When I was little, I looked up who shared a birthday with me and it was quite a disappointing list. It was a bunch of people I had never heard of, and Alexander Hamilton. While some of my friends had really cool birthday twins (Abraham Lincoln!), I had a second rate founding father who was never even president. My how perspective can change with age and a little knowledge!
When the musical Hamilton came to Denver, Holden and I were interested in seeing it. I spent 6 hours in the virtual waiting room until my lottery number came up. Have you ever been in a ticket lottery? It is one of the most stressful things ever. Let’s just say that after sitting captive at my computer the entire day, my blood pressure skyrocketing, and unleashing a steady stream of profanity, I didn’t get tickets.
Knowing the musical was based on the Ron Chernow biography, I decided to do the next best thing, and read the book. Perhaps saying it was a life changing experience is a stretch, however I am no longer disappointed in having Hamilton for a birthday twin. In fact, I feel like he rates right up there with Lincoln and Washington. The man was a genius, but like Charles Dickens (read about my devastating discovery here), he sure got himself into trouble. Not only was Hamilton a founding father of a nation, he was the founding father of the American sex scandal.
The Chernow biography is a tome, and there were a few sections chocked full of minutiae of the founding of America that bogged me down, but I’m so glad I persevered. I always had this idealistic impression that while the rag tag Patriots were fighting against one of the best equipped armies on earth, they were destined to win. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I now understand just how miraculous their victory was. There was intrigue and danger from all sides. It was shocking for me to learn that there were “Patriots” who hated Washington and there were plots to assassinate him. I had always imagined him as a universally loved, God-like leader. It was also surprising to learn that the political divides of that day rivaled the political climate in our present time. It was brutal. Friends and family turning on each other over political differences, and lots of dueling deaths resulted. I guess we can be thankful that dueling is no longer an option.
Hamilton was Washington’s aide-de-camp, and one of his most trusted advisors. Their histories are tightly interlinked, but after many years together, they had a falling out. It is stories like this that I found fascinating. I also learned all about Benedict Arnold, whose name is synonymous with “traitor”, but I never knew exactly what he did or why.
I also was very interested in Hamilton’s wife, Eliza. She was a remarkable woman. She lost not only her husband in a senseless duel, but also her first born, 19 year old son two years prior, while he was defending his father’s honor. I enjoyed My Dear Hamilton immensely, and it is an excellent complement to the Chernow biography, although there were a few grammatical errors that made my skin crawl. Eliza’s indirect involvement in the founding of America was quite significant.
The Hamiltons lived on Wall Street in New York City for many years. I’m embarrassed to admit that I did not realize so much of the American Revolution was fought there. We have visited NYC and New Jersey three times, and have missed seeing many of the important sights simply because I didn’t know they were there, although we did accidentally stumble upon the building that served as Washington’s presidential mansion in 1790. I now have a list of places to visit on our next trip to the Big Apple and surrounding areas.
Hamilton made many enemies with his outspokenness, some of them very powerful men (Jefferson, Adams, Monroe, Madison), and while he had been rivals with some from the start, there were some including Aaron Burr, whom he and Eliza had been friends with. The betrayal of their former friends was very painful to them, and even after Alexander betrayed her with the sex scandal, Eliza remained fiercely loyal to him. Their stories are very complex, intriguing and perfect examples of truth being stranger than fiction.
We are now watching the series “Turn: Washington’s Spies” on Netflix and while there is some artistic license taken, it is mostly based on factual events and people. It underscores how treacherous the times were and once again, the miracle that America exists.
Happy New Year!
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd – Jim Fergus
Origin – Dan Brown
Prayers for Sale – Sandra Dallas
Tips for Living, A Novel of Suspense – Renee Sharfransky
Say Goodbye for Now – Catherine Ryan Hyde
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories – Ernest Hemingway
The Women’s War – Alexandre Dumas
Commonwealth – Ann Patchett
Truly Madly Guilty – Liane Moriarty
East of Eden – John Steinbeck (second reading)
Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
In the Unlikely Event – Judy Blume
The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye – David Lagercrantz
A Column of Fire – Ken Follett
The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty
Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow
My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton – Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie
Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate
The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis – J.D. Vance
The Secrets of Mary Bowser – Lois Leveen
The Lines We Leave Behind – Eliza Graham
Beautiful Exiles – Meg Waite Clayton
The River Widow – Ann Howard Creel
Macbeth – William Shakespeare
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan