Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Thoughts - Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
published 2005
818 pages

Synopsis -

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804.

Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.

My thoughts -

So this was definitely not a thing I'd planned to do when I thought about what I'd read in 2016.

Of course, I also hadn't planned on falling head-over-heels for a hip-hop musical about the least-known founding father, so clearly my scouting for the year wasn't the best.

This book was, honestly, fantastic. You know how you are flipping channels, and you see PBS is showing Ken Burns' "The Civil War", and you think, "Oh, yeah, that's supposed to be good. I can watch an episode, and maybe if I like it I'll look it up on Netflix later or something", and then the next thing you know it's 4 hours later and you're trying to find a kleenix because you're crying about a confederate soldier, and you don't even know what's happening except you have to keep going because how can history ever be this compelling?? Yeah, it's that kind of good.

Chernow uses an immense number of primary sources, and spends pages and pages on things like the formation of the US banking system, and manages to make none of it seem dry or boring or lecturing. I would venture to guess that Chernow is a fan of Alexander Hamilton (because how could he not be?), but he doesn't shy away from exploring Hamilton's weaknesses (pride; impulsivity; inability to keep his mouth shut) while also showing what an incredible man he truly was.

I think this was also an incredibly pertinent book to be reading right now, in a time where politics is incredibly divisive, and nearly everyone I know looks at the future of our country with some serious trepidation. It was a good reminder that, frankly, our founding fathers weren't exactly saints, either. They were men who had great ideas, and the will to put them into practice. They were also highly morally ambiguous, liars and cheats, philanderers, libelers, and spendthrifts. They will willing to use their public platform to rouse the general public to revolt, with or without the benefit of the truth. They were often mean-spirited, vindictive, and petty. They hired journalists to assassinate each other in the press. I mean, sound familiar??

I'm not saying I suddenly have great hope in the future of the American political system. But I am saying reading this biography gave me some much needed historical perspective. Our history wasn't as golden as I was taught in the history books. We've always been lead by people - sometimes good, sometimes not that great, but always flawed and struggling. This isn't the first time our leaders appear.....less than inspiring. And, in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, "You have no control. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?"

This is fascinating history, and I'm thankful I took the plunge into this amazing beast of a biography. Highly recommended.

Finished - 6/25/16
Source - my shelves via Audible
MPAA rating - PG-13 - it's history, so it can be rough
My rating - 5/5

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review: Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman
published 2015
256 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Our obsession with bigger and faster is spinning us out of control. We move through the week breathless and bustling, just trying to keep up while longing to slow down. But real life happens in the small moments, the kind we find on Tuesday, the most ordinary day of the week. Tuesday carries moments we want to hold onto--as well as ones we'd rather leave behind. It hold secrets we can't see in a hurry--secrets not just for our schedules but for our souls. It offers us a simple bench on which to sit, observe, and share our stories.
For those being pulled under by the strong current of expectation, comparison, and hurry, relief is found more in our small moments than in our fast movements. In "Simply Tuesday," Emily P. Freeman helps readers
- stop dreading small beginnings and embrace today's work
- find contentment in the now--even when the now is frustrating or discouraging
- replace competition with compassion
- learn to breathe in a breathless world
Jesus lived small moments well, slow moments fully, and all moments free. He lives with us still, on all our ordinary days, creating and redeeming the world both in us and through us, one small moment at a time. It's time to take back Tuesday, to release our obsession with building a life, and believe in the life Christ is building in us--every day.

My thoughts -

This book was kinda just alright for me. I feel like I have heard MANY of these ideas many places before, so while there were moments of insight, much felt like that weird deja-vu feeling where you don't realize until page 241 that you've read this book already. The author's style is very internal, and while I'm not opposed to that I didn't think the moments where she tried to transition into the charge for her readers ever really worked that well. And her metaphors never really caught my imagination - I understood her analogy of the bench, and of "wearing the world loosely", but they didn't ever truly sink in to my brain the way I expect they were supposed to.

Clearly in the minority on this one, as this is a fairly well-beloved book in the Christian nonfiction genre, but for me it was just okay.

Finished - 6/19/16
Source - my shelves
MPAA rating - G
My rating - 3/5

Sunday, May 22, 2016

On Alexander Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Bandwagons

SO......Hamilton: The Musical? Maybe you've heard of it???

The founding father, the hip-hop soundtrack, the hype, the acclaim - this isn't news, right?

I think I came to know of Hamilton late. I actually stumbled on the Ham4Ham videos on Youtube first, and wondered what in the world was going on? Then, through some research and my friend Google, figured out it was a bit of a phenomenon. Then found the soundtrack, and the rest was history. I am officially on this bandwagon, friends, and I don't think I'll be jumping off any time soon.

I've always been a sucker for a good musical. My mom was active in the local community theater when I was growing up, and I can remember the first time I fell in love - she brought me along to help with costumes for the summer production of Camelot, and I was hooked. In junior high, a friend gave me a copy of the soundtrack of Phantom of the Opera, along with the entire (photocopied) libretto, and my goal officially became to be as amazing as Sarah Brightman. (Spoiler alert - I didn't have the pipes.)

So let's just say I was overdue for a new musical obsession.

I started watching the Ham4Ham videos, and listening to the soundtrack, and fell more and more in love with this funny, evocative production.

The cast performed at the White House, and the importance of the intersection of those pieces of history are not lost on me.

I purchased my own copy of Hamilton: Revolution (aka the Hamiltome), choosing for my pleasure the audiobook, and devoured Mariska Hargitay and Lin-Manuel Miranda telling the story of how this amazing show came to be on Broadway.

I will say, honestly, that if you are not a huge fan of 1. The Musical and 2. Broadway, this is probably not the book for you. It's lots of the inner workings of bringing a show to production, and how the cast is chosen, and while I find those kinds of stories fascinating, I am aware that they have a bit of a specific appeal. I thought Markiska Hargitay did a fantastic job as narrator - she just sounds like New York, to me, which is perfect for the story of a musical set in New York, coming to New York. I cried.

I am more and more in awe of Lin-Manuel Miranda every time he does another thing. I've been enjoying his Ham4Hams, of course, and his Twitter feed is genuinely entertaining. But reading about his process - about the technical and musical knowledge and skill that he brought to the writing of Hamilton; about his evident love for both musical theater and hip-hop, and the ways he weaves both into his work - this guy is the real deal. I am all in for whatever he chooses to do next, because I can't wait to see what his brain will come up with.

And more than all that - Hamilton: The Musical has ignited my interest in Hamiltion: The Dude - I've just secured a copy of the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton that started this whole thing, and I'm compiling a list of biographies of the other major players so I can read and learn more. A musical that compels me to dig into the actual history of our country? Not bad.

I can't be the only one on this bandwagon, right? Are you a Hamilton fan? Bemused observer? Not yet sure what is going on? What else should I read now that I'm obsessed with the man? Give me ideas, friends!!