Book Spotlight: Alexander Hamilton

If you’ve been paying attention to pop culture lately, you might have heard the name Alexander Hamilton a few times. Lin Manuel Miranda’s wildly popular hip hop musical about the founding fathers has been making major waves on Broadway. It’s been likened to the phenomenon that surrounded Rent when the public took interest in it.

If you want to buy tickets for Hamilton online, you might be out of luck, unless you want to shell out $1000 for a ticket on StubHub that could be counterfeit, or unless you’re cool with waiting until next winter to see the most buzzed about show in years. That’s how high demand is for tickets.

I was lucky enough to attend a performance of Hamilton last week, and let me tell you – it certainly lives up to the hype. If you’re skeptical yourself, try streaming the cast recording on Amazon Prime or Spotify. The music is catchy and entirely too addicting. I find myself listening to it more often than I thought I’d want to, and that’s saying something.

The musical was inspired by Ron Chernow’s 832 page biography, Alexander Hamilton. Leave it to Lin Manuel Miranda to read such a book and think to adapt it into a hip hop musical. In addition to having written the hip hop musical In the Heights, Miranda thought Hamilton was the most hip hop founding father around: “I also believe [hip hop] is uniquely suited to tell Hamilton’s story. Because it has more words per measure than any other musical genre. It has rhythm and it has density. And if Hamilton had anything in his writings it was this density.” x

Anyway, the book has received a boost in sales due to Hamilton’s success, but personally, I think the page count is still overwhelming. I don’t read much non-fiction, and I never had any particular interest in American History. That’s not to say I won’t read the book in the future, just that I’m not eager to do so right now.

But what’s so interesting about Alexander Hamilton that has inspired such a widespread interest? Here are some things Ron Chernow had to say:

I always felt that Hamilton had been grossly underrated and misunderstood and that he was the founder most overlooked in recent years. On the other hand, I knew that he was a flawed figure and so I wanted to understand his terrible errors as well as his shining triumphs.

 

Hamilton was the youngest and the most charismatic of the founders, a flamboyant, swashbuckling figure who seemed to thrive on controversy and engaged in titanic feuds with several other founders—notably Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr. Whether scaling the ramparts at Yorktown or dashing off polemical articles under a variety of Roman pen names, Hamilton was always a man of action.

x

And Lin Manuel Miranda says:

The thing about Hamilton is he spoke in paragraphs. So the opening sentence of our show is this crazy, run-on sentence. “How does a bastard orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished in squalor, comma, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” That’s the question we’re gonna answer for the next two hours and 45 minutes.

x

Chernow’s biography has won many awards, including PW’s Best Books of the Year (Adult) and the NYT Ten Best Books of the Year. Kirkus Reviews calls it “A splendid life of an enlightened reactionary and forgotten Founding Father. Literate and full of engaging historical asides. By far the best of the many lives of Hamilton now in print, and a model of the biographer’s art.”

Interested? Read it and let me know what you think! I’d love to know!

alexander hamilton.jpg
Alexander Hamilton | Ron Chernow | March 29, 2005
Penguin Books | 832 Pages

 

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