Tracy's Reviews > Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
207835
's review

it was amazing

"Lafayette, we are here!" Thus ends Sarah Vowell's fabulously entertaining take on the American Revolution. I loved this book. I chuckled to myself the whole way through, almost not noticing that Vowell was constructing a strong argument that we've *always* been fragmented, contentious, and well, just broken, as a democracy. But darn it, there are some great stories along the way.

Lafayette is portrayed as a young puppy with a crush on democracy, America, and George Washington, not necessarily in that order. His first letter from the Carolinas to his young wife gushes, "The next morning was beautiful. Everything around me was new to me, the room, the bed draped in delicate mosquito curtains, the black servants who came to me quietly to ask my commands, the strange beauty of the landscape outside my windows, the luxuriant vegetation--all combined to produce a magic effect." Vowell brings us back to reality: "In other words, it was a buggy swamp chock-full of slaves."

The relationship with France gives Vowell plenty of material for her trademark ironic observations. "For men who signed a document declaring that all men are equal, the Continental Congress sure spent an awful lot of time kow-towing to French bigwigs."

My favorite historical characters in this book include General Nathanael Greene, the "Fighting Quaker" (He was reprimanded as a boy for reading too many books about warfare--presumably the Bible doesn't count as one of those); the thousands of "stoic colonial women" who boycotted tea and English cloth (Vowell asks, "What's more valiant: littering from a wharf or years of doing chores and looking after children from dawn to dark without caffeine?"); Benjamin Franklin (charming the French in his frontier attire, and making John Adams shudder); and James Armistead Lafayette, the spy (who was a slave and almost didn't receive his freedom at the end of the war) who helped make the French/American victory at Yorktown possible.

The tragedy of French support for America was that it sealed the fate of the French government: the money they loaned us was never repaid, and it started the ball rolling in earnest toward the events at the Place de la Revolution. I came away from this book with a better understanding of the past and of my relationship to it. "Lafayette in the Somewhat United States" is one of the best histories I've read.
1 like · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

March 7, 2016 – Started Reading
March 7, 2016 – Shelved
March 7, 2016 –
page 11
4.01% "The American side in particular was a squirming polygon of civilians, politicians, and armed forces begging to differ. And once they were done fighting the British, the Americans went back to what they were best at: infighting."
March 10, 2016 –
page 73
26.64% "He went on to gush, "The next morning was beautiful. Everything around me was new to me, the room, the bed draped in delicate mosquito curtains, the black servants who came to me quietly to ask my commands, the strange beauty of the landscape outside my windows, the luxuriant vegetation--all combined to produce a magic effect." In other words, it was a buggy swamp chock-full of slaves."
March 10, 2016 –
page 84
30.66% "For men who signed a document declaring that all men are equal, the Continental Congress sure spent an awful lot of time kow-towing to French bigwigs."
March 13, 2016 –
page 99
36.13% "On Brandywine in 1777, "The subtle hills that framed Andrew Wyeth's compositions were also pretty handy for concealing terrifying quantities of redcoats on the move.""
March 13, 2016 –
page 108
39.42% "General Nathanael Greene, the "Fighting Quaker" pretty much sums up the irony of the American Revolution on many levels."
March 13, 2016 –
page 121
44.16% "New perspective on the Boston Tea Party: ...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?"
March 16, 2016 –
page 160
58.39% "I guess the moral of that story is that no matter how many fireworks we set off to celebrate our forefathers throwing off the yoke of their colonial overlords, the overlords' descendants can't be bothered to remember, much less care, because they're still dining out on thwarting the Spanish Armada,"
March 16, 2016 –
page 178
64.96% "Vowell surmises that if the colonies had been reconciled to Great Britain, slavery would have ended in North America in 1833 instead of 1865. I'm not sure that would have happened. Without the American colonies, the financial pull of slavery was weaker in G.B. after 1783. Perhaps the split hastened abolition in G.B. It might have continued much longer instead."
March 20, 2016 –
page 181
66.06% "Washington had his suspicions that [Gen. Charles] Lee might have gotten treasonously cozy with his old redcoat coworkers. In 1857, someone found a document in Gen. Howe's secretary's papers: a page with Lee's advice to Howe on how to take & hold Philadelphia, labelled "Mr Lee's plan, March 29, 1777.""
March 20, 2016 –
page 215
78.47% "He [Franklin] asked for 25 million livres. France kicked in 6, which was 6 more than Washington had. This was among the happiest developments of the war (if you try not to think too hard about the guillotine)."
March 20, 2016 –
page 221
80.66% "James Armistead Lafayette: the spy who made U.S. victory at Yorktown possible."
March 20, 2016 –
page 226
82.48% "One of the French officers was horrified that at a dinner in Washington's tent, His Excellency served the meal not in a succession of courses like in civilization. Apparently Washington 'gave, on the same plate, meat, vegetables, and salad.' On *the same plate?* Were these Americans people or animals?"
March 20, 2016 –
page 236
86.13% "So the French victory at Chesapeake Capes was the key to the victory at Yorktown. Vive la France!!"
March 20, 2016 –
page 268
97.81% "Lafayette, we are here!"
March 20, 2016 – Finished Reading

No comments have been added yet.