Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

(hb; 2015: nonfiction)

From the inside flap:

"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 thirty 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 this 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.

"Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is a humorous and insightful portrait of the famed Frenchman, the impact he had on our young country, and his ongoing relationship with some of the instrumental Americans of the time, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and many more."


Witty, informative and intriguing, Vowell's in-depth recounting of Marquis de Lafayette and his involvement in America's Revolutionary War (as well as its other personalities and consequences) is an excellent read, one that I found difficult to set down. This is one of Vowell's best books -- her wry and fleet-footed observations are consistently amusing and the full force of the personalities involved (George Washington, Ben Franklin, etc.) are concisely shown: worth owning, this.

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