Chernow (left) with John W. Snow in 2004
March 3, 1949
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
|Occupation||Writer, journalist, historian, biographer|
|Alma mater||Yale College|
Pembroke College, Cambridge
|Notable works||Alexander Hamilton|
The House of Morgan
Washington: A Life
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
|Notable awards||Pulitzer Prize for Biography |
American History Book Prize
National Book Award for Nonfiction
(m. 1979; died 2006)
Ronald Chernow (; born March 3, 1949) is an American writer, journalist, historian, and biographer. He has written bestselling and award-winning biographies of historical figures from the world of business, finance, and American politics.
He 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. His biographies of Alexander Hamilton (2004) and John D. Rockefeller (1998) were both nominated for National Book Critics Circle Awards, while the former served as the inspiration for the popular Hamilton musical, for which Chernow worked as a historical consultant. Another book, The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family, was honored with the 1993 George S. Eccles Prize for Excellence in Economic Writing. As a freelance journalist, he has written over sixty articles in national publications.
Ronald Chernow was born on March 3, 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. 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, New York. 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."
Chernow began his career as a freelance journalist. He wrote more than 60 articles in 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, which is based in New York City. In 1986, he left the organization and refocused his efforts on writing. In addition to his background writing nonfiction works and biographies, Chernow continues to contribute articles to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He has also provided commentary on business, politics, and finance on national radio and television shows, while additionally appearing as an expert in documentary films.
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. 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."The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance was honored with the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
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 1938. 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 and a Notable Book by The New York Times.
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".
In 1998, Chernow published the 774 page long book 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".
In 2004, Chernow published Alexander Hamilton. The biography was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and was named as the winner of the inaugural George Washington Book Prize for early American history. 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 a member of the faculty of Northwestern University 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.
Chernow's 904-page Washington: A Life was released on October 5, 2010 (ISBN 978-1594202667). It won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the American History Book Prize. Professor Gordon S. Wood, renowned scholar of the Founding era, wrote:
The 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.
In 2011, Chernow signed a deal to write a comprehensive biography on Ulysses S. Grant. 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."Grant was released on October 10, 2017 and the biography strongly argues against conventional wisdom that Grant was an "...adequate president, a dull companion and a roaring drunk." The book received overwhelmingly positive reviews and was named by The New York Times as one of the 10 Best Books of 2017.
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.