My friend and I clambered onto the picnic table. The damp wood felt unsteady underneath me; I shifted my feet. Then, flashing my friend a grin, I began to sing: “Pardon me. Are you Aaron Burr, sir?”
“That depends. Who’s asking?”
And so it continued—us standing on the picnic table, singing as loud as we could, and the other campers staring at us with slightly horrified expressions. Hadn’t everyone gotten over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical? No—we would keep the flame burning. I loved Hamilton because it brought the Founding Fathers to life. So when I received a request to review the book behind the musical, an irrational fear clutched me: what if this book put Alexander Hamilton, who had become so real to me, back into a coffin?
Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow, is the biography that inspired the acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton. It tells the story of one of the most influential Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton. From Hamilton’s early life in the West Indies to his death at the hands of Aaron Burr in 1804, Chernow tells Hamilton’s story in astonishing detail: a vivid portrait of a man whose influence is still felt today.
Ron Chernow’s task in writing an extensive biography of Alexander Hamilton was extremely challenging. Since much of Hamilton’s early life was shrouded in legend and mystery, Chernow had to research extensively. Then, as he followed Hamilton through later life, he had to make sense of his thousands of pages of writing. Despite these difficulties, Chernow delivered his story in a clear, straightforward style which is of incredible power.
Hamilton was a man of many moods. As a lawyer, he showed fierce integrity which was exceptional then and still is today; he was a passionate defender of the young nation. But Hamilton had a large family who he loved and cared for. Was he the hot-tempered, stubborn politician who published so many ferocious essays, or the playful and loving father that his friends talked of? Perhaps he was both, or more; perhaps that odd combination of qualities was what made him so fascinating.
Alexander Hamilton is a stunning book. It gives a detailed look into the life of a flawed yet larger-than-life political figure who had such an influential role in laying the foundation for the United States—as well as a stronger urge to sing on tables.
High-school biography, ages 14 and up.
Miranda, Lin-Manuel, et al. “Aaron Burr, Sir.” Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording), Aug. 2016.