Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Review: Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick

4 Stars

The full title of this book is Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution.  This book focuses on the middle years of the American Revolution and the relationship that George Washington had with the now infamous Benedict Arnold.  Most of us know only what we’ve read in our history books.  That Washington was the hero of the revolution and Arnold was a traitor who defected back to the British when he didn’t get his way.  He became America’s best known traitor and Washington became America’s greatest President.  If only it were that simple.

This isn’t a book for everyone.  This is definitely a book for those who have a love of history and just want to learn more.  It doesn’t read like a novel by any means, but there is still an element of suspense as the reader is taken from the early days of the Revolutionary War and follows the paths of both Arnold and Washington as they make their way through history.  The choices that each of them made changed the course of a war and the building of a nation.

Very few people recognize Benedict Arnold as anything other than a traitor to his nation.  There is no doubt that he was a traitor.  But what led this man, who was once a revered leader and passionate believer in the revolutionary cause, to turn coat and go back to the British side?  He was once hailed as the Hero of Saratoga.  He was injured twice in battle but still begged to be able to do his part for the Cause.  Brash, uncouth and self-important, Benedict Arnold ruffled feathers and rubbed people the wrong way everywhere he went.  He was passed over for promotion repeatedly and he felt that he was not being used to his potential.

This book takes you into the events that led up to Arnold’s decision to turn away from the American cause and go back to the side of the British.  He believed he was doing the right thing, or at least that was how he was trying to spin it.  Benedict Arnold had only one cause, himself.  The selfish whims of one man nearly brought about the end of the fight for independence.  Instead of bringing about the downfall of the American fight for their independence, his actions brought about a change in how most citizens felt about this long war and only strengthened their resolve to win this war.

I would recommend this to anyone who has a love of history and a fascination with the Revolutionary War.  My only dislike was that it wasn’t totally linear in fashion, it did jump around quite a bit and lots of back and forth.  But it was still a very good read and gives new insight into who Benedict Arnold was and what his motivations were.  There is an extensive bibliography at the end as well as portraits and drawings of the key figures and events.


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Filed under Historical, Non-Fiction

Review: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

5 Stars

I will readily admit that I have the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat most days.  I have memorized every line.  I will admit without shame or embarrassment that I’m quite addicted to this work of art and hope that someday I’ll be able to see the production in person.  For now, I’m going to make due with reading Hamilton: The Revolution.  Ok, I’ll probably read it more than once…or twice…

For starters, the book itself is absolutely beautiful.  In recent years, most of my purchases have been e-books and the random paperback.  It has been awhile since I’ve purchased a hardcover book and I can’t remember ever seeing one so well put together.  It reminds me of a book you would see in someone’s library with a heavy, embossed cover and thick pages with a natural unfinished edge.  I can attest to the fact that it looks wonderful sitting on my coffee table.  I would definitely recommend against getting this as an e-book.  As wonderful as e-books are, I don’t think that they can truly capture the beauty of this book.  There are a lot of pictures and I just don’t think that an e-book can truly do this book justice.

Surprisingly enough, I have never read a libretto, so I did not know what to expect.  I didn’t know if I was just going to be seeing the musical written out like a play, showing who is singing what part and some minor stage blocking and positions, etc.  I would have been happy with just that.  I would have found it a wonderful companion to the soundtrack.  But this book is so much more.

You’re given an insider’s view of the creation of Hamilton and what led Lin-Manuel to create this tremendous work of art.  You’re also walked through the production and how they created magic not only with the staging of the production, but how each of the original cast was brought in.  For those of us who are new to the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s an amazing insight into his creation process and the tremendous amount of respect that the Broadway community and music community as a whole have for him and his creations.  People were literally begging to be part of this endeavor before it was even much more than just an idea and a few songs.

On nearly every page there is an amazing photograph.  Some are photographs from the stage production and some are candid shots of Lin-Manuel or other people instrumental in the phenomenon known as Hamilton.  There is even a surprise for people who haven’t yet seen the show but are addicted to the soundtrack.  There is a scene in the show that wasn’t included in the soundtrack and you’re able to both read the scene and there is a gorgeous photographic background showing what it looks like in the production.

The annotations to every song are more than worth the cost of the book.  Getting the story from Jeremy McCarter was amazing enough, but to see into the inner workings of Lin-Manuel’s mind was just priceless.  To see where the inspiration came from for the different numbers and what went into them is just awe-inspiring.  The attention to detail and historic accuracy are amazing.  When he takes liberties with the timeline or with certain characters, Lin-Manuel is quick to point out what he changed and why.  I got almost giddy with anticipation when I turned the page and went to the next song, waiting to see what notes were in the margin and what new things I was going to learn.

I really can’t say enough about this book.  I know that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is a work that is for everyone.  Even if you hate musicals, don’t follow theatre and don’t have a clue who Alexander Hamilton or Lin-Manuel Miranda are, take a chance on this book.  This is more than just a play.  More than just a musical.  More than just the telling of the life of one of our founding fathers.  Everyone is going to get something different from Hamilton, especially for those who have never cared about history.  This work opens up a whole new perspective into our past.

I hope to someday be one of the lucky ones to be able to see Hamilton.  I want to be in the room where it happens.


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Filed under Biography/Memoir, Historical, Non-Fiction