The Hamilton Affair

Written by Elizabeth Cobbs
Review by Susan Higginbotham

Thanks to a certain musical and a newfound appreciation for the Founding Fathers (and mothers), Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, are well on their way to becoming the new American “it” couple in history and historical fiction. The Hamilton Affair is a joint biographical novel of the pair, tracing them from their contrasting childhoods through their courtship and sometimes rocky marriage to Hamilton’s tragic end. Accompanying their stories is that of a purely fictional character, the ex-slave Ajax Manly, who struggles to find liberty and happiness in a new nation that does not quite live up to its ideals.

This is an engaging, well-researched novel with vivid characters and nice turns of phrase (“Even a mule could be taught to spin if it was sufficiently motivated”; “cheerful as a green grasshopper”). Though the novel spans decades, the reader neither feels bogged down in detail nor deprived of it – except in the last few chapters, where two vitally important events pass so quickly as to seem almost an afterthought. I would also have liked to have seen a few flaws in Elizabeth, as we do with her husband – but she does indeed seem to have been an extraordinary woman, well matched with an extraordinary man.