Ever since I first learned about the Hamilton musical over a year ago I’ve been itching to read Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. I’ve always had a passion for American history (flashback to my AP United States History class days), especially the early years of America becoming an independent nation. Several books about this topic sit on my bookshelf as we speak (Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis, 1776 by David McCullough, etc.), but I had never read a biography of one Founding Father in particular until I finished this one. As soon as I read the first of its 818 pages I immediately understood why Lin-Manuel Miranda had been so inspired by this book to transform Hamilton’s life into a musical: this biography is a work of art in itself.
The wide scope of this biography is simply incredible. Not only does Chernow cover the entirety of Hamilton’s life (and then some), but he does so with a meticulous attention to detail. He discusses Hamilton’s social, political, family, and romantic life, as well as that of many other relevant figures in Hamilton’s story. I learned more about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Aaron Burr, and other influential people than I expected to from this biography, which was a pleasant surprise. It’s fascinating to view these men from the perspective of Hamilton and how they impacted him rather than focusing solely on each man’s story on its own. Chernow must have completed an immense amount of careful research in order to be able to write this endlessly impressive biography. Fortunately, he can rest assured that every ounce of energy and effort poured into creating this stellar final product was undeniably worth it.
The all-encompassing nature of this biography has allowed Chernow to showcase countless different sides of Hamilton. He reminds us that this Founding Father was, first and foremost, a human being. It’s easy to get caught up in all of Hamilton’s amazing accomplishments without acknowledging his flaws. Hamilton is indeed a heroic and inspirational figure; however, he also cheated on his loving wife and agreed to a duel that ultimately killed him even though he loathed dueling in general. Often times we’re only presented with a limited or narrow view of these almost legendary historical figures, but Chernow refutes this practice by highlighting Hamilton’s humanity. Emphasizing his multidimensional nature also makes for a much more interesting story. It’s hard to imagine such a brilliant man succumbing to a scandalous, misleading sexual affair!
Alexander Hamilton lived a wild, almost unbelievable life of numerous ups, downs, and unexpected turns. Who would have thought that a poor boy born out-of-wedlock in the West Indies would someday become one of the most important men in the history of the United States? He faced so many challenges in his life– poverty, illness, the death of loved ones, discrimination due to his background and family history, etc.– that it’s a wonder he was able to achieve an extraordinary number of accomplishments. Hamilton’s life story itself is entertaining, dramatic, and fascinating without any embellishments whatsoever, surely making him a biographer’s ideal subject.
Moreover, I simply cannot wrap my head around how much of a genius Alexander Hamilton must have been. Not only was he an intelligent political and adept attorney, but he was also a talented poet, prolific writer, and knowledgable about the human body and medical practices. From a young age he quickly became George Washington’s right-hand man during the American Revolution and Washington’s later presidency. In fact, Hamilton had an enormous influence on Washington in many respects, advising him on military, political, and personal matters. What astounds me the most about Hamilton’s brilliance is his ability to write thousands upon thousands of words in astonishingly short periods of time. It seems as though Hamilton wrote and spoke more words than I will ever even think of in my entire lifetime. *Cue the song “Non-Stop” from the Hamilton musical.*
Reading about the brilliance and sagacity of the Founding Fathers always fills me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for their very existence. What if these wise, capable men hadn’t existed during the formative years of the United States? Where would this country be today without them? Would it even exist, or would we have continued to be an English colony? These and many other questions inevitably surface whenever I think about early American history, a constant reminder that one individual can certainly leave an immense mark on the world.
Furthermore, rather than abandoning her in the wings, Chernow often places Eliza, Hamilton’s wife, at center stage in this biography. Even throughout the scandal surrounding Hamilton’s affair with another woman, Eliza maintained her composure and remained supportive of her husband. Due to Hamilton’s role in the government and his extended stays in the Capital, the large majority of the child-raising fell on Eliza’s shoulders. She essentially shared her husband with the nation, which is a lot to ask of someone. As emphasized in the very last chapter– which solely discusses Eliza after Hamilton’s death– she was strong, independent, resilient, generous, and unfailingly loyal to Hamilton. It would not have done Hamilton justice to leave out any mention of Eliza due to the fact that she was such an important person in his life. After years of being lost in a whirlwind of history, Eliza has finally received the credit and praise she undeniably deserves.
Overall, I am incredibly impressed with this comprehensive, engaging, fascinating account of Alexander Hamilton’s life. Don’t let its brick-like size intimidate you– it may be long, but this masterpiece is worth every moment spent reading it.
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys.
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! However, probably only to someone interested in early American history in the Hamilton musical. Otherwise, I’m not sure they would have the motivation to make it through this tome.
What are your thoughts on in this book or the recent Hamilton craze? What other biographies would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!