I correctly guessed, before beginning this book, that despite the dozens and dozens of times I’d listened to the Hamilton cast album, there were sections of the dense lyrics I had missed or misheard. So, honestly, it was the libretto portion of the book—and its insider footnotes from show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda—that held the most interest for me. Being able to pick out tricky lyrical bits from rapid-fire deliveries and frenetic arrangements was a true highlight of the book. But even that paled against the delight of Manuel’s annotations, which surpassed even my high expectations. I would happily read a book in which he broke down every single lyric in the whole show.
What genuinely surprised me about the book was how moving and affecting it was, particularly in the essay sections by Jeremy McCarter. My assumption was that I’d read the libretto and footnotes, skip the essays, drop the book on my coffee table and read one or two sections every now and then when I had a minute to kill. I figured these would be either dryish, in-depth Broadway nerdgasms or, perhaps, fluffy self-congratulations about how amazing everyone involved in the production was. In fact the essay sections are both inside baseball and fawning, but like Miranda and Hamilton itself, their earnestness and sincerity are infectious. Instead of skipping them, I devoured these pieces. I ended up reading the book cover-to-cover in about three long sessions.
The part where this all shocked me was in how deeply I let the whole book affect me. Exactly like Hamilton itself (which I still haven’t seen as a production, another testament to its inherent power as a story, a vehicle, a movement) the book worked into my heart. Discussions of creative challenges, personal struggles, opportunities, and even philosophical topics like ambition, legacy, and history have real meat and genuine soul. Of course, the already weepy song It’s Quiet Uptown comes with an absolutely heartwrenching essay that absolutely wrecked me, as I struggled through the song lyrics in a full on slobbering ugly cry. But every part of this book is top-quality and ridiculously readable.
The book is beautiful in its presentation, full of glorious photos, masterfully typeset (and yes, I do notice stuff like that), the kind of book that I don’t think works in any other format (as much as I like ebooks and audiobooks). It’s pricey, but I think totally worth it. There is no hesitation in my recommendation of this book to Hamilton fans, and I think reading this can elevate even a casual interest in the play. I’m sure there are Hamilton haters out there who would get little from this, but those are the kind of people I’m not sure I care to know enough to be recommending books to anyway.