A book review on Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
It’s not often that I read a nonfiction book—in fact—I can’t even remember the last nonfiction book I ever read. What was it? Maybe a Walt Disney biography, and even then, that was probably for a school project of some sort.
I think I weaseled Disney into every school project at any chance I could get.
By the way. So sorry I’ve been gone for ages, well months, but it seems like it’s been ages. The past few months have been very busy and then life’s been a little rough and I had to move and adjust, but I’ve finally started settling in and I think it’s time I get back to my old hobbies. Like making crappy blog posts that you guys all read for some reason anyway.
Well sometime during early last year my brother told me that he was going to see this show called Hamilton (for his honeymoon) about the historical figure we all kind of know of but not really. He played me a little of the opening number and at first, I think it was hard for me to grasp onto the idea of hip hop and American history all in a broadway show. But then over the next few months, I kept hearing more about it, it kept popping up on TV and mostly social media. So I revisited the opening number, and really listened to the lyrics and I was hooked. Thereafter I bought the rest of the soundtrack and listened to it everyday until I could learn all the words and understand the story considering I haven’t physically seen the show and will probably never get a chance to.
How does a bastard orphan, son of whore and a Scotsman become one of the most important father figures that had his reputation destroyed by his enemies and forgotten by America—and probably the rest of the world that ever had a clue who Alexander Hamilton was?
I’ll be honest and say yeah, I probably never would have picked up this nonfiction book if it weren’t for Lin Manuel Miranda turning it into a Broadway show. It’s true, and I’m glad he did, because I have a new respect and knowledge for this man that I knew very little about. A huge thanks to Ron Chernow and Lin Manuel for opening my eyes, as well as anyone else that has probably seen or heard a thing or two about the musical/book.
(JESUS HIS EYEBROWS.)
And Goddamn, this book took me forever to read. I got it as gift in December when my parents—probably annoyed of hearing the OST blaring from my bedroom everyday—fueled my hunger for more knowledge with the book that Lin picked up in an airport some years ago to inspire his masterpiece. Anyway, I just recently finished it—thank you Jesus—it was way too long, but very good.
Let’s start with what I did know about Alex Hamilton (Sometimes, I forget that my brother’s name is also Alexander, and it’s weird that I hear it nearly every day on my ipod without this fact ever occurring to me. Sorry, Alex, if you’re reading this, Hamilton is simply much more on my mind than you are.)
I knew he was a founding father.
I knew he was a controversial man.
I knew he wrote some of the Federalist papers and strongly supported the US Constitution.
And I knew about his famous feud with Aaron Burr that resulted in his untimely death during their 1804 duel.
However, I never knew much else or how important this man was to the construction of a brand new nation.
It’s the story of an underdog and the epitome of the American Dream.
A lot of the book was written with extensive research on the accounts of Alex’s wife, Eliza and the Papers of Alexander Hamilton. As well as other sources, I mean there’s just pages of his listed resources in the back, Chernow was dedicated to this story, man.
The entire book is very lengthy but if you’ve seen the broadway show, or listened to the soundtrack, it’s essentially that in a much more detailed version with a few tweaks here and there. It details the entirety of Alex’s life, and even a little bit about before him and after. You understand the many aspects of the ambitious “college student, youthful poet, essayist, artillery captain, wartime adjutant to Washington, battlefield hero, congressman, abolitionist, Bank of New York founder, state assemblyman, member of the Constitutional Convention and New York Ratifying Convention, orator, lawyer, polemicist, educator, patron saint of the New-York Evening Post, foreign-policy theorist, and major general in the army.”
Yep. He was pretty all over the place in the best way.
In the beginning, you learn a little about Hamilton’s mother and father’s personally lives before and then after they meet. His mother has a sad sort of story and you feel more sympathetic to her than Alex’s father, but hey, what do I know. She’s not actually a “whore” or not the one that gets paid, at least. She wasn’t truly promiscuous, she just had her rep tarnished by her ex husband whom she tried getting a divorce from.
Alex was supposedly born in 1755 but this isn’t a sure fact since over the course of his life, Alex lied about his age most of the time and probably wasn’t even quite sure of his birth year himself. Alex’s mother struggled to keep her sons (yes sons, Alex had a brother) supported so they never really knew a “better life” than struggling to get by. Later on, She and Alex got sick and even though he got better for some reason, she unfortunately didn’t make it, and didn’t even get a proper burial from the church—which is mostly why Alex isn’t much of the “church going” type later in life.
“I take the children to church on Sunday, a sign of the cross at the door, and I pray. That never used to happen before.”
After his mother died, he was taken under the wing of his cousin who had a family of his own to take care of. So when he killed himself, Alex and his older brother were left with nothing to survive on.
“Moved in with a cousin, the cousin committed suicide, left him with nothing but ruined pride…”
Now orphaned, Alex becomes a clerk working for a “family friend” at an import and export company for international trade. Considering he lived on an island—St. Croix—this didn’t give him much to do but work and read. He educated himself and became a talented poet at the age of 17. He wrote an elaborate segment which was published in a local newspaper, that described the recent hurricane which just devastated his home island.
This letter, is what gave Alex the sufficient funds to travel to North America and become further educated. The young man went to King’s College (now known as Columbia University) in New York city. During these years, he meets John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, and the wonderful antagonist of this story, Aaron Burr.
Aaron Burr, is now probably my favorite antagonist of any story.
Work it, baby. Work.
Anyway, the rest of the book goes over his dabble in government, war efforts, how he meets Elizabeth Schuyler—whom he falls in love with and marries and has NINE babies with—and even Maria Reynolds, the woman he was involved in an affair with and started the leading up to his downfall. I could go into further detail, but I’d spoil a lot of juicy details and wonderful facts that you probably had no idea about.
Plus, this would be a really long blog post, I think the books is probably about 800 pages long. It’s freaking long. Some of it drags a little with unnecessary details but I think a lot of books are like that. Still good tho.
The book could have very well been written in a biased point of view, but I felt that a lot of it was factual statement rather than driven on Ron Chernow’s opinions, and I liked that. He obviously carried an admiration for Alexander Hamilton and his strive to the top and later fall to the bottom, but Ron holds out this metaphorical rope out to pull Alex out of this torn reputation and it gives you a better understanding of the man you never knew much about. I can’t say that I’d read it again because it’s so goddamn long, and I think I retained enough of the basics, also, if I need a refresher, I’ll just listen to Hamilton.
Anyway. I’d give this monster of a book a 4/5. Wait.
Am I doing these things out of five? I don’t even remember.
That’s how long it’s been. But man, it feels damn good to be back.
I’m back. I’m back in the saddle again.