Lomask has produced a sympathetic portrait of Hamilton, but he has also succeeded in avoiding the hagiography that characterizes so much of juvenile biography, especially that concerning American revolutionary leaders. The author emphasizes the greatness of Hamilton’s achievements, such as his drive to create the Constitution, his role in New York’s ratification of that document, and his capable stewardship of the new government’s finances. At the same time, however, the reader becomes painfully aware of Hamilton’s many character flaws, including vanity, arrogance, adultery, and reckless disregard for obvious danger. The overall effect will impress the reader with the “largeness” of Hamilton’s personality, or his inclination to exaggerate most of what he did, thought, and felt. Lomask also indirectly instructs his readers on the complexities and contradictions inherent to human behavior when he contrasts Hamilton’s rational political life and precise intellect with his unmanaged lust and indiscriminate physical courage.
Politically, the author succeeds in separating the “real Hamilton” from the Republican Party rhetoric of the 1790’s. Lomask thus aligns his biography with more recent historiographical trends concerning his subject. This approach may perhaps be his most important service to young readers, who will leave this book permanently disabused of several false notions about Hamilton that have become standard fare in secondary school history courses during the last two centuries—for example, that Hamilton was an enemy of democracy and desired to institute a monarchy in the United States. In the...
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Lomask’s biography is sophisticated, complex, and balanced. The depth of his recounting of Hamilton’s life may present difficulties for some young readers, while many others will undoubtedly miss the enriching subtleties of his analysis. Nevertheless, this book will greatly reward the efforts of those who read it carefully. In the genre of juvenile biography, it is extraordinary in its fairness, profundity, and recreation of historical realities.
As history per se, Odd Destiny is both accurate and honest. Its research is substantial and its interpretations—with the exception of the anti-Federalists—are in line with modern professional opinions. Delicate subjects such as Hamilton’s politically disastrous affair with Mrs. Reynolds are handled tastefully, but not so indirectly that there could be any mistaking what had transpired. Hamilton’s many flaws receive emphasis sufficient to make his character come alive. Although most young readers probably will not find Hamilton as interesting as many other figures in American history, Lomask’s focus upon his subject’s practical achievements will impress all with the greatness of Hamilton’s intellect and political skills.