By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
I majored in American History in college, but all through my education, I lamented that survey classes spent soooooooooooooooo much time slogging through the early years of the Republic such that more recent events of the 20th century got short shrift. I thought that I knew all I needed or cared to know about Alexander Hamilton and the rest of the stodgy old Founding Fathers, and then some.
And then my wife, a middle school teacher, introduced me to Lin-Manuel Miranda's "The Hamilton Mixtape," a spoken-word/rap/hiphop/musical creation inspired by this book, and it was revelatory. Miranda's earworm got stuck in my head for days, and I picked up Chernow's biography to see if the book was really as inspiring as Miranda seemed to find it... and yes, it is. I mean, I'm probably not going to go out and write a musical or anything, but I loved this book and I developed a bit of a crush on Alexander Hamilton, which is saying something considering that I'd been so terminally bored by my high school and college studies of his banking and taxation schemes, the Whiskey Rebellion, and the party wrangling between the Federalists and the Republicans.
Chernow's biography manages to make all of these previously-tiresome subjects relevant and compelling by weaving excerpts from letters and other primary source materials such that it almost feels as if the story is told by the people who were there. Reading this, I felt like I came to know Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, John and Abigail Adams, and others, and their humanity, their motivations, their struggles and foibles, were more real to me than ever before in my studies of the period. Chernow's narrative has a gossipy, titillating energy as he explores the seamy sex scandals and back-door political dealings of the era, all while maintaining an objectivity that Hamilton's contemporaries sorely lacked. Hamilton's accomplishments and integrity are trumpeted, but Chernow gives equal attention to his faults: his extramarital affair(s), his vanity and easily-bruised ego, his pathological need to have the last word (when a wiser politician would shut the hell up), the irony of his death in massive personal debt when he'd done such an impressive job managing the country's finances.
I could go on and on. I highlighted hundreds of passages of text and have been peppering Hamiltonian trivia into conversation at every opportunity for months. Every time I sat down to read, I'd tell my wife, "Listen to this..." until she asked me to stop because she hopes to read the book herself now that I've finished. Anyway, if you're interested in American history, law, or politics at all, read this: it's awesome.