Honestly, let’s just jump right into this because this is a HUGE book and I’m so proud of myself for reading it! I’m talking about the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club: “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow. Here’s the book’s description:
In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America. According to historian Joseph Ellis, Alexander Hamilton is “a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all.”
Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time.
“To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton.
Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804.
Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.
I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I watched a PBS special on how “Hamilton”, the Broadway Show was created. Lin-Manuel Miranda read this same book while on vacation and thought there was a show to be made from what he read, which I just think is incredible and inspiring.
So, why didn’t I jump in after seeing the PBS special approximately two or three years ago? For starters, I have never (never, ever) enjoyed history books or movies. It’s not that I don’t find it interesting, it’s just not something I’m drawn to and I think part of it is because I can’t wrap my brain around the timelines.
The other thing is… this book is pretty huge. It’s around 800 pages, some of which are notes and research, but it’s a solid 730 pages of content with tight text. It’s hefty. I’ve only read two other books similar in size: “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson and “My Life” by Bill Clinton.
But right before I saw “Hamilton”, the Broadway show, I put the book on reserve. It was time. It took two months to get it, and I knew once I picked it up that my work was cut out for me.
In short, the book was great. It is a testament to Chernow’s research and writing that someone like me could read this book in a week, and not only understand what was being discussed, but I found myself really getting wrapped up in it, even laughing out loud at some points!
The book gives a little bit of Hamilton’s family history before he was born, and then we learn of his birth, childhood, and his journey to North America. Of course, there’s College and then the launch of his political career, and all of the details about writing the Constitution, writing The Federalist Papers and fighting for the Constitution to be ratified.
Theres also his family life, his marriage, kids, and the first political sex scandal! Hamilton accomplished so much for his career and ultimately for our country, but he was controversial at times. However, his legacy remains to be good for all of the institutions he built for the country, many of which went without much recognition.
I think I enjoyed this book so much partly because I can relate to Hamilton and his passion for writing. He was committed to his word so much so, he was willing to risk controversy, reputation and even his life for the sake of his craft.
Words were his chief weapons, and his account books are crammed with purchases for thousands of quills, parchments, penknives, slate pencils, reams of foolscap, and wax. His papers show that, Mozart-like, he could transpose complex thoughts onto paper with few revisions. At other times, he tinkered with the prose but generally did not alter the logistical progression of his thought. He wrote with the speed of a beautifully organized mind that digested ideas thoroughly, slotted them into appropriate pigeonholes, then regurgitated them at will.
So, I’m definitely recommending this book if you have ANY interest in the founding fathers. This book made me want to read more about his period of time, and I never thought I’d say that!
The one thing I will say is, read the ebook if possible. The sheer weight of the physical book makes it difficult to really cozy up with… and I basically had to prop myself up AND prop the book up while reading it.
The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be Reading is “The Dreamers” by Karen Thompson Walker.
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