In 2015, I went to speak with a friend in her dorm room, and she was listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. While I was interested in it, I didn’t sit down to listen to it until I saw the cast perform at the Tony awards.
When I sat down to listen to the entire musical, I was immediately captivated. I began searching for any clips of the cast online, and many of the actors became some of my favorites, especially Daveed Diggs.
However, it wasn’t until the movie version of the musical made its way to Disney+ did I seek out the biography that Lin Manuel Miranda read that inspired him. I also even read other Hamilton themed books to prepare for the musical.
“Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow is a massive and in-depth look into the life of this prominent historical figure who I didn’t learn much about in school.
When I first began reading this book, it was by switching between the ebook and the physical book because it was in such a high demand. However, I soon began to realize that I couldn’t get through the book just by reading it. I had to incorporate the audiobook as well.
Despite this change in medium, I thoroughly enjoyed reading/listening to this. It was well-written and very engaging. The humor seen in the biography can sometimes even be seen in the musical.
There were some points that showed an extreme bias, such as how Chernow frames Hamilton’s scandals compared to other political leaders scandals. However, for the most part Chernow does a good job in showing the different sides to Hamilton.
Despite how engaging the biography can be at times, just like with any nonfiction, I tended to lose focus. This is where the musical comes into play. Because I had listened to it multiple times and watched it, I had a basic foundation of knowledge when it came to Hamilton.
Even though the musical does take creative control of parts of Hamilton’s life, it was because of these differences that I was able to find something to latch on to when reading/listening to the biography.
One example of this was his affair with Maria Reynolds. While the songs “Say No to This” and “The Reynolds Pamphlet” do a great job in showcasing this first major American scandal, there is so much more to this soap opera. The biography covers it throughout multiple chapters. One of the most revealing pieces of information surrounded who actually confronted Hamilton about the money and the affair.
Instead of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Aaron Burr, it was instead Frederick Muhlenberg, Abraham Venable, and James Monroe. Monroe was the main person who led to the rumors circulating more, through copies he gave his secretary. This led to Eliza Hamilton shunning him until her dying days even when he was president.
Another example was his relationship with his father. Other than a brief mention in the opening song and a later one, Hamilton’s relationship with his father was never really addressed in the musical. This is perfectly understandable because with everything going on his life, Miranda could only focus on certain aspects to keep a cohesive story. However, it was still fascinating to discover his complicated relationship with his father as it continued through life.
Overall, even though it took me a long time to finish this book, I did enjoy learning about this historical figure. From brief mentions in my U.S. history class to an award winning musical, I learned a lot about Hamilton and the other founding fathers. I gave this a 4/5.