Hamilton: The Revolution #BookReview
Book: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Genre: essays, annotated libretto, coffee table book
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing / Melcher Media
Publication date: 2016
Source: Library hardback
Summary: Hamilton: The Revolution is like four books in one. A series of essays by Jeremy McCarter, former drama critic and part of the production of Hamilton at the Public Theater, tell the behind-the-scenes story of the musical, from conception through writing, workshop, off-Broadway at the Public, and Broadway. The entire libretto is interspersed among these essays, often with some connection between the story in Hamilton and the story of the making of Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the annotations to the lyrics — lots of fun tidbits and references to works that he alluded to or honored. The large-scale photographs make this feel like a coffee table book and they help the reader understand what Hamilton looks like on stage.
I suppose most people read this as one book, in spite of its complexity. But, I really did go through it four times for four different purposes. Mostly, that’s because I started it as an e-book on my phone. The only parts of the book that work well that way are the essays.
By the time I got my hands on a print version, I’d listened to the cast album several times and I was most curious about the annotations. So, I read those.
On one fun afternoon, I listened to the album while following along the libretto. I knew most of the words by then, but I still wasn’t always clear on who was singing which lines.
Since I’m so word-oriented, I took one last pass to make sure that I took in all the pictures.
Thoughts: Clearly, I’m in love with this book and the cast album of Hamilton. My patriotism deepened and broadened and grew more inclusive.
I loved the essay that talked about performances of Hamilton for public school students. Here’s what English teacher, Bill Coulter, had to say about how studying and watching Hamilton impacted his students:
“Some of them were just absolutely blown away,” he says. “They were saying, ‘George Washington wasn’t black, Mr. Coulter!’ I said, ‘Obviously, he wasn’t, guys.'” He asked the kids how the casting affected them. “They said, ‘It just made me really proud, and feel good about being American. Like I belong here.'” (p. 159)
Someday, Hamilton will be available for license for student and amateur productions. Can you imagine what it will be like when students get to play these parts?
What will it mean when thousands of students step into these roles at age 15 or 18 or 20–roles that have changed the lives of the original cast members, who encountered them at a significantly later age? Leslie [Leslie Odom, Jr. played Aaron Burr in the off-Broadway and Broadway productions] says that playing a Founding Father has made him feel newly invested in the country’s origins, something that always seemed remote from his life as a black man in America. “The empathy that requires, the connections you make, the lines you draw between the things you want and the things they wanted, that you love and they loved, I never found all that connective tissue before this show.”
Lin hopes those student productions will strive for the diversity of the original production, the ethnic mix that makes Hamilton look like a message beamed back from Future America. It means that whatever impact the show might have on Broadway, and however long it might run, the biggest impact won’t be in New York: It’ll be in high school and college rehearsal rooms across America, where boys learn to carry themselves with the nobility of George Washington, girls learn to think and rap fast enough to rip through “Satisfied,” and kids of either gender (Lin isn’t doctrinaire) summon the conviction of John Laurens, the freedom-fighting abolitionist, who sings, “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us.” (p.160)
This is the America that I dream of and fight for when I stand vigil to declare that black lives matter and when I attend multiple meetings every week to achieve racial justice in schools.
Lines from Hamilton sing through my mind.
Alexander Hamilton: I am not throwing away my shot.
Hey yo, I’m just like my country,
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot.
John Laurens: Rise up!
Angelica Schuyler: I’ve been reading “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine.
So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane.
You want a revolution? I wanna revelation
so listen to my declaration:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal.”
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson,
I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!
George Washington: History has its eyes on you.
Washington: Winning was easy, young man. Governing’s harder.
Hamilton: When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game.
But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game.
You get love for it. You get hate for it.
You get nothing if you wait for it, wait for it, wait!
God help and forgive me, I wanna build something that’s gonna
And, so many more lines that inspire hope and action.
Appeal: If you’ve been noticing that the Left seems to have embraced the patriotism that the Right ceded when it decided to terrify the populace instead of inspire it, Hamilton may be the reason. It’s easy to underestimate the impact of a musical that most of us will never see performed professionally. But, I think if you want to understand why people are marching and meeting, Hamilton: The Revolution and the cast album of Hamilton, are an important piece of the puzzle.
I’m not the only person I know who is currently reading The Federalist Papers.
Have you read this book? What did you think?
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I keep debating whether or not to pick this one up. You’ve convinced me that if I do, I need to get the hardback, not the ebook or audio.