Come now, of course Chernow makes the list. There are cases where one could argue for choosing adaptation over source material, but—even with as much detail as Miranda stuffed into his libretto—it’s just such a different experience. Chernow’s encapsulation of Hamilton’s relatively short life depicts the optimism and pessimism warring within him. It’s hard to imagine a time when Hamilton was considered a neglected subject, but Chernow was first to bring him into the cultural consciousness.
The Killer Angels
While The Killer Angels may not be on Miranda’s bookshelf, it did inspire a different piece of work that fused unexpected elements: Joss Whedon’s space pirate TV series Firefly. As you read Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning interpretation of the last days of the Civil War, you’ll see how his method of making these larger-than-life men into relatable figures makes this book a spiritual ancestor to Hamilton and his crew.
In Miranda’s telling, Aaron Burr makes the perfect foil: cool to Hamilton’s brashness, more oily than genuine, equal parts compelling and villainous. However, Isenberg argues, the only Burr we know is this nefarious caricature that has served other historical stories. While many papers that would speak to the real Burr were lost in a shipwreck, Isenberg taps into what his opponents said about him to uncover the more enlightened (and, she claims, more feminist) founder beneath. It’s like “Wait for It” in book form.
The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr
H. W. Brands
“This book unlocked him,” Miranda said of cracking the enigma that was Burr. Specifically, by looking at his relationship with his wife and daughter (both named Theodosia), and how he was the rare feminist among the Founding Fathers.
Alexander Hamilton: Writings
Where better to learn about the man that writes like he’s running out of time than from his own pen? Or, if you’re overstimulated with Hamilton but want to know about everyone else in his orbit, you can read his letters to John Laurens, Elizabeth Schuyler, and George Washington to better understand the depth of his affection for these mentors and fellow movers and shakers.
If Hamilton was “an orphan dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean,” so too did Jay-Z have to work his way up from a Brooklyn housing project to his current level of fame and power. Part memoir, part collection of rhymes, Decoded fills in some of the gaps in the artist’s youth while sharing the stories that inspired some of his more inexplicable lyrics.
Joseph J. Ellis
Miranda was intensely focused in his research: to write the Hamilton-Burr duel (and likely to seed in various references throughout the show leading up to it), he turned to Ellis’s analysis of the duel alongside five other major episodes of post–Revolution life. In Founding Brothers, you’ll also find an examination of George Washington’s Farewell Address and Benjamin Franklin’s attempts to force the issue of slavery with Congress.
Like Miranda’s iconic meld of rap, history, and Broadway, this biography takes the stuff of our textbooks and revitalizes it with a contemporary form. Through bold illustrations and impeccable research, author Jonathan Hennessey and comic book illustrator Justin Greenwood bring Alexander Hamilton’s world to life, telling the story of an improbable hero who helped shape America.
Journalist Christian Parenti observes Hamilton through a different perspective. There’s a reason the Founding Father’s face is on the ten-dollar bill, after all: through the history of America’s first steps and the global economy at large, Parenti focuses on Hamilton as the primary architect of American capitalism—for better or for worse.
Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now! Once the hardest-to-get ticket in town, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genre-defying musical is headed to our living rooms via Disney+. We’ve rounded up some fascinating reads to complement your streaming—after all, it was a massive biography that so enthralled Miranda that he spent seven years adapting it for the stage. Drawing from Miranda’s various inspirations, the show’s spiritual forebears, and some picks from a little left-of-center, these books will get you singing.
Featured Image: @victoriahphotography/Twenty20