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4.37  ·  Rating details ·  720 ratings  ·  93 reviews
Acclaim for Lafayette

"I found Mr. Unger's book exceptionally well done. It's an admirable account of the marquis's two revolutions-one might even say his two lives-the French and the American. It also captures the private Lafayette and his remarkable wife, Adrienne, in often moving detail." -Thomas Fleming, author, Liberty!: The American Revolution

Paperback, 452 pages
Published November 1st 2003 by Wiley (TP) (first published 2002)
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Alanna Not sure about Aaron Burr and Hercules Mulligan, but he was definitely friends with Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens (and Thomas Jefferson, John…moreNot sure about Aaron Burr and Hercules Mulligan, but he was definitely friends with Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens (and Thomas Jefferson, John Adam, James Madison, and James Monroe). He named his own son after George Washington, and Washington was also his godfather. An orphan, Lafayette viewed Washington as a very important father-figure, and Washington felt similarly fatherly towards Lafayette.(less)

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Average rating 4.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  720 ratings  ·  93 reviews

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Feb 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I am seriously considering throwing, "Lafayette," in as the middle name of one of my children. Usually when I read a biography I walk away a little disenchanted about the subject, but in this case I found that there once was someone in the universe who could truly be 'admired. How can one man just kick-ass his whole life? From a political, moral and strategic point of view? At 70 he was still kicking ass.

And yeah, I came close to crying at times too.

The only minor complaint is that I grew wear
Richard Subber
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
I’m a first-time reader of Lafayette biographies, so I’ll acknowledge that Unger entertains by re-stating the obvious: Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier de la Fayette was a national, military, political and, indeed, a paternal hero to millions in America and France during the American and (several) French revolutions.
There is no doubt that, despite the fact that he was one of the richest French nobles of his time, he was publicly and privately dedicated to republican government
James Spurgeon
Aug 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When I started reading this book, I already had a great respect for the Marquis de Lafayette. Upon conclusion, that respect has now grown into admiration. Here was a man, maybe the last true knight, who defied his king and came to fight in America in our revolution... not for fame and glory but because he truly believed in our glorious cause. He demanded no compensation for his service.

When General Washington took him to the army camp for the first time, Washington apologized for its squalor co
May 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, napoleon
Sometimes it can hard to weigh a book when you like the subject so much, it's easy to overlook certain flaws perhaps in your overall enthusiasm. I enjoyed this book a great deal, because you can't help but like Lafayette, but so does the author. It's that lack of impartiality that I think detracts from it overall though. He mentions how vast the Lafayette souvenir and trinket industry (which exploded in the US) and most of the idealized portraits looked absolutely nothing like him--and you can't ...more
Marc Shoemaker
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book, and maybe I should have given it another star, but in the end it was one more breathless, uncritical Lafayette biography. I've been looking for a good Lafayette bio for years, and when I found this one in a bookstore at Yorktown I thought that it might have been what I was looking for. Unfortunately Unger overpraises Lafayette and often overlooks his faults. He portrays him as a devoted husband in spite of his womanizing, for instance, while the language he uses overl ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
A detailed, well-written and gripping biography of Lafayette. Unger clearly lays out Lafayette’s life and accomplishments, and his impact on the history of the North American and European continents. Unger clearly explains Lafayette’s role and personality, and his easy reception among the colonists due to his status as a Mason, his wealth, and his access to Washington and the king of France.

There are some errors. At one point Unger writes that Patrick Henry warned Jefferson of the Br
Aug 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Amazing man. I am so impressed by him. I feel he was placed in France by Providence. He had the thought like the Americans of his generation, not the French, but he needed to be there to help us win. His wife was so smart, compassionate and completely devoted to him. When she went to prsion with her daughters to be with him, I nearly fell out of my seat! I loved this book. I learned so much about the French Revolutions.
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
** 4 1/2 stars out of 5 ** Unger's biographical depiction of Lafayette is one of clear admiration backed by extensive research as intimate as the letters the Marquis wrote to his contemporaries and family. The French aristocrat who devoted so much of his life for America's pursuit for liberty and independence was a man who is still worthy of our devotion.

