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5 Best Ron Chernow Books (2024)

Best Ron Chernow BooksMaster of Biographies

If you like reading biographies, Ron Chernow is definitely a name you have heard of. The American writer has authored multiple nationwide bestsellers in the category of biographies and his career never had any lack of praise or appreciation. In fact, he was honored with one of the greatest awards in the world of western literature, The Pulitzer Prize. Besides that crown piece, the author’s collection also includes an American History Book Prize and a National Book Award for Nonfiction.

The writer was born in Brooklyn, New York in March 1949. His parents owned a local store as well as a stock brokerage firm. His father was the founder of the stock firm and his mother worked as a bookkeeper for their businesses. He would graduate from Forest Hills High School in 1966 as class president, valedictorian, and the “Most Likely to Succeed”. He would not let anyone down and graduate from Yale University just four years later.

Long Academic Career

That is not all, though. The brilliant writer also received a degree from Cambridge University and he was awarded honorary degrees from multiple universities in the United States which includes Washington College and Marymount Manhattan College along with others. Despite all of his paperwork, however, Chernow did not really care about a PhD. He would begin a PhD program in English literature but it would go on uncompleted because he supposedly did not like the politics of the academic environment. 

Best Ron Chernow Books



The Latest Book That Blew Up

What better book is there to start off this article with than one of the most popular Ron Chernow books? Not only is it among the most well-known, but it is also the latest book by Ron Chernow as of now. Published in 2017, this book told the life story of Ulysses S. Grant for over a thousand pages and stole the hearts of the writer’s fan base. It was taken off of shelves like freshly baked bread.

The whole success of this piece is not very surprising to me. The United States is a nation with a lot of major events in its recent history. During its first few centuries, this beautiful continent almost made Europe look peaceful. There is a catch though. Since there was a lot happening all over the country all the time, it is now very hard to find a persistent and reliable narrative on a single event.

Political Re-Interpretations of History 

The historical narrative gets all the more corroded and polarized when the object of focus is someone involved in politics. Mass media outlets are always more sympathetic to one political idea than the other and so, information is corrupted. You can probably think of a dozen modern-day examples of this. Think about then, how hard it would be to study the life of a president in an objective light when all you have is old and unreliable sources.

A Man With Many Identities

So, enough chit-chat, who is Ulysses S. Grant? Well, it depends on who you ask. In the eyes of some people, his image is one of an inferior businessman and a born loser with a severe drinking problem. For others, he is a hero of the Civil War who was as powerful as he is merciless. There are also some who think he was a naive and particularly unlucky man whose work in the office led to one of the worst periods of the Gilded Age.

Chernow suggests, however, that none of these opinions are true as a whole. In essence, they fail to capture the complete identity president Grant possessed as well as the sheer magnitude of the decisions and actions of his past. For our author, Grant was a man with a real spirit and “monumental accomplishments”. Grant, by the virtue of its subject and the masterful writing of the author, takes his place as a contender for the best Ron Chernow book.

Alexander Hamilton


The Most Brilliant, Charismatic, and Dangerous

The second place on our Ron Chernow books ranked article will go to Alexander Hamilton. It is another very well written historical biography that also stands as one of the best rated Ron Chernow books as of now. Under the guidance of the author, we explore the founding father and American Revolution figure Alexander Hamilton. As was the case with Grant, this piece holds a lot of political components as well.

The name Hamilton held a lot of power even amongst other founding fathers. He is said to be “… the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all.” by the renowned historian Joseph Ellis in his review of this book to which he states to be “A robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written…”. The brilliance and charisma of this hero led him to be both an inspiring and scandalous man.

Starting From The Bottom

Such as the controversy of his figure, the historical facts about Alexander Hamilton has been a hot topic of debate in both history and political circles. At this point, we will once again refer to the subjectiveness of mass media. Researching sources from the past and referencing them is not enough on its own to create a valid story. We must look for the motives and results of his actions to see the truth and the author does just that.

The author recalls the earliest times of Hamilton’s childhood. How he was an illegitimate orphan who learned everything he knew by himself, from scratch. How he sailed from the Caribbean to arrive in America like a lightning bolt. Everything that happened as he served as Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, helped write the Federalist Papers, and a great deal more on top of those.

Modern Misportrayal of a Patriotic Leader

One of the biggest issues that the author expresses about our modern day outlook of Hamilton is how he is portrayed as a self-motivated individual with only his own interests in mind. In that sense, he is seen as the aristocratic counterpart to the democratic ideals of Jefferson. The writer deems this case to be completely irrelevant and inaccurate. He proposes that Hamilton was a patriotic man, burning with the love of his country.

What this book really manages to do well is to portray the founding father as a human. A human with mistakes, regrets, hopes, and passion. More important than these though, he also reverses the mythicized narrative of the feuds between the fathers and inspects them for what they really are; disagreements between comrades united under a common cause which in this case was the freedom and prosperity of our nation.



A Part of World History

We are almost halfway through our Ron Chernow book reviews article and as the third piece on our list, we will take a quick look at the book titled ‘Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller.’. John Rockefeller is not someone you would be surprised to see a biography of. He is a colossal character in the history of the United States as well as the whole wide world. He is not just a historical figure, he is a historical titan.

Almost any person living in the Western world will know of the Rockefellers. They are the richest and perhaps the most powerful dynasty known to man. John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was the founder of this dynasty and the first known billionaire to ever walk the earth. The latter fact gets all the more fascinating when we take into account that in the time he lived, a dollar was a half-decent daily wage and the average yearly salary was less than $700.

