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HamAlong Week One: "I wish there was a war"


I don't think there's any doubt that Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton is a work of genius and that we are fortunate to be around for its beginning. Do you think Ron Chernow ever imagined that teenage girls would swoon over and highlight to death his 800+ page biography of 18th century Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton? But Miranda took this, frankly already rather prettily written, enormous book, and made one of the greatest musicals of the past century, which essentially means of all time, because musicals in 1916 were not what we call good.

...yeah.

Week One of the HamAlong goes from Hamilton's birth on Nevis, which includes his dubious parentage and immensely different childhood from any other Founding Father, to becoming George Washington's right-hand man. 


Wow, do I want to just trust the hell out of Ron Chernow. He seems so very much like he's trying to be fair and striving for the truth. I also suspect, though, like most biographers who aren't Kitty Kelley, he's at least a little in love with his subject. There are a few too many over-explainings and excuses and "pardonable lapses" written about, which is exactly how I would talk about Frances Willard, and I cried when I touched her corset, so now I'm just picturing Ron Chernow weeping over Hamilton's garters (80% chance this really happened). So I'm taking the book with a grain of salt. Or I guess I'm taking this image of Hamilton with one.

Things I'm delighted by in general so far: Chernow's prose is damn evocative; he's managed to occasionally make me feel like he's interviewed Hamilton's friends for the book; speaking of whom, how much does it say about Hamilton that he kept so many friends for so long? Every time I start thinking he was maybe not that great a guy, there's another person showing up who's known him since he was a teenager, talking about how he's the best. 

There's also this:

With his absorbent mind, he mastered infantry drills, pored over volumes on military tactics, and learned the rudiments of gunnery and pyrotechnics from a veteran bombardier.


The last thing that struck me was how Hamilton had a special vantage point from which to see America, which none of the other Founding Fathers had a chance of. They were so blinded by the culture in which they lived, it was difficult to get rid of certain doxa about what was just "how things were," so to have this man who had grown up in a brutal other world become part of your system and point out what was clearly wrong — in particular, slavery — it was an invaluable part of the formation of the country.

Immensely glad we're all doing this together. This book is giant.


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