Within the pages of this engrossing biography, Lafayette is worthy of the esteem Unger clearly has for his subject. Wisely using Lafayette's o
Ross Cohen
Jun 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An excellent telling of an excellent life. Lafayette was one of a kind and incredibly accomplished. If the author were to have claimed Lafayette could spit rhymes a-la-Lin-Manuel Miranda, I wouldn't have been surprised.
Nicole Dust
Mar 25, 2019 rated it really liked it


For anyone who likes biographies and/or Hamilton, 9/10 would recommend this book. My only issue was that the pacing at the very end seemed way off compared to the rest of the book.

Other than that? Truly amazing. Lafayette was an incredible person, and this book reflected him perfectly.
Nov 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Unger delivers another packed biography in his assessment of Lafayette's role in two worlds. Focusing on his role in both of the major revolutions in the eighteenth century in the British colonies and the United States the author seeks to place Lafayette in the world. Lafayette is heralded as the great white knight who sprang from the old world to save the new world, only to not have a place in that new world. Overall this is a fascinating thesis on the changing values of liberalism particularly ...more
Bob Entwisle
Apr 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Overall, I enjoyed this book and it's a decent introduction to the time period and the American and French Revolutions. If you are looking for an introductory book on these subjects with fast moving narrative, you should enjoy it.

However, there is an enormous lack of objectivity and the book is filled with hero worship. In celebrating the greatness of Lafayette, it at times gets tedious. For example, there are lengthy sections describing numerous banquets and parades that I found myself skippin
Alexander J
Dec 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'd like to give this 4.5 stars. Thoroughly researched but not densely written account of a fascinating person. Unger clearly loves Lafayette (which is okay, because Lafayette was great!) but sometimes that does color the account of events. Hardly an objective account of the American or French revolutions, but it does feel like an honest story of those events as they related to Lafayette and his family. In many ways, the obvious affection for Lafayette makes it feel like you're seeing those even ...more
I was a little bothered by the slightly breathless tone with which Unger often wrote about Lafayette- he came off a bit like an adolescent writing about his first crush, rather than a serious biographer. I also noticed some minor incorrect details here and there, including some unverified facts, and some cases of simplistic wrapping up of complicated issues. On the whole, not a bad biography- just not an outstanding one, though it had some inspiring moments.
Jan 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is AMAZING!!!!!! Lafayette is such a little known historical figure from the American and French Revolutions but he totally deserves more attention. He is one of my most admired figures in history so much so that any future child of mine should have Lafayette as a middle name. I totally recommend this book because it reads like fiction and is a page turner. It was one of the best books I have ever read and it will become one of yours as well.
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
An exceptional read to any lover of American and/or Military history. Harlow Giles Unger wonderfully weaves the life of Marquis de Lafayette through the various ages that he lived. His unbounded love for America and what she stands for, Lafayette was and forever will remain not only a Founding Father of our country, but a Patriot of Freedom for all mankind.
Eric Sevigny
Aug 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book on a man I knew practically nothing about before reading Chernow's Washington: A Life. That book made me want to read more about this defender of American-style liberty in the Old World. The book was an easy read, kept me interested, and taught me about the second half of Lafayette’s life. Raised many questions about the French Revolution for me.
Jun 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in US history or biography
Shelves: history
This book on Lafayette and Chernow's book on Hamilton are extraordinary profiles of two man who made essential contributions to the founding of the US. Their accomplishments and the breathe of their activities / interests are unbelievable.
Mar 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. This was an incredible man with an amazing story
about whom we learn very little in American history.
May 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Pronounce him one of the first men of his age, and you have yet not done him justice... Turn back your eyes upon the records of time... and where, among the race of merely mortal men, shall one be found, who, as the benefactor of his kind, shall claim to take precedence of Lafayette?" - John Quincy Adams

How had I never learned about Lafayette? I honestly don't think I'd heard his name until my (fairly recent) trip to Williamsburg. And then, of course, listening to Hamilton I became mo
Andy Efting
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow! Just finished a great read of the amazing life of the Marquis de Lafayette. At 19 the French aristocrat boy funded the ship that took him to America to participate in our Revolution. He became fast friends with Washington, and distinguished himself as a soldier and military leader. It is highly unlikely we would have prevailed against the British without the aid of France, secured in large measure to Lafayette's influence. He is a true Revolutionary War hero whose story deserves to be bette ...more
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Purchased the book a few years ago and finally got around to reading, and so glad I did. My knowledge of Lafayette was cursory at best, coming from the many books I've read about the American Revolution. In hindsight, Lafayette's role never seemed to be quite as important as it was. And to play a critical role in two revolutions. Wow!

