Being a good Chicagoan, I have seen and loved “Alexander Hamilton”, the play. Being a nerd, I have started the book which inspired the play. And being a person of drama, I must rank them: the book wins.
Reading Ron Chernow’s Hamilton is like drinking from a fire hose of good words, none wasted. His lack of waste produces force, weight, power. I am even tired sometimes reading his work, but it is a delirious, happy tired. The West Indies are glowing – I can feel their heat – the colonies are barely formed, fractured, confused, and yet I see current American culture nascent in them, and Hamilton is America: young, passionate, unconventional, loud, calculating, risky, informed, and pulsating with confidence (and a host of bad things which can be left for a later post).
Here are the words that piqued my interest, that I simply didn’t know, or that I had once known and am so happy to remember.
“Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton–purblind and deaf but gallant to the end–was a stoic woman who never yielded to self-pity.”
– having impaired or defective vision
bombazine, de rigueur, bespoke
“Wrapped in shawls and garbed in the black bombazine dresses that were de rigueur for widows, she wore a starched white ruff and frilly white cap that bespoke a simpler era in American life.
– a twill fabric constructed of a silk or rayon warp and worsted filling, often dyed black for mourning wear.
– required by etiquette or current fashion
– dealing in or producing custom-made articles (especially clothing)
“The dark eyes that gleamed behind large metal-rimmed glasses–those same dark eyes that had once enchanted a young officer on General George Washington’s staff–betokened a sharp intelligence, a fiercely indomitable spirit, and a memory that refused to surrender the past.”
– to give evidence of
“Almost by default, the giant enterprise fell to her fourth son, John Church Hamilton, who belatedly disgorged a seven-volume history of his father’s exploits.”
– to discharge or let go of rapidly or forcefully
“Before this hagiographic tribute was completed, however, Eliza Hamilton died at ninety-seven on November 9, 1854.”
– the writing of the lives of saints; idealizing biography
I’m only to page 4 so I will close with this (from the prologue):
In all probability, Alexander Hamilton is the foremost political figure in American history who never attained the presidency, yet he probably had a much deeper and more lasting impact than many who did. Hamilton was the supreme double threat among the founding fathers, at once thinker and doer, sparkling theoretician and masterful executive… As the first treasury secretary and principal architect of the new government, Hamilton took constitutional principles and infused them with expansive life, turning abstractions into institutional realities. He had a pragmatic mind that minted comprehensive programs. In contriving the smoothly running machinery of a modern nation-state–including a budget system, a funded debt, a tax system, a central bank, a customs service, and a coast guard–and justifying them in some of America’s most influential state papers, he set a high-water mark for administrative competence that has never been equaled. If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft. No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America’s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together.