his family and his retirement from public service. He anticipated making back his nut by doing the lawyerly thing in his advanced years which, sadly, never came. He died in a famous pistol duel with Aaron Burr, leaving his family virtually destitute and relying on the kindness of friends.

My takeaways: Plan carefully for your post-work years, but also have your financial house in order in the present. And never accept a challenge to a duel in New Jersey. Ever.

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