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Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  13,581 ratings  ·  2,199 reviews
From the bestselling author of Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes, a humorous and insightful account of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette--the one Frenchman we could all agree on--and an insightful portrait of a nation's idealism and its reality.

On August 16, 1824, an elderly French gentlemen sailed into New York Harbor and giddy Americans were ther
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published October 20th 2015 by Riverhead Books
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Clif Hostetler I think the book is acceptable for a 12 year old. The most questionable thing about Lafayette's life is that he left for North America leaving his you…moreI think the book is acceptable for a 12 year old. The most questionable thing about Lafayette's life is that he left for North America leaving his young pregnant wife without permission from her, his father-in-law, or the French army of which he was an officer. Otherwise he displayed youthful enthusiasm in all his endeavors which I suppose a young pre-teen could identify with. From my perspective as an old man, I was astounded how young he was when he first arrived in the colonies.(less)
Catherine No, but there are plenty of things in the book that a person could create questions to lead a book club discussion. Plus, the book is so readable you …moreNo, but there are plenty of things in the book that a person could create questions to lead a book club discussion. Plus, the book is so readable you will want o share your favorite passages with others. (less)

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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  13,581 ratings  ·  2,199 reviews

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May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I work at a college, and one of the things I regularly hear students grumble about is that "history is boring." I disagree, of course, but sometimes it's difficult to explain to a grouchy freshman why history is actually exciting and interesting and often relevant to modern times.

Luckily, I don't have to carry that burden all by myself, because there is Sarah Vowell. (And Bill Bryson. And Nathaniel Philbrick. And David McCullough. And Erik Larson. And Hampton Sides. And Stacy Schiff. But I digre
Jul 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
First note: I am a working historian. It's my job, my life, my reason for getting out of bed every day (well, also coffee). What do I think of Sarah Vowell's work? She self-describes in this book as a "historian-adjacent, narrative nonfiction wise guy."
I love her work because she takes a historical topic - assassination, patriotism, colonialism, Puritanism and in this case, political idealism - and intertwines the subject across time. Lafayette's political idealism, which was more important to
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Sarah Vowell’s acerbic, insightful wit comes through loud and clear in this fascinating account of French General Lafayette and his role in the American Revolution, but it took me a while to adjust to her irreverent banter in print--as well as being an author Vowell is also known for her radio pieces on This American Life. This book runs almost 270 pages without any chapter breaks, and reads like the long-winded but mesmerizing stand-up routine of a highly knowledgeable, history obsessed comedia ...more
Jessica Jeffers
Nov 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Everyone give it up for America's favorite fighting Frenchman!

I love Sarah Vowell. She's funny and she breaks history down into something very simple and straightforward. I don't read enough history in general and I definitely haven't read enough Sarah Vowell, but I still love her.

How fortuitous that Sarah's written a book that so neatly ties into the buzziest theater sensation in 20 years. Despite my love of the Broadway show, I actually just wanted to read this one because I love Sarah Vow
Clif Hostetler
Feb 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is a history of the American Revolutionary War structured around the life of Lafayette (full name: Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette). This is enjoyable history that fashions a braid of past and present with sparkling prose. It's part history, travelog, political commentary, and comedy. And in spite of the writing style aimed at a popular reading audience, it's informative and really does manage to disclose some facts often missed by "serious" hist ...more
Jul 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Guyyyyys this book. It took me almost three months to read it, when I expected to finish it in a couple of days! I just didn’t like it very much, and I’m not sure why.

It might be that it was the first Sarah Vowell book I’ve listened to on audiobook, but I don’t think so. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I love Sarah Vowell’s voice (not to mention the voices of her many stellar audiobook guests, including John Slattery as Lafayette, Nick Offerman as George Washington, Alexis Denisof as all th
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Mar 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read2017, audiobook
I listened to this on a long drive home from DC, after seeing the statue of Lafayette in Mt Vernon Square in Baltimore. I selected it because I needed something that would satisfy both my husband and I; I had previously enjoyed a Sarah Vowell audiobook and he likes history.

It left both of us a bit ambivalent. Sarah Vowell does have a singular voice, and I wish she had made more use of the celebrity voices also on the recording (more of them, less of her.) But I knew what I was getting into in t
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I picked this up because I just read about the bromance between Lafayette, Hamilton, and John Laurens in Alexander Hamilton and realized I knew exactly nothing about Lafayette besides the fact that there are a lot of streets and landmarks bearing his name here in the county where Washington crossed the Delaware.

As it turned out, I also knew hilariously little about the scope of the role the French played in helping the United States win its freedom. Thanks, public education!

And thanks, France!
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is more than a non-fiction book; it is a history textbook, a Broadway companion, a travel guide, and political essay collection. I had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook -- I highly recommend it as it comes with an all-star cast (Nick Offerman as George Washington?!) as well as being read by Vowell herself.

