Before having seen the critically-acclaimed musical Hamilton, I knew as much about Alexander Hamilton as I imagine many other Americans know — he’s the guy on the $10 bill, right? Was he a president? I think so? Well, Alexander Hamilton wasn’t a president. Spoiler alert: he was a founding father who was shot and killed at the age of 49 by then-Vice President Aaron Burr. But he is a legacy, who I finally started to care about thanks to lyrical genius and creator of the new hit musical Lin Manuel Miranda.
The show is based on the Ron Chernow biography entitled Alexander Hamilton, a 700+ page behemoth. Yes, it’s a monster of a book, but a fascinating one nonetheless. It takes the reader quickly through his young life as an illegitimate child born on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. His intelligence and ability to write and speak eloquently was enough to get his fellow islanders to pay for him to go to school in the United States. His rise to the top from a bleak childhood is a classic rags to riches story — one that Lin Manuel Miranda equated with that of a hip hop star. Hence; the hip hop musical version of Hamilton’s life, which includes lines like “I’m just like my country/I’m young, scrappy and hungry/And I’m not throwing away my shot.”
Hamilton, the show, lasts three hours, which is fairly long by today’s standards. It’s amazing and astonishing to learn about Hamilton’s life: his rise to the top, his love for his wife (and sister-in-law), his sex scandal, his kinship with George Washington and the relationship with his frenemy Aaron Burr. Reading the book, however, filled in several blanks. For instance, the show highlights Hamilton’s oldest son, but doesn’t make clear that he had a total of eight children, plus additional orphans he and his wife, Eliza, took in. Nor does it include that one of Hamilton’s daughters had a mental breakdown after her brother (Hamilton’s son) died. There’s also a large chunk of the book that focuses on the time during which John Adams served as president, but the ongoing feud between Hamilton and Adams is left out of the show, with the exception of a single lyric. Upon further research, I learned a rap about Adams was written but had been cut — probably for time.
Instead the musical focuses less on Hamilton’s family and political feud with Adams and emphasizes his relationship with Burr. Of course, this makes sense. After all, it’s a Broadway musical, and the show needs to lead up to the big deadly duel finale. But in reality, Burr wasn’t as big a figure in Hamilton’s life as some of the other men of that time. Sure, Hamilton and Burr ran in the same circles. Sure, toward the end of Hamilton’s life, the two hated each other — hey, they didn’t duel for nothing — but, based on the book, their lives didn’t entirely revolve around each other like the show makes it seem.
The show is amazing. Alexander Hamilton is an amazing figure. After seeing the show, you’ll feel hungry to learn more about Hamilton, and for that reason, I highly recommend you not throw away your shot and make it a point to see the show and also read more about the guy who happens to have his face on those $10 bills of yours.
Get Alexander Hamilton in paperback for $14.96.
Or on your Kindle for $15.99.