13 Books to Read If You're Dying to See 'Hamilton'
If you’ve clicked on this article you probably have already gone through the stages of Hamilton obsession. You’re listening to the soundtrack over and over, you're memorizing lines from the play to use in real life. You know, the usual. At first I was relatively cool about the concept of the show, but when I sat down and actually listened to the musical biography of Alexander Hamilton, I was hooked. I watched the GRAMMYs solely to see their amazing performance. I’ve watched all the #Ham4Ham videos. I follow Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Twitter (and even listen to him when he’s a guest on my favorite podcast, My Brother, My Brother, and Me ). I guess you could say that I’m HamTrash, but there’s one thing I haven’t been able to do just yet. I’ve never seen the play.
I know a handful of my friends have seen the show, but as the popularity grows (and as it keeps raking in awards), the idea of getting a ticket seems as remote as the idea of winning the lottery. Because of this, I look for other ways to sate my appetite for history — and of course, that includes books. I’ve compiled a list of 13 books that you could read if you’re dying to see Hamilton. Maybe one day, tickets won’t be almost impossible to get, but until then, take a look at these revolutionary reads!
1. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
So you're unable to get tickets to the Hamilton experience. That's totally OK, because you can at least immerse yourself in the process. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, a theater artist and cultural critic who's been involved with the show since the beginning, the #Hamiltome is the full libretto complete with annotations to fully reveal Miranda's process.
2. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
The book that started it all! After reading this exact biography of Alexander Hamilton — at the time, mostly known as the face on the ten dollar bill (or "the dreamiest of the Founding Fathers" according to me) — Manuel realized that he had hit story-telling gold. While the general trajectory of the story is very much the same (how many spoiler alerts can you tag in the life of a person who actually existed?), there's still a ton of interesting stories that simply couldn't have been added into the musical.
3. The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed
Thomas Jefferson is a bit of an antagonist in Hamilton, and you haven't heard the half of it. His dalliances with Sally Hemings only get a very, very brief mention in the musical. For the most part, Sally Hemings is usually the only Hemings people know about, but this book works to rectify that. Centering on the individual lives of the family that was so deeply entwined in Jefferson's life, this book works to undo the historical attempts to erase the identity of slaves.
4. The Tyranny of Printers by Jeffrey L. Pasley
The Tyranny of Printers centers upon the rise of the role of newspapers in politics. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson's enlisting of a Philadelphia based newspaper editor to help with his fight against Hamilton for the "soul of the new republic," this book takes a fascinating look at the power of the press,. It's an ideal read for those who are fascinated by the issues between Jefferson and Hamilton in Act II of Hamilton.
5. Living a Life that Matters by David M. Weitzman
The Marquis de Lafayette laid down some pretty sick rhymes during the Revolutionary War section of the musical, but did you know just how beloved he was by Americans during his time? Later in his life, he actually returned the country he helped birth for a grand tour, and he was given a hero's welcome. Living A Life That Matters is an imagined memoir of Lafayette's life. Witty and well-researched, this book is perfect for those who were completely enthralled by the Revolution.
6. Parlor Politics by Catherine Allgor
There simply aren't enough books about the ladies of the revolution. Luckily, Parlor Politics attempts to give some "founding mothers" their dues, focusing mostly on Dolley Madison and Louisa Catherine Adams — two women from political families who often had to hide their own ambitions but still used their own weapons (gossip, etiquette, and parties) to help mold the country into what it is today.
7. Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose
One of my favorite characters in the first half of the musical is Hercules Mulligan. His story is totally compelling given the fact that he actually managed to spy on the British on behalf of George Washington. He wasn't alone, however; Washington's Spies centers on the spy ring that worked during the war, all reporting back to good ole Washington. If you love this idea, the book was actually adapted into its own television show on AMC — so you can get your Revolutionary War fix in book and television form.
8. Scandal at Bizarre by Cynthia A. Kierner
Scandal at Bizarre studies the immediate post-Hamilton world. In the early 1790s, a man named Richard Rudolph was accused of fathering a child with his sister-in-law and then immediately killing the baby. Due to the public outrage, the life of not only Rudolph, but that of most of his family was completely ruined. Hamilton himself knew a thing or two about this sort of thing, and it's a fascinating study on how the court of public opinion worked during those times.
9. Charity and Sylvia: Same Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves
Charity Bryant was born in 1777, and as she grew, it became more and more apparent to her that she absolutely preferred the romantic company of the same sex. Still defiantly single, a 29-year-old Charity met and fell in love with a woman named Sylvia Drake. They moved in together, and by 1809 owned their own property and were widely recognized as a married couple. This intimate history of their 44-year long union is a quiet revolution in itself, showing a side of history that not many people see.
10. John Adams by David McCullough
One of my favorite parts of the musical is the sheer fact that no one seemed to like John Adams at all. Sure, he had the audacity to fire Alexander Hamilton when he took office, and he kind of seems to be an unpleasant little man. Of course, that's because the musical is about Hamilton. So, let's give John his due. This epic biography tells the story of his life — from his role in the revolution to his relationship with his beloved son, future president John Quincy Adams, to the tumultuous friendship he shared with Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton does feature in this story of course, but it's fascinating to see the same events from a different perspective.
11. His Excellency George Washington by Joseph Ellis
George Washington is an epic figure in American history, and for good reason. He's basically the face of the Revolution. Sometimes it's hard to remember that George Washington was a human being with thoughts and feelings. If you're curious about the man who seems to have been hatched in glory from an eagle's egg, take a look at this biography.
12. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison
What better way to keep the Hamilton feelings alive than by actually reading the words he wrote? You may remember The Federalist Papers from the musical when Madison, Jay, and Hamilton get together to write a series of essays promoting the ratification of the Constitution. John Jay wrote five, Madison wrote 26, and Hamilton wrote the other 51! Remember that part? Of course, it should also be mentioned that three of the essays were also a result of a collaboration between Madison and Hamilton. Do you want to know what Hamilton was writing as though he were running out of time? Check this out.
13. The Reynolds Pamphlet by Alexander Hamilton
If you actually want to read the very pamphlet that Alexander Hamilton wrote that would guaranteed that he was "never gonna be president now," you can buy it in ebook. This book features the word of Maria Reynolds, Hamilton's mistress, and it's super interesting to get a deeper look into that side of the affair. If you truly look at it, this was the first sex scandal in American History, and getting an inside, front row seat will make it all seem so incredibly real.
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