Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Dot Ham

In 2004 I bought Alexander Hamilton, the biography by Ron Chernow.  It's a massive book, with 700-plus pages of text and I couldn't wait to read it.  Except - boy, it looked... massive.  So it sat on the shelf.  And sat. 

How interesting could the book be?  Alexander Hamilton - Founding Father, Secretary of the Treasury, his picture is on the ten dollar bill, killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. 

There you go, that's what I knew.  So why was the book so big? 

Years pass.  And suddenly there's a musical about him.  A musical about Alexander Hamilton?  Seriously?  What was I missing?  I bought the Hamilton CD and pulled the dusty book from the shelf. 

After reading Alexander Hamilton, it makes sense people didn't know much about him.  Hamilton wasn't especially popular.  After his early death he lacked a huge fan club to champion the many things he accomplished.  Instead he had people (including Jefferson and John Adams) criticize him and call him a monarchist and an aristocrat and a womanizer.  (Slightly strange coming from Jefferson - an aristocrat who had children with his slave and mistress, Sally Hemings.)

Hamilton wasn't perfect.  Brilliant, yes.  But also arrogant and bad-tempered and often too eager to speak his mind.  He did cheat on his wife and announced his infidelity by publishing a pamphlet, Observations on Certain Documents.  Good idea?  Not so much.

Hamilton's early years in the West Indies are Dickensian before Dickens existed.  His mother's morals were questionable, his paternity a mystery - was his father James Hamilton, black sheep of a wealthy Scottish family or Nevis merchant, Thomas Stevens?  And yet Hamilton manages to make it to New York and have tremendous success - he helped create a new nation, whoa, this orphan boy who came from nothing.  It's one of those books you read and say to yourself, "He did what?  Why didn't I know that?  He did that, too?  You're kidding.  This guy is amazing." 

The book is grand.  You're happy to finish it, but also wildly disappointed because you know whatever you read next won't measure up. 

And now I have to see the musical.  And read the book again.  And see the musical again.  Oh, dear.  This could go on and on. 

Do you understand the meaning of "A Dot Ham?"  If you've seen or heard the musical, you might.  There's a lyric in a song where Burr and Hamilton correspond with each other.  And A. Ham is Hamilton's signature.  Funny - it's the same signature as mine.

Here's a link to a Huffington Post piece I wrote about Hamilton the man, Hamilton the musical, and my hopeful possible genetic connection: