The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton
By Tilar J. Mazzeo
Read by January LaVoy
Listening Length: 10 hours and 42 minutes
Program Type: Audiobook
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Audible.com Release Date: September 18, 2018
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Irena’s Children comes a comprehensive and riveting biography of the extraordinary life and times of Eliza Hamilton, the wife of founding father Alexander Hamilton, and a powerful, unsung hero in America’s early days.
Fans fell in love with Eliza Hamilton—Alexander Hamilton’s devoted wife—in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal musical Hamilton. But they don’t know her full story. A strong pioneer woman, a loving sister, a caring mother, and in her later years, a generous philanthropist, Eliza had many sides—and this fascinating biography brings her multi-faceted personality to vivid life.
Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of The Wife of Alexander Hamilton follows Eliza through her early years in New York, into the ups and downs of her married life with Alexander, beyond the aftermath of his tragic murder, and finally to her involvement in many projects that cemented her legacy as one of the unsung heroes of our nation’s early days. Featuring Mazzeo’s “impeccable research and crafting” (Library Journal), and perfect for fans of the richly detailed historical books by Ron Chernow and Erik Larson, Eliza Hamilton is the captivating account of the woman behind the famous man. https://www.simonandschuster.net/books/Eliza-Hamilton/Tilar-J-Mazzeo/9781508265757
I had recently read another book on my own (I think); a more fictionalized account of Eliza Hamilton but was interested in this biography — a non-fictionalized accounting of her life. There are instances where I wondered if if there is some supposition about feelings and activity – like Eliza’s heart pounding, rushing to dress when Iroquois warriors where marching towards the Schuyler house or the Army encampment in Saratoga. Biography’s can be dreadfully dull and I very other tend to return them to the library before I’ve finished them. This story, with many quotations from letters is not at all dry.
The author refers to the musical Hamilton, by Lin Manuel Miranda, as a starting point for a couple of ideas, such as the scene wherein Eliza burned some of her letters. This is in relation to any role she might have played in the affair Hamilton may or may not have had and the way his coincided with his political and financial life. It was hard to read that Eliza would even have had a part in the affair; in the other novelized book I read, the affair most definitely occurred and was devastating for her.
We look at women’s lives at the time and can see, in Eliza’s life both the understanding of her place in the time, an her frustration and anger with men’s behavior. Losing two people to the foolish practice of dueling as a matter of honor literally destroys Eliza’s life. But, the caveat is that we all imagine women of of another time are conditioned with the same societal norms as are we. It is something we have to recall as we read anything, but especially looking back in time and/or across cultures.
The story is very readable, and though filled with facts, is not a difficult-to-listen-to audiobook. It’s not difficult to trace the lines from no one event or person to the next. Sometimes in an audiobook it is easy to become lost in the factual information, and without the ability to flip back and forth easily it can be confusing —But not here.
January LaVoy, the narrator, has a lovely voice with a natural cadence and as the book would probably sound in my head were I reading it. And without using voices for the characters in Eliza’s life. There’s no “narracting” in this biography.
Perhaps the most fascinating period in Eliza’s life begins after Alexander Hamilton’s gruesome death; she lived on for fifty years and she wasn’t sitting on her hands that whole time. After she was finished raising her children, she was able to embark on a life of philanthropy for, essentially, orphans in helping to found the New York Orphan Asylum Society’s first facility. She also made several trips, moved Washington DC, and even traveled to the western frontier! She became a close friend of Martha Washington. Addressing the question posed in Hamilton! the musical: “Who lives, who dies, who tells the story”? the answer may be that, while some of Eliza’s life was about supporting her husband, Eliza’s life told her own story of resilience and courage. Mazzeo helps give Eliza’s story life and women’s lives can be difficult to research, especially when some of their letters are destroyed.
She was a remarkable woman, and contributed much to the country in all the ways that were possible for a woman of her age. The well-researched story is well-written, easy to follow in the audio format and nicely chronicles the life of one of America’s founding women. I vote “Aye!” for this delightful biography.