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12 things we learned from the "Hamiltome," the new book about the revolutionary musical

The 58th GRAMMY Awards - 'Hamilton' GRAMMY Performance
Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

If you can't afford tickets to Hamilton, the next best thing is a copy of Hamilton: The Revolution.

Dubbed "the Hamiltome" on social media, it's a big, lavishly designed book about the musical, featuring elaborate full-color illustrations alongside the complete lyrics to the show, annotated by lyricist, composer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's also filled with essays about the show's development and production by theater critic Jeremy McCarter, who was working on the artistic staff of the Public Theater when the show premiered there.

And best of all for fans, the book is chock-full of secret little details about the show. Even if you stalk Miranda's Twitter feed obsessively, there's plenty for you to learn here. To prove it, here are 12 things we learned from reading the Hamiltome.

1) The musical’s famous origin story isn’t exactly accurate

As legend has it, Hamilton was born when Miranda was on his first vacation from In the Heights, lounging on the beach in Mexico.

He’d brought along Ron Chernow’s 400-page biography of Alexander Hamilton with him as some "light" vacation reading, and as he sat in a hammock by the sea, it came to him that this story would make a perfect hip-hop musical. Right?

Wrong. "Our late-night conversations about a hip-hop version of Hamilton’s life happened a week before he started that trip," says McCarter. "After much baffled poring over emails, we realized he must have read a few chapters as soon as he bought the book, and that that was enough for him to come up with the idea, and even with a title, which was already in place by the first night we met: The Hamilton Mixtape."

2) That opening piano riff is based on a door squeak

You know the one: "DUN dadada da DUN doo doo doo how does a bastard, orphan [etc.]." Well, here’s where it comes from:

I wanted the sound of a door slamming as the downbeat, and in my computer music program I grabbed a sound file called "Door Wood Squeak." The sound of the wood squeak was so compelling I set it to notes.

3) Hamilton’s sick burn to Aaron Burr is based on a famous quote from another Hamilton

Early in the show, Hamilton asks, "If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?" It’s an admonition that astonishes and delights his fellow revolutionaries, and it’s based on the saying, "Those who stand for nothing fall for anything."

That line is sometimes attributed to our Alexander Hamilton, but it first appeared in the 20th century, and one of its earliest adopters was a British journalist who said the line during a radio broadcast in 1978. His name? Alex Hamilton.

4) "The Story of Tonight" is based on a song Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote in high school

Miranda was part of a doo-wop group in high school, and he wrote a song for it called "I’ve Got a Bridge to Sell You." (Try singing those words to the tune of "No matter what they tell youuuuu.")

He thought the innocence of the melody would work perfectly for Hamilton’s first night bonding with his crew — and it would make for suitably comedic and/or depressing reprises throughout the rest of the show.

Miranda is taking his cue here from Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, he writes. "The core trio of friends [in Merrily] repeatedly sings, ‘Here’s to us. Who’s like us? Damn few.’ This theme will mutate as time goes on and people fall away."

The reference works on another level as well: In Merrily, the main character is a composer who repeatedly rewrites the same song over and over, using a melody he wrote in high school.

Miranda, incidentally, starred in a production of Merrily We Roll Along in 2012.

5) "You’ll Be Back" came from Hugh Laurie

King George’s petulant breakup song came to be when Miranda, guest-starring on an episode of House, told Laurie he wanted to write a breakup song from King George to America. "Oh, you’ll be back," Laurie said at once, and wagged his finger, in a moment that would provide the chorus to King George’s recurring song.

6) Burr used to be a lot snottier than he ended up being

In the final version of Hamilton, Burr is always smooth as butter. That’s part of what makes his rejection by George Washington so disappointing for him. He does everything right and doesn’t sing a false note — and Washington still prefers Hamilton to him?

It wasn’t always that way. In the first draft of the show, Burr is as snotty and entitled as one of the Gossip Girl kids. "I don’t mean to brag," he tells Washington, "but my dad was the president of Princeton, sooo…"

Miranda ultimately decided he wanted Washington’s distrust of Burr to be more instinctual, so he replaced the line with the more circumspect, "I admire how you keep firing on the British from a distance."

7) But historical Aaron Burr was kind of weird

Here’s a contemporary account of Burr that McCarter quotes: "He is a grave, silent, strange sort of animal, insomuch that we know not what to make of him."

"Oh that’s not fair," you say, "that could totally be some biased source." Except that is Aaron Burr writing about himself, in the third person, about how he’s super mysterious and hard to understand and probably really deep, once you get to know him. That’s more damning than anyone else’s description of him could ever be.

8) "Satisfied" is structured like a five-paragraph essay

Angelica Schuyler is the smartest character in the show, per Miranda, so it only makes sense for her big song to be an actual essay.

There’s a thesis (she will never be satisfied), three proofs (the three fundamental truths), and a conclusion ("And I know / He will never be satisfied / I will never be satisfied"). It’s "exactly the form of the Personal Literary Essay I learned in eighth-grade English," Miranda writes.

9) Your favorite Jefferson line is a Daveed Diggs improv

One of the biggest laughs in Hamilton reliably comes when James Madison admonishes Thomas Jefferson with, "I’ve been fighting for the South alone. Where have you been?" Pantomiming bewilderment, Jefferson responds, "Uh … France?" We have Daveed Diggs to thank for it: He improvised the line, and Miranda liked it so much he wrote it into the score.

10) Lin-Manuel Miranda taught Stephen Sondheim what a mixtape was

Sondheim is one of the most venerated composers in musical theater, and Miranda adores him, calling him "The God MC Sondheezy."

Sondheim and Miranda forged a working relationship when Miranda translated some of Sondheim’s West Side Story lyrics into Spanish for the 2008 Broadway revival, and as Miranda began work on what he was then calling The Hamilton Mixtape, he turned to Sondheim for advice.

Sondheim, who has long thought that hip-hop and musical theater make natural partners, loved the idea. He just had one question: "I didn’t know what a mixtape was," he admits.

11) An early draft of the show contained a rap battle about slavery

"Cabinet Battle #3" ended up getting cut from the show, because it didn’t advance the story, but it appears in full in the book. Still, how sad is it that we’ll never get to hear Daveed Diggs deliver this verse?

That’s the price we paid

For the southern states to participate

In our little independence escapade.

We made concessions to the south to make them less afraid.

You take away our property? Secession talk will escalate.

Or hear Miranda respond with this?

How will the south find labor for its businesses?

How will Thomas Jefferson find his next mistresses?…

Yet still, people follow like lemmings

All your hemming and hawing, while you’re hee-hawing with Sally Hemings.

12) "It’s Quiet Uptown" requires no comment

The most heart-wrenching moment in the show comes with "It’s Quiet Uptown," the song where Hamilton and Eliza mourn their dead son.

When I saw the show, no one applauded when the song was done, because the song was so incredibly sad that applause would have felt disrespectful. Instead, the last chords faded out into a theater that was silent except for muffled sobbing.

It’s a song that speaks for itself so effectively that to make any comment about it at all feels vaguely unseemly. So although Miranda annotates nearly every other song in the score, he doesn’t have a single marginal comment for "It’s Quiet Uptown."