If they break this Union, they will break my heart.~Alexander Hamilton
If anybody had told me a year ago that I would be delving into an 800 page biog
If they break this Union, they will break my heart.~Alexander Hamilton
If anybody had told me a year ago that I would be delving into an 800 page biography on arguably America's least known Founding Father, first Secretary of the Treasury and he of ten dollar bill fame, I would have said they were crazy. But like so many people who will read this book in the coming years, it all started with a mad love affair for the Broadway musical. It's literally all I've been able to think about (or listen to) since April. It's consumed my waking hours in the oddest, most unpredictable, joyous of ways. Having now read Chernow's impressive, meticulously researched book, I am no longer surprised how it was able to inspire Lin-Manuel Miranda to write his extraordinary, beautiful, emotional, smart, searing, perfect musical (and that's all I'm going to say about the musical), because I really want this review to focus on Chernow's accomplishment and his fascinating subject -- Alexander Hamilton.
One of the things that really jumped out at me while reading this, is how easily Hamilton's remarkable life and stupendous achievements could have been erased and lost to history for good. He had many enemies -- many people who wanted to re-write history minimizing his role in it, and deny his many staggering contributions. Hamilton died relatively young as well (just 49), way younger than many of the other Founding Fathers who outlived him by decades (except George Washington of course). When you don't survive to live and tell your story, you are really at the mercy of others. Remember this line from Braveheart? "History is written by those who have hanged heroes."
Was Alexander Hamilton a hero? I think by most definitions he most certainly was. Flawed for sure, but nevertheless an extremely intelligent man, with confounding reserves of energy and ambition, and a deep, abiding inner moral compass of what was ethical and right. He also possessed an unsurpassed, formidable ability to synthesize large, complicated ideas into accessible tracts and tangible plans to build meaningful and lasting governments and institutions. And oh yeah, he also wielded his pen in a terrible and mighty way that would have made Shakespeare quiver in his breeches, producing mountains of passionate and fiercely written letters and pamphlets and essays.
I also have to believe Hamilton was truly a good man, because two very intelligent women, remarkable in their own rights (his wife Eliza and his sister-in-law Angelica Church), loved him beyond measure and sang his praises for a lifetime. How do you avoid getting written out of history by those who have hanged heroes? Write brilliantly like a maniac non-stop, leaving behind some of the most important historical tracts ever penned, and be survived by a loyal and dedicated wife who will outlive you by 50 years and spend most of that time fighting for your reputation and the preservation of your rightful place in history.
Reading Hamilton whilst the sturm und drang of the upcoming American election rages in all its frightful rhetoric and bitter partisan vitriol has made for quite an echo chamber of America's shaky, fledgling, post-Revolutionary days and just how tenuous the fabric that binds all the States together really is. It was never a marriage made in heaven, oftentimes held together by duct tape, threats and sheer iron will. America was a walking contradiction, with its State vs Federal, rural vs urban, North vs South, slaveholding vs free divides. Nobody knew (and feared) these fractures more than Hamilton himself. But he also knew a United States would be stronger and better than a dissolute nation of independents jockeying for power and control and consumed with self-interest.
I do believe Chernow has proven that no other Founding Father worked as determinedly with every cell in his body (and top-notch brain), to preserve the Union, and uphold the Constitution. There were many compelling forces, and influential personalities, with the capability to topple this marvelous enterprise with a single huff, and one good blow. But it was Hamilton standing vigilant, it was Hamilton who roared, and cajoled, and screed, not on my watch, and here's why. It's also no wonder then that on his death bed, surrounded by his family and friends, that Hamilton should utter with such deep feeling: "If they break this Union, they will break my heart."
Hamilton's life (all 49 years of it) reads like a Dickensian novel. More than once while I was reading I couldn't help but smack my forehead at the stranger than fiction details, and uncanny coincidences and twists of fate both tragic and ironic. That he began his life as a poor orphan in the Caribbean only to help fight for and build a nation an ocean away is something out of a movie plot. As is his infamous death by duel, at the hands of (then Vice President) Aaron Burr (sir).
Who dies in a duel?!! Hamilton does. And a few years prior to that fateful meeting in Weehawken, his eldest son Philip (using the same pistols!) would die the same stupid way. There were many times when I wanted to shake Hamilton, and kick him, especially when he was tomcatting around and cheating on Eliza with Maria Reynolds, but this final decision to duel with Aaron Burr absolutely infuriated me. It was SO UNNECESSARY, especially given the fact Hamilton still had a wife and young children who depended on him. Of course, it was a dueling era, and duels were pretty commonplace, and Chernow makes a strong case that Hamilton wasn't suicidal, and really believed he could survive the duel with Burr (as most participants do). However, there was also a part of him that knew he could die, since he was so thorough and conscientious in his handling of his affairs. And writing a poignant, final letter to Eliza (which if I had been her I'm sure I would have pulled my hair out).
Alexander knew how utterly devastated Eliza was to lose their son Philip -- so HOW COULD HE DO THAT TO HER AGAIN??? Eliza should have been crushed by the grief -- losing her mother, her sister, her son, her HUSBAND, all in a very short time span. Yet she persevered and would survive to accomplish many remarkable things in her own right, not the least of which was to ensure her husband's rightful, prominent place in the history books.
And now I'm off to listen to the Broadway cast album AGAIN. Because I can't stop.
3) Last but not least, the author's blog post entitled: God Bless Librarians. In case you didn't know, flattery will get you everywhere, and it just might make me read your book (joking! I'm really not that shallow or vain, I promise; I just thought it was a nice post).
This is a beautiful book that hits a lot of my kinks: small towns, seeecrets, family drama, and coming-of-age. Krueger's storytelling style was reminiscent for me of some of Stephen King's best work (when he's not trying to scare the bejesus out of us that is). Krueger's two main protagonists are young brothers -- Frank (13) and Jake (10).
Frank is hitting adolescence hard with a penchant for doing things he's not supposed to and an even worse habit for eavesdropping. Jake is his quiet sidekick who likes to listen and observe more than run his mouth because he is plagued by an awful stutter. As they run around small town 1961 Minnesota all the best elements of King's novella "The Body" are present. It will be a summer of tragedy and innocence lost.
Where it missed that fifth star I will put under a spoiler tag:
(view spoiler)[I saw the ending/twist coming a mile away, and it's not like me to "figure these things out" which probably means the author was not trying to hide it, but rather have the readers be in the know and sweat it out. I appreciate that, but I felt to have the jealous, mentally challenged sister kill in a moment of blind rage was too predictable in a very Gothic "woman in the attic" way.
It was interesting to introduce the element of racism as it applied to Native Americans in Minnesota in 1961, but I felt at times the reading came too close to mimicking To Kill a Mockingbird in that one respect and that Frank's dad was very Atticus Finch in a preacher's garb rather than a lawyer's suit. (hide spoiler)]
But these are VERY small quibbles in what is a gripping story, wonderfully told. ...more
I gushed over Lyndsay Faye's The Gods of Gotham, her debut foray into the dark heart of New York City 1845 and the violent and inauspicious origins ofI gushed over Lyndsay Faye's The Gods of Gotham, her debut foray into the dark heart of New York City 1845 and the violent and inauspicious origins of its first police force -- the copper stars. In its pages Faye strikes a remarkable balance between the thrilling and cerebral aspects of a good mystery and blends it with the rich detail and sumptuous atmosphere of the best historical fiction.
More than the mystery and the historical details, what really makes this series a great read is Faye's colorful cast of characters. Timothy Wilde is flawed and sympathetic. For all of his bravado and prickly self-righteousness, I have such a soft spot for Tim because I know how much room there is for him to grow into the man he's supposed to be.
But who I was really excited to get more of this time around is Tim's drinking, whoring, brawling older brother Valentine. Val is one of the most scurrilous, scandalous, lovable characters I've had the pleasure of reading in a long, long, time. While Tim is over-serious and pining after a woman he can't have, Valentine is a man of huge appetites and humor, chasing after his demons with alcohol and drugs and any warm body he can find to curl up next to. The two brothers together are a yin and yang of contradiction and chemistry. A study in the unbreakable bonds of brotherly love (and all the hate, hurt and simmering resentment contained therein).
The things my brother and I don't say could pave over the Atlantic Ocean.
I am a huge fan of Faye's prose style as well, but I can see how some readers might be put off as at times it does flirt with superfluous and 'purple'. But I lick all that historical detail up as if it were buttercream icing and it is a marvel to me how she can write about the most despicable, tragic things in such a beautiful, luscious way.
I don't think the mystery was quite as strong in this second book as in Gotham, and the ending felt a tad drawn out (twice I thought I had read the final sentence only to have to keep turning the pages). But other than those quibbles, this is a very strong second book in a series that I cannot wait to get more of.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination and in a flood of material that's been released to cash in reflect, honor and exam Today marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination and in a flood of material that's been released to cash in reflect, honor and examine a pivotal moment in history, LIFE magazine's retrospective coffee table book stands out. It is a beautiful piece of work, thoughtfully put together, a must have for the average history buff and JFK afficionados alike.
The best part for me is the inclusion of a full reprint of LIFE's November 29, 1963 issue (which sold on newsstands for 25 cents!) I poured over every page of this thing, including the ads (which made me think of Mad Men -- all those ads for cigarettes and cars, how could I not?) Reading it really is a form of time travel. Fantastic.