Ron Chernow

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Ron Chernow
Chernow (left) with former U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow in September 2004
Chernow (left) with former U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow in September 2004
BornRonald Chernow
(1949-03-03) March 3, 1949 (age 74)
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
  • Writer
  • journalist
  • biographer
EducationEnglish literature
Alma materYale University (BA)
Pembroke College, Cambridge
SubjectHistorical biography
Notable worksAlexander Hamilton
The House of Morgan
Washington: A Life
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Biography
American History Book Prize
National Book Award for Nonfiction
Valerie Stearn
(m. 1979; died 2006)

 Literature portal

Ronald Chernow (/ˈɜːrn/;[1][2] born March 3, 1949) is an American writer, journalist, and biographer. He has written bestselling historical non-fiction biographies.

Chernow won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the 2011 American History Book Prize for his 2010 book Washington: A Life. He is also the recipient of the National Book Award for Nonfiction for his 1990 book The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance.[3] His biographies of Alexander Hamilton (2004) and John D. Rockefeller (1998) were both nominated for National Book Critics Circle Awards. His biography of Hamilton inspired the popular Hamilton musical, which Chernow worked on as a historical consultant. For another book, The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family, he was awarded the 1993 George S. Eccles Prize for Excellence in Economic Writing. As a freelance journalist, Chernow has written over sixty articles for various national publications.

Early life and education[edit]

Chernow was born on March 2, 1949, in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Israel, was the owner of a discount store and creator of a stock brokerage firm; his mother, Ruth, was a bookkeeper. He is brother to Bart Chernow and uncle to Shandee Chernow.[4] He is of Jewish descent.[5] Chernow was voted "Most Likely to Succeed", and was Class President and Valedictorian when he graduated in 1966 from Forest Hills High School in Queens in New York City.[6] Chernow graduated summa cum laude from Yale University in 1970 and Pembroke College at Cambridge University with degrees in English literature. He began but did not finish a PhD program. He says that in politics he is a "disgruntled Democrat" and gives his religion as "Jewish, though more in the breach than the observance."[7]

Chernow married Valerie Stearn in 1979; she died in January 2006. Valerie S. Chernow was an assistant professor of languages and social sciences at the New York City College of Technology.[8]

Ron Chernow has received honorary degrees from Long Island University, Marymount Manhattan College, Hamilton College, Washington College, and Skidmore College.[7]


Chernow began his career as a freelance journalist. He wrote more than 60 articles for various national newspapers and magazines from 1973 to 1982. In the mid-1980s, he put his writing pursuits aside when he began serving as the director of financial policy studies with the Twentieth Century Fund in New York City. In 1986, he left the organization and refocused his efforts on writing. In addition to his background in writing nonfiction and biographies, Chernow continues to contribute articles to The New York Times[9] and The Wall Street Journal. He has also provided commentary on business, politics, and finance on national radio and television shows, while also appearing as an expert in documentary films.

Business and finance[edit]

The House of Morgan[edit]

In 1990, Chernow published his first book, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance, which traces the history of four generations of the J.P. Morgan financial empire.[10] The reviewer for The New York Times Book Review said, "As a portrait of finance, politics and the world of avarice and ambition on Wall Street, the book has the movement and tension of an epic novel. It is, quite simply, a tour de force."[11] The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance was honored with the National Book Award for Nonfiction.[3]

The Warburgs[edit]

In 1993, Chernow published The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family, which is an account of the Warburg family, who immigrated to the US from Germany in 1838. The Warburg family was a prominent financial dynasty of German Jewish descent, known for their accomplishments in physics, classical music, art history, pharmacology, physiology, finance, private equity and philanthropy. The book was awarded the Columbia Business School's George S. Eccles Prize for Excellence in Economic Writing. It was additionally named as one of the year's ten best works by the American Library Association[12] and a Notable Book by The New York Times.

The Death of the Banker[edit]

Chernow's 1997 collection of essays, The Death of the Banker, touched upon his earlier writings and chronicled "the decline and fall of the great financial dynasties and the triumph of the small investor" (to quote its subtitle).

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.[edit]

External videos
video icon Booknotes interview with Chernow on Titan, June 21, 1998, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Chernow on Alexander Hamilton, May 26, 2004, C-SPAN
video icon Washington Journal interview with Chernow on Alexander Hamilton, June 18, 2004, C-SPAN
video icon Discussion with Chernow on his experiences as consultant on the play Hamilton, February 25, 2016, C-SPAN
video icon Q&A interview with Chernow on Alexander Hamilton and Hamilton: The Musical, April 24, 2016, C-SPAN
video icon Part one of Q&A interview with Chernow on Washington: A Life, October 2, 2010, C-SPAN
video icon Part two of Q&A interview with Chernow on Washington: A Life, October 9, 2010, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Chernow on Washington: A Life, November 21, 2010, C-SPAN
video icon Q&A interview with Chernow on Grant, November 5, 2017, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Chernow on Grant, September 1, 2018, C-SPAN

In 1998, Chernow published the 774-page Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., which was selected by Time and The New York Times as one of the year's ten best books. A prominent figure in American business history, Rockefeller was an industrialist, philanthropist, and the founder of the Standard Oil Company. The book reflected Chernow's continued interest in financial history, especially when shaped by compelling and influential individuals. The book remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 16 weeks. Time called it "one of the great American biographies".[13]

American politics[edit]

Alexander Hamilton[edit]

In 2004, Chernow published Alexander Hamilton. The biography was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award[14] and was named as the winner of the inaugural George Washington Book Prize for early American history.[15] It remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for three months. In his review for the Journal of American History, Stephen B. Presser, who is professor of business law emeritus at Northwestern University,[16] wrote:

This book is one of those happy rarities: a popular biography that should also delight scholars. ...This is the kind of synthetic narrative history and biography that is rarely done to such high standards and is clearly one of the best introductions to the American formative era available. Moreover, the way Chernow integrates international affairs, domestic politics, economic and constitutional theory, and astute psychological analysis is nothing short of wondrous.[17]

The biography was adapted into a Tony award-winning musical, Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which opened on Broadway in August 2015. Chernow served as historical consultant to the production.[18]

George Washington[edit]

Chernow's 904-page Washington: A Life was released on October 5, 2010 (ISBN 978-1-59420-266-7). It won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography[19][20] and the American History Book Prize. Professor Gordon S. Wood, renowned scholar of the Founding era, wrote:[21]

[T]he best, most comprehensive, and most balanced single-volume biography of Washington ever written.... One comes away from the book feeling that Washington has finally become comprehensible.... [Chernow's] understanding of human nature is extraordinary and that is what makes his biography so powerful.[22]

Ulysses S. Grant[edit]

In 2011, Chernow signed a deal to write a comprehensive biography on Ulysses S. Grant.[23] Chernow explained his transition from writing about George Washington to Grant: "Makes some sense as progression. Towering general of Revolution to towering general of Civil War. Both two-term presidents, though with very different results."[24] Grant was released on October 10, 2017, and the biography strongly argues against the conventional wisdom that Grant was an "adequate president, a dull companion and a roaring drunk."[25] The book received overwhelmingly positive reviews and was named by The New York Times as one of the 10 Best Books of 2017.[26]

Board memberships[edit]

In 1990, Chernow became a member of the PEN American Center. In 2006, he was named as the President of the Board of Trustees, succeeding novelist Salman Rushdie.[27]

Honors and awards[edit]

Published works[edit]



  • Chernow, Ron (April 1974). "John Ford: The Last Frontiersman". Ramparts. Vol. 12. pp. 45–48.


