Have you just entered the chaos of holiday travel at your local airport, and realized you forgot to bring something along to read? Quick, before you lose the wi-fi, download this week’s Saturday/Holiday read, ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow.
This was the year American history left boring behind with the staging of the Broadway musical Hamilton. Based on Chernow’s 2004 best seller, Lin-Manuel Miranda transformed a casual airport bookstore purchase into a hip hop score, reflecting contemporary themes of immigration, revolution and finance. This holiday break is the perfect time to dive into the 700+ page biography.
David Brooks‘ review summarized why Hamilton had come to be erased from the national memory, to the point we are about to eliminate his last vestige on the ten dollar bill.
“He is the most neglected, first because he was a relentless climber (and nobody has unalloyed views about ambition), second because he was a great champion of commerce (and nobody has uncomplicated views about that either) and third because his most bitter rivals, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, outlived him by decades and did everything they could to bury his reputation. So there is no Hamilton monument in Washington, but at least we now have Ron Chernow’s moving and masterly ”Alexander Hamilton,” which is by far the best biography ever written about the man.”
With the presidential primary season looming, ‘Alexander Hamilton’ is a reminder that current political tactics don’t fall far from the founders’ tree.
“In the polarized atmosphere of American politics, Burr knew that a northern renegade aligned with southern Republicans could provide a critical swing. This was Alexander Hamilton’s recurring nightmare: an electoral deal struck between Virginia and New York Republicans.
In the New York City elections that spring (1800), Hamilton and Burr descended from the lofty heights to spar in the grit and bustle of lower Manhattan ward politics…
That April, New Yorkers out for a stroll could have stumbled upon either Alexander Hamilton or Aaron Burr addressing crowds on street corners, sometimes alternating on the same platform.”
Hamilton lost, the Republican slate swept New York City, the Federalists were out and the road was paved for a Jefferson presidency.
Which brings us to a reader, like you, going on holiday, picking up a book in an airport bookstore, and the rest is, well, history.
“He told me as he was reading the book, hip-hop lyrics started rising off the page. I was completely astonished by his response.”
Miranda assured him that he was serious.
“He made a complete believer out of me,” Chernow said. “The story of Alexander Hamilton lends itself to hip-hop treatment. Hamilton’s personality is driven and unrelenting, and the music has that same quality. The music and the man mirror each other.”
Miranda purchased theatrical rights to the book and signed on Chernow as historical consultant.
“A lot of people might have started off with the unspoken assumption that history is boring — Lin-Manuel Miranda felt exactly the opposite,” Chernow said. “He felt the most dramatic way to tell the story was to stick to the facts. He felt the story was so sensational you couldn’t improve on it.”
Spend some time this holiday with the ‘sensational’ Alexander Hamilton.