What to Read If You’re Obsessed With Hamilton

There’s a new obsession sweeping this country. It wears breeches. It drops rhymes. It’s Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop homage to our first secretary of the treasury. You may not have been able to secure tickets to the full Broadway production, but a fair number of fan-iltons have been forged by near-constant looping of the cast recording.

Miranda has cited Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow’s detailed biography, as inspiration for his musical, and that book is the obvious place to start if you’re looking to dig deeper after hundreds of hours pumping yourself up with “My Shot.” But what do you do when you’ve finished that? Here are some book recs divvied up by why you love Hamilton.

If you love the human element of the American Revolution…

Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis
We tend to take a very simplistic view of the Founding Fathers, as if they somehow understood immediately the historical consequences of their actions, as if they instinctively knew the right course. Hamilton turns that image on its head, as does Ellis’s Pulitzer Prize–winning examination of these flawed, fallible men. Ellis applies his laser focus to a handful of monumental episodes of the time (including the Hamilton-Burr duel) and uses this lens to portray the real fragility of the great American experiment, even after its founding.

Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow
The man who brought us Alexander Hamilton gives us an equally deep portrait of Hamilton’s chief patron: George Washington. Again, our collective image of Washington is about as nuanced as his portrayal in Disney’s Hall of Presidents. He’s rather lifeless, though revered, in our imagination. In Chernow’s hands, every facet of the first American president springs to life, from his temper to his passions, affording him the three dimensions he (and we) deserves.

Martha Washington: An American Life, by Patricia Brady
Let us not forget the ladies. Hamilton sure doesn’t—the Schuyler sisters steal the show on a number of occasions. Brady finally gives a voice to one of the silenced women of the early days of this country: our first First Lady, who, like her husband, is often painted with a rather thick brush. Contrary to popular belief, Martha was vivacious, lively, and worthy of a read all her own.

Burr, by Gore Vidal
How do you solve a problem like Aaron Burr (sir)? Vidal expertly unravels that stickiest of founders in the first (chronologically) of his Narratives of Empire series on American history. There’s something classically Shakespearean about the saga of Burr’s life, and that’s good news for you, the reader.

If you love unusual looks at history…

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, by Sarah Vowell
Vowell’s bread and butter is her ability to find the quirky, under-told stories that matter, which puts the Marquis de Lafayette, the teenaged French general, squarely in her wheelhouse. Lafayette’s presence and prominence in the American Revolution demonstrates the unique, sometimes unbelievable circumstances that allowed the war effort to succeed. Vowell’s voice in telling this story is as wholly unique and soulful as a Hamilton fan could want.

Revolutionary, by Alex Myers
Speaking of unusual stories, how about that of America’s first female soldier? Myers’s debut novel explores the life of Deborah Sampson, an indentured servant whose fierce independence led her to the frontlines of the Continental Army in disguise. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but in this case, the two go hand in hand.

{ean9}}My Theodosia, by Anya Seton
Seton’s first novel, published in 1941, focuses on the short life of Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia. As you might have guessed, life’s not easy when you love Aaron Burr, and her loyalty to her father complicates everything for Theodosia, particularly when it comes time for her to marry. Do you take the man your father wants (and needs) you to marry? Or do you throw passion to the wind with Meriwether Lewis? Yes, that Meriwether Lewis.

How to Fight Presidents, by Daniel O’Brien
Hamilton demonstrates quite frequently that the Founding Fathers were a brawlin’ bunch, and they wielded more than just the quill. In fact, it’s a common theme among our presidents. O’Brien cheekily informs you how best to stay alive if, for example, you’re ever cornered by a Chester Arthur bent on beating your face in.

If you love Hamilton’s musical stylings …

The Rap Year Book, by Shea Serrano
Serrano, formerly of Grantland, gives the rap genre its historical due by examining what he considers the most important rap song of each year from 1979 to the present. Like any good yearbook, Serrano’s detailed study gives rap context by also highlighting important moments throughout its musical history, including rap feuds, the rise of hip-hop, and the struggles of the genre’s major players. By the end, you’ve got a fully fleshed portrait of rap as an art form.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, by Jeff Chang
Similarly, Chang has accomplished no small feat in penning the definitive biography of hip-hop, including its solidification of an entire generation’s worldview in the post-Civil Rights era. Of course, the impact of hip-hop is only half the story, and Chang efficiently plumbs the depths of how the musical style reached the forefront in the first place.

Shop the Bookstore >

Follow BNReads