A Hamilton Read-Along

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A Hamilton Read-Along

Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?

If you are reading this article, then you have probably heard about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about Alexander Hamilton, coincidentally named Hamilton. This list aims to be a perfect companion to your listening experience, whether you are on your first listen or your 100th (like a certain Read Feed contributor). The list follows the Hamilton musical and its characters. Unfortunately there are virtually no books on the Schuyler sisters (please fix this historians!), but Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy (aka Margarita) do feature in Hamilton's biographies. 
 
 Act I: 
 
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow  
Lin-Manuel Miranda has stated that Chernow’s biography was a major source of inspiration, so it is a natural place to start when seeking information about the man himself. Chernow tackles the question brought up in the first song: “how does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished, in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”, and shares moments from Hamilton’s life and letters that are invaluable for the budding historian.   

Fallen Founder: The life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg  
Though the musical is called Hamilton, it is dependent on Aaron Burr- as a narrator, friend, and counterpoint to Hamilton- Isenberg’s biography seeks to provide readers with a fuller picture to the man that is now characterized as, “the villain in your history.” Just as Hamilton is more than the sum of his parts, Burr's family life and personality make him a fascinating character study. 
 
1776 by David McCullough 
The musical opens up in 1776, and while there are no numbers about the Continental Congress, Hamilton and other characters (Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette, John Laurens, and Hercules Mulligan) mention the desire to go to war to improve their station. 1776 provides a fuller picture to the war that would bring Hamilton and Lafayette together, even as it was all falling apart behind the scenes.
 
George III: America’s Last King by Jeremy Black 

Though King George III's appearances in Hamilton are brief, they make an impression. Jeremy Black’s biography of King George covers his sixty-year reign, and his role in the American Revolution.
 
Washington by Ron Chernow 
Chernow again brings his knowledge of the period into this biography of George Washington, documenting his time as a surveyor to a portrait of a “modern major general, the venerate Virginian veteran whose men are all lining up to put [him] on a pedestal” to our first president.
 
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell 
Everybody’s favorite fighting Frenchman, Lafayette is a figure that most people kind of know, but don’t know much about. In her book, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States Vowell gives us an in-depth portrait of the general who helped the Continental Army turn the tide of the revolutionary war, and the fellow Frenchmen who helped him.  Like all Sarah Vowell books, it doubles as a wonderful listen.  
 
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison 

The creation of the Federalist Papers, and in turn the Constitution, close out the first act of the musical, so including them in this list felt like the right thing to do. Though it may seem a little dry to modern readers, think of the Federalist Papers as essays from desperate men trying to get the public support for a new form of government. Hamilton ended up penning 51 essays. He really was non-stop.
 
Act II: 
 
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
 You might have noticed that a certain Virginian has not been mentioned yet, but you simply must meet Thomas! Like Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson came from a privileged family, and the two shared an experience of privilege that Hamilton never really knew but constantly strove for. Though Meacham does not mention that cabinet meetings ended in rap battles, it could have happened.
  
Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation by John Ferling
Where Meacham’s biography focuses on the entire life and career of Thomas Jefferson, John Ferling focuses on the fifteen year relationship between Hamilton and Jefferson. Ferling captures the high intensity that defined both men and how that intensity came into conflict for over a decade.

Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America by Tony Williams 
The relationship between Alexander Hamilton and George Washington is one that had been pushed aside for singular focus on our first president, but their relationship had a profound effect on the nation and each other. This book examines their relationship from Hamilton’s time as Washington’s aide-de-camp, to how he became the General’s right hand man in the cabinet. It must be nice to have Washington on your side.
 
Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A study in character by Roger G. Kennedy 
The election of 1800 may have been the most fractious time of their relationships, but Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson had been involved in each other’s lives and careers long before then. Roger Kennedy’s book describes the recognition he lost as a central figure in the foundation of the United States, and examines how the three men impacted each other both personally and professionally.
 
War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation by John Sedgwick
There are a lot of books written about the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. But John Sedgwick’s book stands out because of the care he takes to evaluate the relationship between the two founding fathers. Sedgwick spends time humanizing the two men in a way that few historians can. Sedgwick also includes a lot of correspondence between the two men, which is a delight to read.
  
Burr by Gore Vidal 
This book is a work of fiction, and the Burr in this book is imagined at the end of his life, living in semi-obscurity in downtown Manhattan in the 1830s (Burr would pass away in 1836) practicing law and throwing shade at his fellow founding fathers. Gore Vidal’s writing is so engaging and captivating that once you start this book you won’t be able to put it down.
 
Children’s Suggestion: 
Aaron and Alexander: the Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown 
This biography is a perfect introduction for children to get a sense of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton separately and together. Though Brown declares himself as pro-Burr in his appendix, his appraisal of Hamilton is not of a caricature, but as a fully realized man who may have been a bit of a blowhard.