Book Review: Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life

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?

The fact that I can type that from memory should be an indication of just how much I’m obsessed with love the musical Hamilton. When I was given the chance to read and review this book, I practically jumped at the chance.

Before I go into detail I’ll warn that there are spoilers if you aren’t familiar with the story of Hamilton and how he died. (If you aren’t, go check Wikipedia. I’ll wait.)

Jeff Wilser has written the perfect Hamilton book for casual readers. Taking on Ron Chernow’s epic tome Alexander Hamilton can be a daunting task (which is the book Lin Manuel-Miranda based the musical off of). Wilser takes that book and gives it to us in bite sized, humorous pieces. Each step of Hamilton’s life gives us a lesson. Some of these include:

  • Be courteous, sir
  • Say what you believe, no matter the cost
  • Barkin’ beats bitin’
  • Hide nothing
  • Read when others play

We’re walked all the way from Hamilton’s beginnings in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, through turning the world upside down during the Revolution, to his lawyer days (his defendants got acquitted) the Reynolds’s Pamphlet (never gonna be president now) to his end at Weehawken (dawn, guns drawn).

Okay, I admit that last paragraph was just a chance to work in as many musical references as possible.

But really, this is the factual account of what happened, and Wilser is quick to point out where historical fact differs from musical fiction. For instance, Hamilton had more kids than just Philip and the mysterious “sister” mentioned in the musical. He and Eliza had 8 together.

Hamilton really did write like he was running out of time. The man was insane. At one point he was working a day job as a lawyer and nights working on political papers. If he was asked to do something, he would come back with 2 different versions and turn them in a week early. He might have been a vampire, as he didn’t ever sleep (that’s a lie).

One of my favorite things about this book is that it didn’t try to dumb anything down. Often “guide” books will be full of fluff, but this reads as the most interesting history book out there. I need Wilser to write one of these for all the Founding Fathers, please.

It takes a lot to get me to give a five star rating, but this one gets it. It’s funny, easy to read, and was a great reminder of how America could have very easily not existed if it weren’t for some men who put a lot of ideas into action.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.