As a history textbook, this was the most comprehensive history of the Revolution that I have experienced; by focusing on a single character Vowe
Kressel Housman
Sarah Vowell is one of my favorite writers. She describes herself as a “historian-adjacent nonfiction narrative wise guy,” but I consider her a genuine historian and genuinely wise. Her signature style is to mix a meticulously researched account of history with snarky comments, but within her analysis come some absolute gems of political insight. This book stays true to her style.

The book begins in 1824 with the return visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to America, but it is mostly it is about th
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
No one but Sarah Vowell can manage to write about history with wry humor, while managing to also include references to Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen. At the same time, she brings the Marquis de Lafayette and the sometimes cranky Revolutionary War figures to life in her latest book, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. And, despite her serious humor, she can still bring tears with her closing sentence; tears for a popular history book.

Vowell puts the story of t
I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Sarah Vowel read her book Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. I knew little of Lafayette's life but now I'd like to read a longer biography on this remarkable young man. She gave me an entirely different picture of George Washington than I had had. Loved her connections between past and present and her dry sardonic wit. She's a fun travel companion.
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Today I learned that somewhere in between "history" and "tumblr post" there's this thing called "narrative nonfiction."

Also, I learned that I loathe narrative nonfiction.

Before I go on, caveats:
1. I did waffle between 2 and 3 stars, so take it as a 2.5 maybe.
2. I love the Marquis de Lafayette more than my own life, and this book did have some good Lafayette content so that was enjoyable.

So. First of all. The style and voice. A quick skim of Sarah Vowell reviews will mostly give you the word "irr
1.5 Stars

In full disclosure, I read the title of this book, looked at the cover, and thought this was a YA novel. Probably one with a manic pixie dream girl. I was excited.
This is not a YA novel. This is a pithy "biography" full of random tangents and author antidotes somewhat featuring Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, who I guess could be considered the Continental Army's manic pixie dream girl.

I've loved Lafayette for years and years and years so I figured even if I didn't get my YA
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is my first time reading a book by Sarah Vowell. I think Vowell used Lafayette as a vehicle for a run through the Revolutionary War. Vowell blends a travelogue along with comedy and trivia to history. Vowell’s irreverence extends throughout the book including to the Marquis de Lafayette. Vowell writes about Lafayette as follows: “being a single-minded suck-up prone to histrionic correspondence.”

Vowell’s writing is laden with off-putting slang and pop culture references. I was really put off
Theresa Alan
Oct 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I thought I knew American history, but it turns out that there was a whole lot of stuff I didn’t know, and this book helped fill in some gaps. Vowell is always funny, but some of the material in here is dense, so you have to love history and nonfiction to enjoy this book.

Vowell wrote part of this during the 2013 temper tantrum in Washington that shut down all nonessential government services and cost our country $24 BILLION. (So much for fiscal responsibility.) The fact that our country is cons
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is my first book from Sarah Vowell, I heard so many good things about this one & many other of her. This did not disappoint. She has a very unique way of writing a narrative that makes history really fun to read. You can see her extensive research in her words too.

I came in this blindly not knowing really who Lafayette was other then having something to do with the American Revolution. Boy, I got that and more! I think people tend to forget that the French were really a lot of help to Amer
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was an absolutely delightful, snark-filled history of a war hero I had never heard of before Hamilton: the Musical. Did I read it because of the musical? You bet I did. Did I maybe enjoy it more because I was thinking of the musical or fanposts on tumblr? Absolutely. But even without that. The cast was delightful, the author's narrative voice was enjoyable, and okay I went through the whole book picturing Daveed Diggs so what.

Sarah Vowell has a unique writing style: factual, yet fun. Example: Lafayette 'knocked up' his wife before he left for the 'New World'. Other examples abound!!

I learned the following about Lafayette:
He came to the colonies to find his fortune at the age of 19.
He was commissioned as major-general at that age to fight in the Revolutionary War
Injured at the Battle of Brandywine
Instrumental in winning the Battle of Yorktown
4 children including his son, Georges Washington (obviously named after our 1
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Sarah Vowell's descriptions of dashing around the Eastern Seaboard to visit sites of Revolutionary War events, homes of founding fathers, re-enactments of key battles -- accompanied by friends, siblings, nieces and nephews, occasionally a patient hired driver -- are, if I have to pick just one adjective, endearing. These glimpses into her own life help her bring history to life for so many readers.