Probably a life like no other considering his pedigree, wealth, using his own money to fight for America in paying his own way and frequently feeding and clothing
Chad Foster
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lafayette’s name is known to most Americans who have a passing familiarity with our revolutionary period. However, the true greatness of the man remains largely forgotten by the country that he served so well. Gilbert du Motier de La Fafayette, the man that Americans of the time would call “Our Marquis,” was (and is) a true hero for the cause of American independence. This book seeks to do him justice, and it largely succeeds. The use of personal and official correspondence sheds light on the th ...more
Nov 07, 2019 rated it liked it
A good account of the life of a man whose actions defined two of the world’s most important revolutions. One of the most interesting characters of both the American and the French Revolution.

Although the book is well written and documented, at times can be quite tedious to read due to the amount of pageantry and pomposity that dominated all the interactions in Lafayette life. The descriptions of receptions, ceremonies and public displays fill a significant part of the book. We are al
Jeff Wilson
Unger does a good job of showing the reader only the good side of Lafayette. As someone coming to the subject knowing only tangential information about Lafayette, this was a pretty good "introduction" to the man. The book is presented in two parts, the first deals with his life in the American revolution and the second deals with his life in Europe and the French revolution. The first half nauseatingly presents Lafayette as so much of a naive-boy-scout-type of man that I considered abandoning th ...more
Casandra Hassett
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don't know if I loved this man because of the book or if I loved the book because of the man. But I do believe that Unger did a fantastic job with the book.

In the preface of this book there was a very blunt comment basically stating that French still consider Lafayette a traitor and that if you read a French or an originally French account of Lafayette you are going to get this story of him. That just blew my mind, how could this great person this hero be a traitor. Well, ok I do see many thi
Carl Arthur
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ever wonder why so many streets and towns in America are named Lafayette? To call his life extraordinary would be doing him a disservice. Wonderful biography of a French aristocrat who traveled to a fledgling United States and became a hero in the American Revolution, only to return to a politically-corrupt homeland where he was stripped of his titles and property, and jailed for his democratic beliefs. He pretty much introduced democracy to a monarchial Europe. Though he was rich as shit, Lafay ...more
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
♥ Lafayette ♥

The last book I read about Lafayette was so full of tangential anecdotes that it was barely about the Marquis, despite what the title and book jacket advertised. Which was a huge bummer because Lafayette was my favorite fighting Frenchman before Hamilton! thankfully dusted him off and brought him back into the conversation as one of the Founding Fathers of the US. This book, thankfully, was only about the Marquis and how he fit into major events of the 18th century on both sides of t
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
When you read these historical biographies, you often think, wow this would make a great movie. With Layfayette, I think i feel that way more than any other biography i've read in recent years. What a life! Born into nobility, losing his parents by 13, chartering a boat to join the American Revolution while still a teenager. Becoming a friend to the Founding Fathers and hero in America. Then helping to initiate the French Revolution, being a hero there, then prisoner in the Reign of Terror when ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Many other reviewers have praised this book, so I won't go on at length. It is a good companion to Chernow's Hamilton, and His Excellency by Joseph Ellis. Also highly recommended for a detailed account of how the Revolutionary War was won at Yorktown (with much additional information about Lafayette's role in bringing French Naval and Army forces into the war) is Washington's Great Gamble by James Nelson. Lafayette was a true friend of the US, and was instrumental in winning the war by bringing ...more
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A former Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Harlow Giles Unger is a veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian.
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“obligations to the United States, ladies and gentlemen, far surpass the services I was able to render. These date back to the time when I had the good fortune to be adopted by the United States as one of her young soldiers, as a beloved son. The approbation of the American people . . . is the greatest reward I can receive. I have stood strong and held my head high whenever, in their name, I have proclaimed the American principles of liberty, equality and social order. I have devoted myself to these principles since I was a boy, and they will remain a sacred obligation to me until I take my final breath. . . . The greatness and prosperity of the United States are spreading the light of civilization across the world—a civilization based on liberty and resistance to oppression, with political institutions based on the rights of man and republican principles of government by the people.19” 0 likes
“Lafayette was a splendid man...with a marvelous, self-depreciating sense of humor. He was, for example, balding noticeably when he reached an Indian outpost...and he calmed his wife's anxieties by noting that "I cannot lose what I do not have.” 0 likes
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