Book Review: “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow (5/5)

“While reading the scene in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in which the tenderhearted Uncle Toby picks up a fly and delicately places it outside a window instead of killing it, Burr is said to have remarked, ‘Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.'”

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Penguin, 2004, 818 pages [hardcover]

Here I am! Hi! Hi!!! I don’t even know if it is worth apologizing for not posting a review in so long; it’s unacceptable, but with everything that I have going on right now my reading and reviewing has suffered the most. :\

Work is good but super busy, and we’re also beginning to navigate the very, very stressful process of purchasing our first (and hopefully only) house. But a new, big house means more space for books, am I right?

In the time since I last posted I have definitely joined the Hamilton bandwagon. I have always been interested in American history, especially earlier American history, but never realized just how fascinating Hamilton’s life was in comparison to the other founding fathers until listening to the soundtrack from the show and then reading this book. Even though I have a lot of nonfiction and biographies on my TBR, I always seem to gravitate to fiction more, but this was really wonderful and maybe I will seek out nonfiction to actually read more often now.

I think with the growing popularity of the musical now, a lot of people know the basics of Hamilton’s life so I won’t really go into that in this review. What I want to talk about here is Chernow’s skill as a biographer and a writer. Unlike many other biographies, I think that Alexander Hamilton provides an extremely well-rounded and honest portrait of a quite complicated man: as much as there is to love and respect about Hamilton, he was a very vain, rather elitist guy who would do pretty much anything that he could to move up in the world and obtain more power. Chernow doesn’t shy away from this at all and continuously reinforces Hamilton’s personality traits, both positive and negative, as explanations for why he made many of the questionable decisions of his career. The writing was persuasive, emotionally effective, and often funny and sarcastic. Even though there was a very large cast of characters, between Hamilton’s wife and eight(!!!) children and his many political comrades and enemies, I felt like I knew everyone so well by the end (and we all know how it ends).

It’s also hard for me not to mention that since I was familiar with (OK, memorized all of the songs) the musical soundtrack prior to reading the book, it just reinforced for me how much of a genius Lin-Manuel Miranda is. It was really great for me to continuously find quotes and/or descriptions from Chernow that matched song lyrics. I can’t say exactly when I’m seeing the show (the tickets are a “surprise” from my husband), but I know that it is at some point in the not too distant future, and having read Alexander Hamilton is only going to enhance my experience.

Not surprisingly, I am giving Alexander Hamilton 5 stars. If you already love the musical/soundtrack, you have nothing to lose by reading this, except maybe time, since it did take me almost a month of train reading to get through it. If you have an interest in American history/founding fathers/colonial America etc., this is also a great choice. Despite the length and depth of this book I really never felt bored at all while reading it – I don’t know how much of that can be attributed to Chernow’s talents and how much to the fact that Hamilton’s life as compared to many of his contemporaries was simply very interesting, but those two factors have created a great combination and I’m so glad that I read it.

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Hope to be able to post a bit more regularly, but do not want to make a promise that I can’t fulfill. Miss you all though.

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