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Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by…
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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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Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
I wish all history textbooks were written by Sarah. This one is ostensibly about the American Revolution from the view point of Lafayette, the young French aristocrat, who defied his family to seek out fame and adventure in the new world. I listened to this on audio and while Sarah read the text, there was a great cast who spoke the thoughts and musings of the founding Fathers; Nick Offerman as Washington (perfect), John Slattery as Lafayette, John Hodgeman as John Adams and Bobby Cannavale as Benjamin Franklin. Recommend! 9/10

"What the French took from the Americans was their theory of revolution, not government. Their cutting, not their sewing."

"Jacob Ritter was so appalled by the day's patriotic gore that he had an epiphany... It says something about the ugliness of Sept 11, 1777 that this boy woke up a Lutheran and went to bed a Quaker." ( )
  mahsdad | Jun 23, 2018 |
Part of what I like about Vowell's amateur historian take on American history is the way she is able to relate Bruce Springsteen to a 19-year old vainglorious Frenchman who defied his family and sailed to the colonies to volunteer in their fight for American Independence. This can also be distracting. Since I've always been fascinated about how we're all connected in the most surprising ways, these little detours are more interesting than irritating.

Granted, it's been years since I've studied or even though of the American Revolution, but I don't remember hearing much about Lafayette at al and he was an integral part of the war. In fact, if asked before listening to this book, I would have assumed Lafayette was historically tied to New Orleans instead of the American Revolution. Nor would I have said that the French were most responsible for winning the war than our underfunded, underfed, and almost naked Army and militia. But, that's just like America: we think of our past only as it gives us pleasure, and we only ever take pleasure in our role as the Hero. And, that is what I like the best about Vowell's work, and recommend it to anyone: she highlights forgotten parts of our history in such a unique and interesting way, her lessons stay with you forever, and she isn't afraid to point out our excessive pride and our faulty historical memory. If you're looking for jingoism, Vowell isn't the amateur historian for you.

As far as the narration goes, I thought I would enjoy Vowell's take on her own work more than I did. I'd probably steer anyone interested in her work to pick up the book instead. ( )
  MelissaLenhardt | Mar 11, 2018 |
Sarah Vowell does her thing with the Revolutionary War and Lafayette. Her usual snark, humor, and wit, plus a fair bit of good research. I did expect a bit more on Lafayette's return visit in 1824, but no real matter. If you are a Vowell fan, you'll want to have a go at this one too, probably. ( )
  JBD1 | Nov 23, 2017 |
Lafayette, lest you forget, was nineteen years old when he arrived in America, burning to prove himself. He was essentially an orphan, but an orphan and heir with means from a distinguished aristocratic military family with the 'home place" in the equivalent of the back hills of some remote state, say Vermont, or Minnesota, but the means to whoop it up in Paris too. The important thing is NINETEEN. By the end of the war he was a mature old 25. I'm adopting Vowell's enthusiastic, breeziness but really I'm not sure what to make of her approach, stuffy old me. It's a sliver biography, maybe more a portrait or introduction to the man, presented in a lively way. As Vowell follows the chronology of Lafayette's Marvelous American Adventure, she is ever alert to the juicy tidbit and when she finds one steps right up and makes a pun or pithy comment about it, say, Lafayette impulsively hugging the rather stiff Washington in a fit of French enthusiasm. A breathless moment later she is describing in excellent detail a battle at sea or a retreat from a disastrous engagement on land, or (more rarely) a successful engagement. I can see Vowell at various libraries, poring over letters waiting for some absurdity to pop out at her. She also visits the various battle sites and houses--including the chateau Lafayette was born in in Auvergne--to get an idea of what people make of Lafayette today. The rangers and historical actors at the sites know their stuff, is the conclusion, and Williamsburg gets an A plus, by the way, for giving the straight story on the French contribution. Which was HUGE. Without Lafayette and his total commitment and enthusiasm, and yes, despite his youth, real skill, and without the French Navy, possibly in reverse order, and without the wonderful and terrible irony of Louis XVI's support of the American desire to be independent of England, we likely would not have succeeded. No, wait, let me restate that. We would not have succeeded in seceding from the British Empire. And we have forgotten. Of course, this is a country where more than a few people aren't sure if the Revolution was fought before or after the Civil War. Which has me on a sidetrack that recently I read an interesting essay about the fact if we hadn't succeeded slavery would have been abolished sooner and without a bloody civil war. Food for thought. But where does that put the French? I think I'll stop, right here.

I imagine this would be a fabulous audio listen -- especially if Vowell herself is reading. It's a different sort of history, but very lively and very well done. **** ( )
1 vote sibyx | Nov 11, 2017 |
Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States follows the life of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, both in France and British North America during the American Revolution. Though she admits that her goal is not to write a standard history, Vowell's research and level of detail makes this a fantastic resource for those interested in the Revolutionary period and her wit makes reading a delight. Vowell often digresses to follow interesting events from some of the major players of the period or to interject anecdotes about their legacies from the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. One point that she returns to throughout her book is the place of discord and debate in forming the American character, then and now. Vowell's insights demonstrate how the lessons of the 1770s resonate. She writes, "That, to me, is the quintessential experience of living in the United States: constantly worrying whether or not the country is about the fall apart" (pg. 14). Summarizing the Revolution, she writes, "Ideas, when implemented, turn into precedents with unpredictable and potentially disturbing consequences" (pg. 19). Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is an excellent cultural history about the Revolution and its legacy – both political and in the popular imagination – and is sure to entertain anyone. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Jul 29, 2017 |
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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, 50 percent. -Bob Hope, To United States Troops in Vietnam, 1966
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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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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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