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Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (2015)

by Sarah Vowell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7714120,024 (3.85)46
On August 16, 1824, an elderly French gentlemen sailed into New York Harbor and giddy Americans were there to welcome him. Or, rather, to welcome him back. It had been 30 years since the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette had last set foot in the United States, and he was so beloved that 80,000 people showed up to cheer for him. The entire population of New York at the time was 120,000. Lafayette's arrival in 1824 coincided with one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history. Congress had just fought its first epic battle over slavery, and the threat of a Civil War loomed. But Lafayette, belonging to neither North nor South, to no political party or faction, was a walking, talking reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the revolutionary generation and what they wanted the country to be. His return was not just a reunion with his beloved Americans, it was a reunion for Americans with their own astonishing singular past.… (more)
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» See also 46 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
Was not my favorite book. Was not necessarily humored with her sense of humor.

I do now want to get a biogrphy of Lafayette and read it.
  Johnson88 | Jun 19, 2020 |
For a book with Lafayette's name in the title, there was relatively little about him.

My reaction to this book is partly based out of unfamiliarity with the author: I'd expected a casual history, but not this casual. Vowell seems to have a Mary Roach approach to writing history, lacing it with personal anecdotes of research and snarky reactions to silly situations. Sadly, her humor didn't really click with me, and her research fell down on the job a lot, too, leaving a lot of stones unturned. (But thank goodness I know her nephew rented some costume stuff in Williamsburg!)

As I noted in one of my updates, she also had an annoying tendency to explain things that didn't need explaining, including by summarizing quotes that, actually, were super-straightforward, like a student trying to make their minimum word count. On the other hand, stones left unturned: some passages that begged for more explanation were left brief, context-less.

This might be a good read to entice middle-schoolers into Revolutionary history, maybe. Like I said, not a lot of Lafayette focus, but we get a big overview of the battles of the AmRev, both physical and political. ( )
  elam11 | May 30, 2020 |
I had been curious about Vowell's books for ages, and finally got around to picking this one up as a part of my current trend on reading about the American Revolution. Vowell has become known for her associative, nearly stream-of-consciousness style that sometimes feels like an NPR radio segment or nerdy podcast. Most of the time it really worked for me -- especially as she's talking about how Lafayette's legacy has changed over the history of America -- her asides on Pennsylvania Quakers and Colonial Williamsburg re-enactors is actually pretty on topic.

I did sometimes wish for more straightforward biographical information on Lafayette -- but any good non-fiction book should leave you wanting to learn more, right? And this book made me want to learn more about Lafayette, Washington, and the general course of the war. It's becoming increasingly clear that most of my Revolutionary knowledge is about the statesmen and the causes -- very little about the war itself.

A fascinating read. ( )
  greeniezona | Jan 21, 2020 |
Fun and amusing history of Lafayette during the revolutionary war. More then anything else, it left me curious about his life after the revolution - it's sketched in here but I would love to read about it in more detail. ( )
  duchessjlh | Jan 18, 2020 |
"Read" this as an audiobook. While I like Sarah Vowell's radio work, I found all of the guest start stuff too distracting, particularly Patton Oswalt. A good history though, I'll probably read some of her other work. ( )
  nushustu | Aug 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vowell, Sarahprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Armisen, FredNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cannavale, BobbyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Denisof, AlexisNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Giacchino, MichaelComposersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hodgman, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
March, StephanieNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Offerman, NickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oswalt, PattonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Slattery, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
This continent is a vast, unwieldy machine.
--John Adams, 1775
We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a feather-bed.
--Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1790
The country is behind you, fifty percent.
--Bob Hope, to United States Troops in Vietnam, 1966
Dedication
To Steven Barclay, ally and friend
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How did the Marquis de Lafayette win over the stingiest, crankiest tax protesters in the history of the world?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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