How does the bastard, orphan, son of a whore go on and on, grow into more of a phenomenon?*
Alexander Hamilton did most of the work himself, but Lin-Manuel Miranda made sure that the modern age didn’t forget him. This play helped contribute to Alexander Hamilton being kept on the $10. If you’re anything like me, you’ve had Hamilton: The American Revolution playing on repeat ever since the cast recording was released on September 25, 2015. Looking back, it looks like I discovered it in early October, and I have been obsessed ever since. I know I’m not the only one, given its Grammy Award, 16 Tony Nominations, 11 Tony Awards, as well as a new educational program.
As King George III asked the Founding Fathers, “What comes next?
1. Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton
“Ron’s book seemed like a really interesting beach read, and it ended up changing my life. ” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
This biography was picked up at an airport Borders store when Lin-Manuel Miranda and his wife went on vacation during the production of In The Heights, according to this Vulture article. This “beach read” led to the birth of Hamilton: The American Revolution.
At more than 800 pages, this comprehensive biography takes you as far back as there are records to the end of Eliza’s days, which is perfect because if it hadn’t been for Eliza, Hamilton’s, and Washington’s, story may never have been told. Chernow is the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for his biography of George Washington – Washington: A Life.
I will point out that because of the amount of information in it, it is a dense biography. While I was reading this, I took it in hundred page chunks so that I didn’t burn out on all the information that was woven in. Reading it like that made it a lot easier to take everything in. You can read my full review here.
Unfortunately for those of you who are book collectors, this novel is no longer in print in hardcover, and the front cover of the paperback has the Broadway equivalent of “Now A Major Motion Picture” badge on it. However, I loved reading it. I highly recommend reading this biography if you can never be satisfied with enough details about the life and affairs (pun intended) of Alexander Hamilton.
2. 1776 – David McCullough
1776 by David McCullough is not exactly a biography of a person, so it’s a little different. It’s more a biography of the year 1776 – from King George III to Alexander Hamilton to the battle of Yorktown. It’s a great story to show us how a rag-tag volunteer army in need of a shower got started on their path to defeating a global superpower. David McCullough is a renowned historian, having written 11 books, won two Pulitzer Prizes for Truman and John Adams, two National Book Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. If you’re looking for broader cultural context to the beginning of the Revolutionary War, this is the book to read!
3. Madison and Jefferson – Andrew Burstein & Nancy Eisenberg
Madison and Jefferson may be merciless to Alexander, but their friendship was one for the ages. At a little over 800 pages, this biography really gets into the way these two Presidents worked with and around each other for their entire lives as “southern motherfucking Democratic Republicans.”
Like Alexander Hamilton, this is a scholarly work and has some really dense language in it, but what I’ve read about these two has been really interesting. Burstein and Isenberg are both Revolutionary America scholars, and while Isenberg seems to really like Aaron Burr, this novel looks really good. Especially since we know that Alexander Hamilton really wasn’t unbiased in his feelings towards these two. Also, it’s got a really nice cover for a historical biography.
Madison and Jefferson is chock full of newspapers, pamphlet, letter and diary clippings to bring an all new perspective to their 50 year friendship that always put Virginia first. I think this one will be incredible to read once I get my hands on it.
4. Common Sense – Thomas Paine
Angelica was reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine, and the men were calling her intense or insane. Read this to find out why!
I’ve read this a few times, and every time it strikes me as an astonishing piece of rhetoric that perfectly iterates how our revolutionary manumission abolitionists felt. Pieces of writing like this are how Hamilton and Jefferson smacked each other in the press, and they didn’t print retractions, even when they were necessary.
This is an absolutely historic piece, which was originally published anonymously, since it was treasonous. Paine’s name came out about 3 months later. It was such an important piece of writing that Washington himself reportedly read it to his troops. This pamphlet is credited with inspiring the Revolution in many of the common folk. It’s also still one of the American best sellers. I can’t recommend reading this enough.
5. The Fiddler’s Gun – A.S. Peterson
The Fiddler’s Gun got great reviews on Goodreads, and it’s on my personal TBR. I think Eliza, who founded America’s first private orphanage, would have liked this story. The Fiddler’s Gun is the first book in the “Fin’s Revolution” series. It follows the life of orphan Fin Button.
Here’s the Goodreads summary: “America is on the brink of war with England, and Fin Button is about to come undone. She’s had it with the dull life of the orphanage, and she is ready to marry Peter and escape the ever-watchful Sister Hilde. But an unexpected bond forms between Fin and the fiddle-playing cook, Bartimaeus, setting her on a course for the high seas of the American Revolution.”