I've read Assassination Nation, Take the Cannoli, Unfamiliar Fishes, and The Wordy Shipments, and h
Carol Jean
Oct 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Ms. Vowell at her snarky best, as she takes on the various characters in the Revolutionary War and their assorted motives and conflicts, both on and off the battle field. I was going to quote some of her best lines, but over all I think my favorite quote comes from a letter George Washington wrote to Lafayette:

"In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude; every man will speak as he thinks, or, more properly , without thinking, and consequently will judge
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
A French teenager with romantic notions of glory, liberty (and sticking it to the British) comes to the American colonies to fight in the revolution. Along the way, he becomes bosom buddies with George Washington, leads troops into battle at various sites in Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia... and had a distinct role in the founding of a new country.

...and 240 years later... no one remembers him.

Sarah Vowell attempts to change this with her 2015 bio/history of Lafayette and the American Rev
Jessica Woodbury
Oct 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
I straight up love Sarah Vowell's books. Whenever I read one I wish I was one of her quick-witted, dryly sarcastic pals who goes bouncing around on research trips with her. And as I'm currently in the middle of a Hamilton obsession that shows no sign of stopping, a book on Lafayette and the Revolutionary War was right in the sweet spot.

I always do Vowell on audio. I think her dry reading voice matches her tone well. Recently they've been adding more readers to her audiobooks to do the quotations
Kaethe Douglas
I read this because Hamilton has been on repeat in my car for a year or something now, and he *is* my favorite fighting Frenchman after D'Artagnan and before General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. I enjoyed learning about his family of military bigwigs and how desperate he was to get over here and fight.
Lafayette, a descendent of Christian warriors stretching back to the Crusade, cheerfully belly flopped into the bloodbath.

And later, on his farewell tour of the US, it's easy to imagine him in a sort
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-read

It's probably not a good thing for Sarah Vowell that I spent much of this book envisioning that George Washington looked and sounded like Chris Jackson, but then again it's probably not a bad thing. Also it was occasionally hard to focus on Vowell describing the battle of Yorktown without hearing Guns and Ships/Yorktown in my head, but you know that's typical. This, like Vowell's other books, is really funny and also really insightful.
Ashley Marie
This felt like another retread book, considering how in-depth I've gone with the American Revolution in the past year or so, but I still and always will appreciate Sarah's wit. My only problem is, how many times do you REALLY need to quote Washington's "Are these the men with which I am to defend America?" line?
Daniel Chaikin
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
8. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (Audio) by Sarah Vowell
reader: the author and several actors for all quotes
published: 2015
format: Overdrive digital audio, 8:07
acquired: Library
read: Feb 3-13
rating: 4

Vowell is the snarky, entertaining, historian with the funny voice. She is also sharp and thorough, although there isn't really all that much to dig up on Lafayette. The French Lafayette is an obscure hero with a somewhat recognizable name. He played a critical role in the American Revolut
Mar 17, 2016 rated it liked it
4 stars for the history - I didn't know much about the Marquis de Lafayette beyond what I've heard in the "Hamilton" musical, so it was extremely enlightening to read all about his life and times, and how great an asset he and his country (France) were to the colonies in their fight for independence. Sarah Vowell explains history in a tongue-in-cheek, wry manner that makes it easy to understand and entertains at the same time.

2 stars for the rest. When Vowell uses her unique writing style to foc
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, audiobook
3.5 stars - It was really good.

This was the first book I have read by this author and I really enjoyed her writing style. She has a casual narrative that highlights the most interesting parts of history and infuses everything with her clever sarcasm. I look forward to getting around to reading her other works.

I listened to the audiobook which was well made and easily recommended. The author does the majority of the narration, but they also pulled in other big names to narrate historical figures:
Oct 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a gem! I may find this book more interesting than others because I live within an hours drive of most of the revolutionary battlefields, and settings Sarah Vowell takes you to, in this entertaining historical romp including Brandywine, Yorktown, Williamsburg,valley forge, Paris, even Freehold,NJ! Did you know that Lafayette was only 19 years old, and the critical role he played in obtaining France's support during the revolutionary war? Sarah Vowell once again, with her wit, her snarky obse ...more
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Sarah Jane Vowell is an American author, journalist, humorist, and commentator. Often referred to as a "social observer," Vowell has authored several books and is a regular contributor to the radio program This American Life on Public Radio International. She was also the voice of Violet in the animated film The Incredibles and a short documentary, VOWELLET - An Essay by SARAH VOWELL in the "Behin ...more

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There is nothing like reading a history or biography book and being so completely transported to another time and place that you find...
49 likes · 18 comments
“While the melodrama of hucking crates of tea into Boston Harbor continues to inspire civic-minded hotheads to this day, it’s worth remembering the hordes of stoic colonial women who simply swore off tea and steeped basil leaves in boiling water to make the same point. What’s more valiant: littering from a wharf or years of doing chores and looking after children from dawn to dark without caffeine?” 28 likes
“That, to me, is the quintessential experience of living in the United States: constantly worrying whether or not the country is about to fall apart.” 28 likes
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