To help me stay on track in my 2016 goals, I’m documenting the books I read all year here. Here is what I read in January:
Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow: As you may know, I loved the musical inspired by this biography of the Founding Father of the United States and the country’s first Treasury Secretary. Alexander Hamilton emerged from squalor in the Caribbean to become a Revolutionary War hero, a supreme law scholar and a history-changing public officer. In reading this huge book I now understand that Hamilton was a colorful and incredible human being who did so much to get the American government on its feet, and he certainly does not get the recognition today that he deserves. I loved that Chernow also gave part of the narrative to Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, who was responsible for preserving her husband’s legacy and just the ultimate badass. Hamilton, most definitely, did not throw away his shot.
I don’t remember where I read this, but someone on the Internet said that what makes a biography exceptional is that it gives the audience a portrait of a person in a broader cultural context, helping us to think about the world we live in today and make new observations. While I expected to love it, I did not expect that I would sympathize with Hamilton so much and that I would mine so much insight about my own life from it. I highly recommend this biography to anyone. Chernow does a great job of explaining all of the history and what was happening, far better than what a textbook will tell you.
On The Road, by Jack Kerouac: I never had to read this novel for a literature class, so I decided to see what it was all about. Drawing from personal experiences, Kerouac wrote a story about the 1950s-era travels of him and his friends across the country and thinly disguised it as fiction. A lot of things happen in the novel that in 2016 seems unfathomable, mostly because the world we live in today has too many people and too much bureaucracy. Thinking about the country pre-freeways is hard to do. But part of the beauty of reading this novel now is that it presents some of the same crises about identity and purpose we still deal with today through culture. I can see why so many people thought it was disjointed or subversive when the novel was first published, because the world Kerouac creates in the novel seems to exist parallel to reality.
In thinking about the book now as I’m writing my thoughts, I’m easily able to pull apart all of its aspects and come up with an answer for why it’s worth reading. While I was reading it, however, I was really underwhelmed and constantly wondering when this a-ha moment of why it’s the hallmark of the Beat Generation was going to come to me. If you decide to read this and feel sluggish at any point, know that the a-ha moment happens after you read it.
Do you have recommendations for me? Leave them in the comments below.