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Posted on November 11, 2016 at 3:17 PM by Craig Jacobson
In September 2015, the cast album of Hamilton: An American Musical was released to widespread acclaim. Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father and writer extraordinaire, and the women and men who charted the course of his life, from big names like George Washington to small ones like Peggy Schuyler. Now, in honor of the cast album’s one-year anniversary, and the recent opening of the Chicago production, let’s talk about some books that complement the show.
The musical was inspired by and is largely based on Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander Hamilton. Chernow tells Hamilton’s story in a clean, easy-to-read style, with plenty of interesting anecdotes and first-hand accounts to keep you moving through the years. It’s long—800 pages, and dense pages at that—but worth a read if you’re interested in the Revolution, American history, Alexander Hamilton, and/or any of the Founders.
For a more general overview of the people who helped shape the nation’s early years, try Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Ellis follows seven of the Founders (John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington) through six major political events of the 1790s. Ellis discusses how these Founders’ experiences and philosophies affected their visions for our young country, and how their clashes and compromises influenced our government. Ellis’ writing, like Chernow’s, is light and conversational, and Founding Brothers is a much shorter read at 288 pages.
If you like the sound of a biography like Chernow’s, there’s plenty to choose from. Washington buffs can’t go wrong with Chernow’s Washington: A Life, the follow-up to Alexander Hamilton highlighting the General himself. Anti-Federalists and Federalists alike can learn more about the dynamic duo, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, through Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power and Kevin Raeder Gutzman’s James Madison and the Making of America, respectively. Sarah Vowell provides a colorful sketch of “everyone’s favorite fighting Frenchman,” the Marquis de Lafayette, in her Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. Finally, for a redemptive biography of Hamilton’s arch-rival, Aaron Burr, consider Nancy Isenberg’s Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr.
Last, but never least, both the musical Hamilton and the book on which it’s based spotlight the women in Alexander Hamilton’s life. We would be remiss if we didn’t do the same for the women who played key parts before, during, and after the Revolution. Cokie Roberts’ Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation is a great place to meet the ladies who helped build the United States from the ground up.