Monday, January 29, 2018

Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider - Jean Fritz

Summary:  Jean Fritz, best known for her award-winning biographies of historic American figures, now writes the intriguing story of an influential and fascinating Founding Father and his untimely death in a duel with Aaron Burr with all the excitement of an adventure story.  (Summary from book - Image from

My Review: First off, I should probably disclaim that my first real exposure to Alexander Hamilton came not in my AP US History class (for shame!), but when I was introduced to Hamilton: An American Musical, a brilliant, if somewhat altered, rendering of Alexander Hamilton’s life, set to contemporary music.  I adore it, but still have to turn down the volume sometimes a lot*.  My kids love it too, though their album is remarkably shorter than mine. 

My love for the musical has prompted me to check out the now wildly popular Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow from my local library an embarrassing amount of times.  It goes a little something like this: I take it home and set it hopefully on my end table, glance at it longingly as the weeks go by, until back to the library it goes, still unread.  It’s just.  Long.  One of these days it’s going to happen.  Or so I keep telling myself. 

Thankfully, not long ago my daughter brought home a book that she purchased at the Scholastic book fair -- Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider.**  It’s a well-written, easy to understand, summary of Hamilton’s life, that reads more like a story than a stodgy biography.  Fritz divides the book into four sections (Beginnings, Soldier, Statesman, and Endings), that help guide the reader’s understanding of Hamilton’s humble beginnings as an orphan of illegitimate birth and meager circumstances, the good fortune of his education and his rise through the ranks as a soldier, his pivotal role in the founding of the United States, his often-troubled personal life, and how it all came to an early end. 

The format is very reader friendly, with a few illustrations scattered here and there to help enhance the story and make the book more palatable to the younger reader.  I didn’t really need them to keep my attention, but they were interesting nonetheless.  At 132-pages, it didn’t take me long to finish and I closed the book with a better grasp of the story not told by the musical and an even greater appreciation for the man himself. 

As might be expected, there were some marked differences (and some slightly less noticeable) between the story told on Broadway and real-life history.  I enjoyed uncovering the differences in both incidents and chronology, but found that they weren’t so marked as to take away from my enjoyment of either telling.  Occasionally the author took a little creative license with the story, drawing conclusions with terms like “perhaps”, “he must have”, or indulging rumor with “so the story goes”.   I didn’t really mind the author’s conclusions as they definitely lent to the story, but did feel that it mixed a smidgen of potential fiction in with the established historical facts.  

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone looking to learn a little more about one of America’s lesser-known Founding Father, without taking a giant chunk out of their day.  It was a great jaunt into history.

My Review: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  All clear.  Even the seedier aspects of Hamilton’s life are written with a G-rated hand.

*For those of you who might decide to listen to Hamilton: An American Musical based solely off my recommendation, it should be noted that I purchased the ‘clean’ version (available on iTunes) which has a few less swear words than the original version.  Even 'clean,' it still contains profanity of the A, Ba, D, H, JC, and OMG variety and two or three crude suggestions.  I usually just turn down the volume when these come around, but there is at least one song that I leave off my playlist entirely (Say No to This).  You can infer what happens without listening to it.  Basically, Hamilton makes some poor life choices.

**Yes, I’ve finally gotten to the part where I review the book I’m supposed to review.  Gosh, you guys are so impatient.   

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