Do you have a hankering to see the hit Broadway musical Hamilton? It’s no fault of democratizing auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda that tickets are $1,000 a pop these days, a perfect example of the economic laws of supply and demand.
Ron Chernow, the author behind the author, is no stranger to economics, either, and he turned over a whole library of Revolutionary-era literature in order to write his spry biography of the bastard—the term is used advisedly—Hamilton. As a reader, the founding father of federal finance was no slouch himself: before his unfortunate encounter with Aaron Burr in Weehawken, New Jersey, just a hair shy of 212 years ago, Hamilton was reading a small stack of novels, though there’s some suggestion that he might have borrowed these for one or the other of his stack of paramours. As for Burr—well, as Adam Gopnik, always a pleasure to read, writes in the New Yorker, he was reading circles around his rival, polishing off Gibbon, Boswell, Swift, and many another near-contemporary authors while keeping his knife whetted on the classics.
Reread Chernow by all means, and if you have a spare grand, turn it over to Miranda and company, but it’s worth revisiting Gore Vidal as well to gain an appreciation for the man in Hamilton’s shadow, if not the burr in his saddle.
What would the voracious Burr read today? To trust a recent number of the New York Times, he might revel in a paperback edition of some meaty history—David McCullough’s life of John Adams, say, or Rick Perlstein’s elegiac study of the path that led from Richard Nixon to the antifederalist Ronald Reagan. He might scribble in a coloring book.
But as for Hamilton, though fond of novels, we might imagine him digging into a cookbook as well, for, no stranger to the bon vivant’s table, Hamilton knew his way around a plate. With his scholarly bent, then, we’ll hazard a pairing of Hamilton with Christopher Kimball, whose Cook’s Bible belongs on every foodie’s shelf. Having left America’s Test Kitchen in what’s said to have been an unhappy division of the silverware drawer, Kimball is back with a new venture, Milk Street Kitchen. Expect new cookbooks to follow.
To judge by his library card, meanwhile, Hamilton might sneak in some pop fiction among weightier tomes. Might he dip into George R. R. Martin, as so many readers have? Perhaps. The thought that either Hamilton or Martin might be an adept at marine biology is happy but, at least in the former case, unsubstantiated. It’s perhaps a stretch, then, that a brittle sea star, Ophiohamus georgemartini, should now bear the author’s name. We’re still researching whether any marine life bears Hamilton’s moniker, born as he was on an island in the Lesser Antilles. If not, it’s high time…
Charles Dickens died 146 years and a couple of weeks ago, in poor health after surviving a railroad accident five years earlier. As the good bookpersons at the ABAA blog The New Antiquarian note, he was only 58, but it was all he could do to get part of his novel concerning one Edwin Drood onto paper before passing into the night. Read Wolfgang Schivelbusch for the sad business of railroad disasters, and Dan Simmons for whatever became of said Mr. Drood.
Meanwhile, if Dickens had lived in Detroit and written westerns on top of mysteries, he’d be Elmore Leonard, the late, great pulpster. Three years after his death, we’re beginning to see Dutch Leonard as an American master. If that seems an odd proposition, given his genre status, then see Joan Acacella’s excellent essay on Leonard and some of his representative works in the New York Review of Books. Keep an eye out for more Leonard in the Library of America later this summer.
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.