"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Alexander Hamilton, compare and contrast reviews

This past week my daughter, who lives in New York, finally got to see the Broadway musical: Hamilton. She has entered the daily lottery for tickets since her arrival in the NYC last year and finally won the chance to buy two tickets. She and her roommate readjusted their schedules, headed into the city to see the show and loved it. This musical has done more for an interest in US history than just about anything before this time. Alexander Hamilton, the face on the 10 dollar bill, now has come alive in our minds and imaginations. Suddenly we are interested in what happened during those founding days of our country. We knew a little bit about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, but not much else. Now we know a whole lot more...or at least those people lucky enough to see the musical know a whole lot more. A person who played a big role in those opening years of our country was Alexander Hamilton. In fact, without this man and his prolific writings we might not even have a country, or a country as we know it today.

While Carly and Jennifer were enjoying the musical, I was home in Washington State reading two different books about Alexander Hamilton. It was just a weird coincidence that we were doing something related to Hamilton at the same time. (Something tells me that Carly had more fun than me, though.) The two books I read were Alexander Hamilton: The Hero Who Helped Shape America by Teri Kanefield and Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough. Both books have been nominated for a possible Cybils award in the JH/SH Nonfiction category for which I am a judge. Since I read two books one right after the other they are a little muddled in my brain. Therefore I thought I'd do one of those school-y activities: a compare/contrast of the two books.

 Compare (Similarities):
  • Both books did a nice job outlining details of Hamilton's early life on St. Kitts/Nevis in the Caribbean. He and his younger brother were illegitimate, which was a much bigger deal in those days compared to today. His mother and father were not married. His father abandoned them and when his mother died, the boys were left on their own. Hamilton distinguished himself working in the office of one of the island's sugar traders. His first published work was an article about a hurricane which devastated the island.  Because of this and his strong work-ethic, Hamilton was offered a scholarship to go to school in New York. Hamilton was always concerned/self-conscious about his lowly beginnings.
  • Each author did a nice job making readers familiar with the time line of Hamilton's life and accomplishments from his early days in school where he finished his program in two years which would normally take a person four years; as a personal assistant to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War; as a prolific interpreter of the US Constitution, writing more than 50 essays compiled today in a document known as The Federalist Papers; his role as the first Secretary of the Treasury; and as a family man and well-regarded lawyer in New York.
  • Both told us about the duel with Aaron Burr which ended Hamilton's life.
  • The Hero Who Helped Shape America and Revolutionary were both very readable and interesting. History was brought to life in these two books.
  • Kanefield's book is marketed to middle grade students, grade 5-8. Brockenbrough's book is targeted at older readers, high school aged students and above.
  • Both books used old illustrations and maps, but Brockenbrough's book had many, many more of them than Kanefield's. I thought that was odd since the latter book is aimed at younger readers so one would think it would use more illustrations than the book designed for older readers.
  • A controversial aspect of Hamilton's life was his affair and attempted cover-up with a Mrs. Reynolds. This problem played a pivotal role in Hamilton's life. Kanefield did not mention it at all in her book for middle school students. Brockenbrough's book was full of it and the consequences that affair had on Hamilton and his reputation. It colored everything up to the end. Can't middle school kids handle this kind of information?
  • Though both books covered the life-ending duel, only in Brockenbrough's book do we learn about why Hamilton would agree to the duel, especially since it was illegal. His motivations to be thought of as an honorable man colored all his decisions.
  • The Hero Who Helped Shape America is 208 pages long; Revolutionary is 372 pages long. Though much longer, the second book has much better end-notes, bibliography, and appendixes on a variety of related topics. These are helpful tools for prospective researchers.
  • Oddly, Brockenbrough's book, Revolutionary, is printed using brown ink. I wonder if the publisher thought that color ink would make readers feel like they were reading an old document. Also, irritatingly, the book did not give attributions to most of the artists of the illustrations. There was a tiny, little note of where most of the illustrations came from, but no particulars of the artists were given, with one or two exceptions. This really irritated me.
  • Kanefield's book about Hamilton wasn't as attractive or as inviting as the other. There were many pages full of text only and the quality of the paper and the illustrations were poor.
Overall: I wouldn't hesitate to recommend either of these books to teen readers. I liked Brockenbrough's book better, but that may be because I tend to think of high school researchers and I think her book is a better research tool. I learned a lot about this famous American from reading these books. Now if I could just score a few tickets to see the musical!

Carly outside the Hamilton theater on Broadway.
Until them I will have to satisfy myself with listening to YouTube videos like this one. Enjoy!


  1. I don't see the popularity of Hamilton dying down any time soon. I know publishers are definitely riding the coat tails of the musical's popularity. Thanks for the break down on these two books. I ordered the Martha Brockenbrough's book because it got good reviews and it was readable. I would also love to see Hamilton!

    1. Somehow I missed taking US History in high school, which is completely weird. So when I read books like these two I am reading about events as for the first time. I learned a lot.

  2. Congrats to her for getting to see the show! I'd love to some day, but for now I just have the sound track. :)

  3. I get to see Hamilton in Los Angeles this Saturday; I am really looking forward to it!


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