Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough

Alexander Hamilton…My name is Alexander Hamilton…There’s a million things I haven’t done…Just you wait, just you wait…

So you’ve seen the play–the one that took Broadway by storm a few years ago–and you think you have a handle on everything you need to know about the man. But if you really want to know him, deep down, from the time he was born into poverty and shame on a slave island in the Caribbean, until he escaped to New York as a teen and found the education he’d craved, until he stepped into revolution and war and patriotic endeavors and brilliant governance and counsel and writings that lifted a young country out of debt and despair and dissonance, until he married the love of his life, until he made lifelong friends (including the father of our country) and bitter enemies, until he suffered loss and humiliation, until pride dealt him the kind of defeat that no man ever had dealt him, you must read Martha Brockenbrough’s Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary.

Martha has done an amazing job of researching and documenting Hamilton’s life. As a writer who has written historical novels, I know what it takes to go back (in my case, only to the 1940s) and try to uncover truth and authenticity and lose everything you can’t fit in and make what remains relevant and give it a shape. I can only imagine going back to the turn of the eighteenth century and before and putting together the history and biographies of Hamilton and all the interesting, brave, brilliant, flawed characters that populate this book.

The writing is intelligent and engaging and revealing. I’ve tended to think that this country got off to a tidy start: We declared our independence, fought a perfect war, whipped the British, united all the colonies, elected a president, and carried on neatly. Not so, and Martha lets the reader know that. The book is about Alexander Hamilton, but his activities and ambitions–his self–were so tied to the emergence of early America, that his life was the nation’s life, and the nation’s life was his.

So we learn about him, but we also learn about governance and war and taxes and slavery and states’ rights and bravery and treachery and politics and banks and relations between nations and decisions about the country’s future. We learn about loyalty, and infidelity. We learn about Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Adams and Monroe and Lafayette and lesser-known if not less significant players that Martha has brought back to life.

Kudos to the editors and designers of the book for giving it a vintage feel and including lots of illustrations and making sure everything comes off with a consistency that makes the reading flow.

I don’t make predictions, but here’s an exception: Twenty years from now, when the current crop of blockbuster books has long since gathered dust and gone out of print, copies of Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary, will still be sitting on school and public library shelves or on their way home in some kid’s (or adult’s) backpack or visible on the screen of an e-reader (or whatever device is being used for the thing we call reading). Teachers will recommend it, librarians will replace it when it gets lost or worn, kids will use it as a reference, they’ll write papers and reviews. It’s gonna be timeless.

(Review on Goodreads)

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