Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
Yes, non-fiction. Yes, a hefty biography. Wait! Don’t go. This may not be fiction, but it’s still a story. A beautiful, raw, messy, healing story. A story that directly impacts you. A story that’s part of your own story. Let me tell you more about it.
Maybe you’ve heard of the Broadway musical Hamilton, inspired by and based off of this book. Maybe all you know about Hamilton is that he’s one of the Founding Fathers and got killed in a duel. This book will give you the whole story, one so fascinating you can’t afford to miss it.
Alexander Hamilton is about noble men who made mistakes, wise men who disagreed, geniuses who tripped up. It is about broken men who, for all their failures, did a glorious thing. Though Chernow doesn’t say this, it is also about a God who is gracious enough to use fallen people to accomplish impossible things.
From the nittiest-grittiest details to the darkest, ugliest days to the most transcendent, beautiful deeds, Chernow chronicles the birth of a nation. More than that, the birth of a world. He tells the tale of when the impossible happened. And he does it all through the life of a boy born to a prostitute on a slave-ridden island in the midst of the dregs of humanity.
How did this orphan surrounded by criminals on a filthy Caribbean island eventually help create the most powerful nation in the world?
How did this illegtimate child who grew up wild in the slums become the extremely well-educated genius who had no intellectual equal in his day?
How did he rise and fall, make both friends and enemies of legends, and ultimately come to find peace after a life of terrible turbulence?
Oh, it’s a good story, friends.
I could tell you about the writing style—some big words, but it flows beautifully—or the incredible amount of research that’s been put into this or any number of more official book review categories, but I want to focus on the story. Because, despite the superb writing quality and breathtaking amount of research (and the chapter titles that for some reason stuck out to me as brilliant), the best part of this book is the story. The story part of it is why I can recommend it to everyone, whether you’re a history buff or fantasy lover. Everyone loves a good story, and this book has one of the best.
Maybe it’s so powerful because it’s real. This happened, guys. Hamilton was a real man. A real man whose efforts directly impact us because he helped found and mold America. Who knows where you and I would be today without him and his peers.
His peers—that’s another highlight. The figure of Aaron Burr, his first friend and greatest enemy, shadows every page. This book tells Burr’s story as well as Hamilton’s, and it’s a heartbreaking one. It tells Washington’s story, the one man in the world Hamilton could truly respect. It tell Jefferson’s and Madison’s stories, John Adam’s story, men who fought with Hamilton but who shaped his life and America and our lives as much as he did. You’ll find a panoramic view of humanity in this book, the many shades that heroes can take, the many facets of just one person, the strengths and weaknesses that color everyone, for we all have a little of each.
Furthermore, is that it tells the story of women. You look back on history and think that they had no part in any of it. They’ve been shut out from everything until recently, right? Well, maybe. But you might not think that as much after this book. I do not hesitate to say that Eliza Hamilton, his wife, is just as much a hero of this book as Hamilton himself is. Without her, I don’t know what would have happened to him. Some people say the only reason she has significance is that she’s Hamilton’s wife. I’d combat that with the fact that he might not have had significance if he hadn’t been Eliza’s husband.
She’s beautiful, guys. Strong, intelligent, physically beautiful, but even more so in her heart. The kind of woman that made America great. The kind of woman I’d be honored to emulate just a little bit. The whole thing is beautiful, really.
And that’s the funny thing about this book—although, I guess if you think about it, it’s not so strange at all. You see, it’s dark. Really dark. The ugliness and depravity and sin in it—it could drag you down, depress you forever. The Revolution, America’s birth, is not a pretty story. The men we laud were by no means perfect. Often, they were quite the opposite.
But in the end, that’s what makes this story so beautiful. You come out from the other side of the darkness—in the very midst of the darkness—and you see light. You see healing and redemption and hope. You see forgiveness. You see relationships becoming stronger after something that should have destroyed them. You see this great man collapse into the ashes and rise again as someone so much greater, shining so much brighter. What a story.
So—summer is coming. That means a little more time, maybe some more brain power to tackle more intense books that would be tough to do during school. And that means that you can take up this book. Yes, it’s large, and it contains some more sophisticated words (though it’s totally manageable), but it’s worth it. You want a good story?
Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton is just for you.