Fourth Generation Got it Just Right!

The book introduces this man as a person “whose true nature has eluded three generations of historians.”. The writer Chernow comes into play at this point to provide us with an objective and well-written account of this legend. His right to claim so is evident by his National Book Award winning book “The House of Morgan” which includes similar themes to the story of Rockefeller as we will see when we get to it later in the article.

This piece stands out among all other books written about John Rockefeller as Chernow was the first ever author to have complete access to the titan’s own archive. Rockefeller had left behind piles upon piles of writings, notes, and accounts which were all laid in front of the author to read and write about. This gives us the most detailed, accurate, and most importantly, completely insightful biography of the man that has ever been written.

Post-Civil War United States

Titan allows us to see the world’s first billionaire as a human instead of a godly figure or a wretched demon. It is filled with shocking revelations from cover to cover that will make you reevaluate your view of Rockefeller with each turn of a page. The fact that you can learn about the life of Rockefeller is interesting on its own but to know what he felt and thought as he went through the events of his life is a priceless opportunity.

Another thing to mention is how the author manages to capture the post-Civil War transformation of the United States as he is working through the story of John Rockefeller. We are able to see how the economical climate shifted from favoring small businesses to urging the creation of mega-corporations and industry giants. All of these, along with the magnificent cameos present in the book, Titan might just be the best Ron Chernow book.



The Waxwork President

Next up on our search for the best Ron Chernow books, we will take a peek at another biography of a president, Washington: A Life. The thing about Washington is that despite being a man with legendary accomplishments and awe inspiring qualities, the way he is instilled into the public eye is dull at best. In that sense, the author resembles the first president’s image to a waxwork, devoid of life and character.

By traveling through the life of Washington from his troubled childhood years to his years in the French and Indian War, his heroic feats in the Continental Army, and his revolutionary services as the first ever president of America; the author aims to get rid of the dull stereotype for good and show Washington as the eccentric, virtuous, and notable man he was. The result is one of the best selling Ron Chernow books.

The Man Behind The Myths

This book revealed a lot to me about who George Washington actually was. For example, did you know he highly enjoyed dancing and he was said to do so with a capturing elegance? He was also a celebrated horseman, a master at hunting known for his dedication, a student of the world eager to learn, and a closed off man who preferred to keep his personal matters to himself. These are not the thing they teach at the school.

The book also helps us realize the actual magnitude of the role Washington played in the political landscape of his years. Of course, his gatherings with notable figures such as James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton are inspected to the finest detail but there is a lot more. We learn about the things that remained behind the scenes of history, Washington’s finely crafted and executed orchestration of the greatest figures of the United States history.

Technically Co-Written by Washington Himself

But now arises a question, what proof is there for this book to be held higher than all of the other countless works on George Washington? Well, this is where we will return back to the first paragraph of the section. Chernow thought that the first president was presented as an entity higher than a man but also devoid of life. In order to get around this portrayal, he focuses on the writings of Washington himself.

The author uses the most recent compilations of the collective written works of the president. Chernow notes that with the utilization of this vast source of insight, we are presented with a clearer picture of George Washington than his closest friends in life had of him. The diaries, letters, and reports of the president paints the most striking portrait there could ever be that is also free of political propaganda surrounding his name.

The House of Morgan


From a Journalist to a Writer

As the last piece on our Ron Chernow book list, we will examine the book ‘The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance’. As you might recall, I have previously mentioned this book in the article as I was talking about the author’s biography of  John D. Rockefeller. The two books share a close resemblance. Namely, the existence of a dynasty with a vast amount of wealth under their control.

Before we get to the actual book, however, I want to talk about an interesting quality of this book which I have also mentioned. The House of Morgan is the recipient of one of the most respectable literary awards in the United States, the National Book Award. This piece was the first book publication of the author and the enormous success it brought transformed him from an ambitious journalist to the author of a timeless classic.

A Book About American History

With that mentioned, we can finally proceed to talk about the book itself. The first thing that captured my attention about it is the fact that it is the biography of a corporation. To make things worse, the corporation in question is a bank. To put it shortly, I was afraid that the book was going to be a boring one. As I read it though, my worries were lifted. It is not a book about a bank but about American history.

This will be a major simplification but The House of Morgan is an account of the economical landscape in America during the earlier years of the nineteenth century. It is a story of how the United States evolved to the state that it is in today. Chernow sees Morgan banks as an emblem of one of the greatest steps in the chain of evolution. Their emergence was an early signal for America’s economic dominance over the world as per the author.

Informative and Easy to Digest

In his quest to realize the significance of these corporations, the author dwells far and deep into their history. He divides the book into three chronological chapters which are; ‘The Baronial Age’, ‘The Diplomatic Age’, and ‘The Casino Age’. He examines these periods thoroughly and presents his findings in a fashion that is very easy to digest. The result is one of the best books by Ron Chernow, even after thirty years.

Final Thoughts


Ron Chernow is a man who writes biographies and he does so with the utmost care and precision. All of the methods of research that he uses in his books are objective sources. More so, they are insightful for the most part which makes them a lot more than just a source of historical information. When I read a biography written by Ron Chernow, I feel like I am getting to know that person instead of getting educated about them.

Michael Englert

Michael is a graduate of cultural studies and history. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and (surprise, surprise) reading. As a small-town librarian, he is currently relishing the silence and peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing.