Cobbs' novel chronicles the difficult political and family life of Alexander Hamilton.
Well before the publication date of this novel, the Broadway musical based on Hamilton’s life will in all likelihood have won many Tony awards. Can another fictional re-examination of this controversial statesman succeed in saying anything new about Hamilton—and do it without rap songs? Hamilton’s story certainly invites dramatization. Born the illegitimate son of a runaway wife on the Caribbean island of Nevis and raised in St. Croix, Hamilton is disinherited in early adolescence when his mother dies of a malarial fever. His intelligence and grit net him a clerk position with an importer and then sponsorship to leave the islands for New York to further his education. Swept up in revolutionary fervor, he becomes George Washington’s aide-de-camp, eventually winning his own command but always bucking the disadvantages of his humble beginnings. He meets his future wife, Eliza, whose father, Philip Schuyler, is a New York landholder who throws in his lot with the Continentals. Chapters narrated by Eliza alternate with chapters narrated by Alexander, and the first half of the novel lacks momentum as the characters negotiate the ponderous logistics of courtship, marriage, intrigue, jockeying for position on the battlefield and in Washington’s Cabinet, etc. It isn’t until the end of the Revolutionary War that the plot thickens. Alexander, appointed the United States' first Treasury Secretary, puts out countless fiscal fires threatening the fledgling republic’s economy. He not only refuses to own slaves, but publicly advocates for abolition. He is subjected to much unfair opprobrium, largely, it appears, because he doesn't belong to the post-revolutionary boys’ club. James Monroe, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson come off as particularly ignoble, and Aaron Burr seems downright sociopathic. Cobbs displays how Hamilton’s outsider status leaves him very little wiggle room: an extramarital affair which might have been hushed up in the right circles leads directly to his downfall.
Although it's entering a crowded field of biographies, fictional or not, of various Founding Fathers, Cobbs' meticulous account holds its own—even without catchy tunes.