  • 1996: Biography, "J. Pierpont Morgan: Emperor of Wall Street" (documentary), as himself
  • 2000: The American Experience, "The Rockefellers: Part 1" (documentary), as advisor
  • 2000: The American Experience, "The Rockefellers: Part 2" (documentary), as advisor
  • 2007: The American Experience, "Alexander Hamilton" (documentary), as advisor
  • 2010: Tavis Smiley, "October 12, 2010 episode" (talk show), as guest
  • 2010: Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton (documentary), as himself/historian
  • 2020: Grant, as writer


  1. ^ "Q&A with Ron Chernow". C-SPAN. March 25, 2016. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  2. ^ "Alexander Hamilton: The man who imagined America | LIVE EVENT". American Enterprise Institute. July 1, 2016. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c "1990 National Book Awards Winners and Finalists, The National Book Foundation". Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  4. ^ "Hamilton Biographer Ron Chernow Finds New York's 'Quietest' Home". Wall Street Journal. August 23, 2016. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved December 29, 2020.
  5. ^ Schleier, Curt (September 2, 2015). "This Jewish biographer is behind Broadway's hip-hop 'Hamilton'". Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
  6. ^ The Forester Class of 1966, p. 11, 24, 50.
  7. ^ a b "Ron Chernow" in Contemporary Authors Online (Gale, 2011)
  8. ^ Miller, Stephen (January 16, 2006). "Valerie Chernow, 66, Professor Of Languages at City Tech". The New York Sun.
  9. ^ Chernow, Ron (September 23, 2010). "The Founding Fathers Versus the Tea Party". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Book Reviews: Book Review of The House of Morgan:, by Ron Chernow". Archived from the original on November 28, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  11. ^ Garten, Jeffrey E. (March 18, 1990). "Their Street Was Paved With Gold - New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  12. ^ "Honored Patricia Barbizet, Corinne Mentzelopoulos and Ron Chernow". Humanity in Action. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  13. ^ Morrow, Lance (June 15, 1998). "Books: John D. Rockefeller: Oil In The Family". TIME. Archived from the original on May 18, 2007. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  14. ^ a b c "National Book Critics Circle: awards". Archived from the original on December 19, 2008. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  15. ^ a b "George Washington Book Prize". The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  16. ^ "Profiles, Faculty Profiles, Faculty & Research: Northwestern Pritzker School of Law".
  17. ^ Presser, Stephen B. (June 2006). "Review of Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton", Journal of American History, pages 192–193
  18. ^ "Meet the historian whose book inspired the musical Hamilton". December 22, 2017.
  19. ^ a b Richard Ellmann. "The Pulitzer Prizes | Biography or Autobiography". Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  20. ^ a b "The Pulitzer Prizes | Citation". December 13, 2012. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  21. ^ Wood, Gordon S. (December 9, 2010). "The Real Washington at Last by Gordon S. Wood | The New York Review of Books". Retrieved June 20, 2013. {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  22. ^ a b Bosman, Julie (March 4, 2011). "ARTS, BRIEFLY - Ron Chernow Wins Prize For Biography - Web Log -". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  23. ^ "Chernow to write about Ulysses S. Grant | The Book Case". April 27, 2011. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  24. ^ "Chernow channels George Washington at the Kimmel — NewsWorks". September 26, 2011. Archived from the original on September 12, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  25. ^ Maslin, Janet (October 10, 2017). "In Ron Chernow's 'Grant,' an American Giant's Makeover Continues". The New York Times.
  26. ^ "The 10 Best Books of 2017". New York Times. November 30, 2017. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
  27. ^ "Chernow Succeeds Rushdie as President of PEN American Center | Daily News | Poets & Writers". March 28, 2006. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  28. ^ "The BIO Award, Biographers International Organization". Archived from the original on March 7, 2016.
  29. ^ "President Obama to Award 2015 National Humanities Medals".
  30. ^ "Gold Medal Honorees — The National Institute of Social Sciences". Archived from the original on March 25, 2018.
  31. ^ The Lincoln Forum
  33. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  34. ^ "2019 Summit Highlights Photo". Awards Council member General David H. Petraeus presents the Golden Plate Award to Ron Chernow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the biography Alexander Hamilton, during the 53rd annual Banquet of the Golden Plate.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]