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Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by…
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Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (original 2015; edition 2015)

by Sarah Vowell (Author)

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8164319,073 (3.86)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)
Member:kristinhays
Title:Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
Authors:Sarah Vowell (Author)
Info:Riverhead Books (2015), 288 pages
Collections:Your library
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Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell (2015)

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» See also 46 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
I have enjoyed Sarah Vowell’s work over the years. She combines strong knowledge of her subject, social and political commentary, humor and a smart, sarcastic attitude; the mix is for me always entertaining. I particularly enjoyed The Partly Cloudy Patriot and Assassination Vacation. But I found I enjoyed Lafayette so much more. Why? Because I listened to it. Listening to Sarah Vowell read Sarah Vowell is so much better than just reading Sarah’s Vowell’s work. She does it so well. She brings out all of the humor, some of it subtle, some of it very dry, in a way that makes reading her words a second-rate experience. Now I feel I need to go back and listen to what I have previously read. Why did I not see this before? It seems so obvious now. I throughly enjoyed Sarah Vowell on This American Life. That is what led me to her writing to begin with. And I thought she was great as Violet on The Incredibles. I love it and I hate it when the obvious hits me upside the head.

The story itself is excellent. Lafayette returns to the United States in 1824 for one final hurrah. He visits John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at the end of their lives. He is received as a returning hero everywhere he travels. It is a love fest. Sarah Vowell uses that visit to look back on Lafayette’s participation in the Revolutionary War and what he meant to the birth of our country. But what do we think of him today? Do many Americans even remember who he was? ( )
  afkendrick | Oct 24, 2020 |
Snarky, slanted, and meandering, a Sarah Vowell tour through history is generally enjoyable, and this one is no exception. Greeted unanimously as a hero when he returned to the States in 1824, who was this man? A rich, orphaned French teenager from a long line of military men (his father was killed in the Seven Years War with the British), married to another teenager, idealistic and impulsive, and, yes, instrumental in winning America's independence from Britain.

Quotes/notes

"When you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views." (Benjamin Franklin, 12)

...ideas, when implemented, turn into precedents with unpredictable and potentially disturbing consequences. (19)

Abbe Guillaume Raynal, History of the Two Indies, 1770 (35)

[Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot] went on to speculate that all mother countries that continued to exploit and oppress their colonies would someday "see their colonies escape them all the same, and become their enemies instead of remaining their allies." (52)

...a hypersensitivity about taxes - and honest disagreements over how they're levied, how they're calculated, how that money is spent, and by whom...[may be the root of] our centuries-old, all-American inability to get our shit together... (why the Continental army was so broke, 156)

"You say to your soldier, 'Do this,' and he does it; but I am obliged to say, 'This is the reason why you ought to do that,' and THEN he does it." (Stueben, 169)

Anyone who accepts the patriots' premise that all men are created equal must come to terms with the fact that the most obvious threat to equality in 18th-century North America was not taxation without representation but slavery. [British Parliament abolished slavery in 1833, preceding the Emancipation Proclamation by 30 years.] A return to the British fold in 1778 might have freed American slaves three decades sooner....Was independence for some of us more valuable than freedom for all of us? (178)

"It is a maxim founded on the universal experience of mankind, that no nation is to be trusted farther than it is bound by its interest." (Washington, 209)

...the French government's expenditures in America contributed to the bankruptcy that sparked the French Revolution that would send...Lafayette into exile... (258) ( )
  JennyArch | Aug 16, 2020 |
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 |
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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
First words
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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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.

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