6. Fever 1793 – Laurie Halse Anderson
While Fever 1793 isn’t technically related to Hamilton, it does relate to early America in that yellow fever killed a ton of people and did damage to so many more. It’s also a great story. Fever 1793 follows Mattie Cook, the 14-year-old Philadelphia resident, as she sees the epidemic rage through the city, even through her own family.
Fever 1793 is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, as well as being highly praised by the New York Public Library and the New York Times Book Review. Laurie Halse Anderson has been praised for many of her other novels, including Speak and The Impossible Knife of Never Letting Go. I highly recommend this novel for people of all ages.
7. The Midwife’s Revolt – Jodi Daynard
I first read The Midwife’s Revolt as an ARC in 2013, and I adored this novel. While so many other revolutionary novels focus on the founding fathers, The Midwife’s Revolt focuses on Lizzie Boylston, who is a fictional friend to the entirely real Abigail Adams during the Revolutionary War.
It’s actually a spy novel, but I won’t give too much away, so here’s the Goodreads summary: “On a dark night in 1775, Lizzie Boylston is awakened by the sound of cannons. From a hill south of Boston, she watches as fires burn in Charlestown, in a battle that she soon discovers has claimed her husband’s life.
Alone in a new town, Lizzie grieves privately but takes comfort in her deepening friendship with Abigail Adams. Soon, word spreads of Lizzie’s extraordinary midwifery and healing skills, and she begins to channel her grief into caring for those who need her. But when two traveling patriots are poisoned, Lizzie finds herself with far more complicated matters on her hands—she suspects a political plot intended to harm Abigail and her family. Determined to uncover the truth, Lizzie becomes entangled in a conspiracy that could not only destroy her livelihood—and her chance at finding love again—but also lead to the downfall of a new nation.”
8. Thieftaker – D.B. Jackson
Another revolutionary book from my TBR is Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson, which is a historical fiction novel with magic. Who doesn’t want a little bit of magic in with their spying with the Sons of Liberty? I’m sure Hercules Mulligan, who needs no introduction, would have loved having some magic.
Here’s the Goodreads summary: “Boston, 1765: In D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, revolution is brewing as the British Crown imposes increasingly onerous taxes on the colonies, and intrigue swirls around firebrands like Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. But for Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who makes his living by conjuring spells that help him solve crimes, politics is for others…until he is asked to recover a necklace worn by the murdered daughter of a prominent family.
Suddenly, he faces another conjurer of enormous power, someone unknown, who is part of a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of power in the turbulent colony. His adversary has already killed—and not for his own gain, but in the service of his powerful masters, people for whom others are mere pawns in a game of politics and power. Ethan is in way over his head, and he knows it. Already a man with a dark past, he can ill afford to fail, lest his livelihood be forfeit. But he can’t stop now, for his magic has marked him, so he must fight the odds, even though he seems hopelessly overmatched, his doom seeming certain at the spectral hands of one he cannot even see.”
9. The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Elizabeth George Speare
I have to make a confession. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is one of my favorite novels of all time. I first read this book when I was younger, and I fell in love with it. I’ve read it so much that both the back and front cover have literally fallen off of my copy. It’s technically before the war, since it begins in 1687, but I think it’s still appropriate here, because it really shows the “fish out of water” feeling that Hamilton must have felt upon his arrival to America, as another immigrant coming up from the bottom.
Kit Tyler makes her way from Barbados to go live with her aunt and uncle in the American colony of Connecticut after her grandfather dies. Try as she might, she can never quite fit into the Puritanical society. She finds solace in her friendship with the town’s Quaker resident, Hannah Tupper, until Hannah is accused of being a witch when most of the town falls ill.
10. Hamilton: The Revolution – Jeremy McCarter & Lin-Manuel Miranda
Last but certainly not least, I have to recommend Hamilton: The Revolution. I bought this as an ebook, but I haven’t had the chance to really sit down and absorb it, so here’s the Goodreads summary: “Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country’s origins for a diverse new generation.
“HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages–“since before this was even a show,” according to Miranda–traces its development from an improbable performance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.
“Their account features photos by the renowned Frank Ockenfels and veteran Broadway photographer, Joan Marcus; exclusive looks at notebooks and emails; interviews with Questlove, Stephen Sondheim, leading political commentators, and more than 50 people involved with the production; and multiple appearances by President Obama himself. The book does more than tell the surprising story of how a Broadway musical became a national phenomenon: It demonstrates that America has always been renewed by the brash upstarts and brilliant outsiders, the men and women who don’t throw away their shot.”
These are just some of my recommendations of book that might catch your interest. What are your favorite Revolutionary America novels or biographies?
If these aren’t enough for you, then maybe you should just listen to the soundtrack one last time…
*I bastardized lyrics from Hamilton: The Musical all throughout this piece in an attempt to be funny. I hope you enjoyed them. How many references did you find?