The good: learned some interesting things. Was not up on the conflict between Madison and Hamilton on paying the domestic debt. Hamilton wanted to pay the wealthy Americans who had bought up Revolutionary era debt at a discount, whereas Madison wanted to give them a small profit on their below face value purchase, but also make sure the the original holder, who received a promissory note for $100 (for example) for $100 worth of grain, would, if not made whole, at least receive some part of it. Suffice to say, I’m on Madison’s side. Also interesting to read how a man named William Duer, a one-time lieutenant in Hamilton’s treasury department, almost singlehandedly (according to Shankman) created dangerous investment bubbles and subsequent crashes in 1791 and 1792, which feels downright contemporary, except that Duer went to prison and we never seem to hold the rentier class accountable.

The bad: AP style gone awry. The dreadfully boring style and monotonous sentence structure makes this a real slog to read. AP style is not meant to create boring prose, but to set a floor which the writer can choose to rise above. This writer, ahem, does not appear to have made that choice.

I’m probably being too harsh. It’s a fine monograph, limited in scope, but covering an important issue (debt and credit) in the early years of the United States, through the lenses of Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison, though Jefferson is, surprisingly, the least important of the three (possibly because Madison, as his de facto political lieutenant, was more active in the national conversation, while Jefferson kept his image as the retiring philosopher).