I am obsessed with the musical Hamilton (free if you have Amazon prime). Because of my obsession I decided to re-read Ron Chernow’s biography. I listened to the audiobook when it first came out, soon after I read John Adams.
This time I read the Kindle Edition. It has been eight years and a different format, there is so much that I had forgotten. Alexander Hamilton is truly one of the most fascinating characters of American history. And Lin-Manuel Miranda captures the spirit of Hamilton well.
As you would expect, the two hour musical glosses over a number of biographical issues, simplifies some storylines, changes some of the characters, distorts some of the history for tension building and simplicity. But for the most part it is pretty easy to see the reasons for the changes.
What is fascinating is the character study. Hamilton was incredibly gifted with huge reserves of energy. The line in the musical asking how Hamilton managed to rise to prominence so quickly after the war says, ‘the man is non-stop’. Which is almost an understatement.
Hamilton, and his pride, was his own worst enemy. There were many political enemies that were actively seeking out ways to take him down, but it was his own affair and the resulting scandal, which may have been a set up for blackmail from the start, was an unprovoked foul. The duel that killed him was again, not only avoidable, but his public and private words against the already ostracized Burr were unnecessary.
The private character of Hamilton, while clearly not a perfect man, is worth exploring in the book. He cared for his wife and children, but left them broke when he died. He set up the full United States financial system, but made a number of personal mistakes in his own investments. (It is worth noting that he kept leaving government service because he couldn’t afford to live and support his family on the small government salary.)
This is a huge book. I spent just over two months working through it. But whether you are fascinated with the musical or not (and you really should listen to it or at least watch some of the youtube videos), this biography is well worth reading.
Also worth noting if you are obsessed with the musical version of Hamilton, there is a new book about the creation of the musical that releases today.