Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

Sarah Vowell. Riverhead, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59463-174-0
In this crash course on the fledgling nation’s teenaged French general, undoubtedly the only American Revolution narrative to offhandedly drop a Ferris Bueller reference, Vowell (Unfamiliar Fishes) retains her familiar casual tone and displays her crow-like ability to find the shiny, nearly forgotten historical details. Unimpressed by Lafayette’s nobility, she instead admires his cheekiness and rebellious nature—traits well-suited to involvement in both American and French revolutions. Lafayette’s loyalty to George Washington and the U.S. came back to him during his triumphant 1824 visit, when cheering American crowds celebrated his return in numbers that easily dwarfed the Beatles’ invasion 140 years later. Jocularity and cheerful irreverence permeate the story, though it feels as if Vowell tries a bit too hard to retain a light atmosphere during detail-heavy passages (her labeling of the Moravians of Bethlehem, Pa., as “a community of German-American Jesus freaks” is a prime example). Nevertheless, her combination of well-researched, obscure details with personal, family-filled anecdotes and references to recent events, such as the 2013 federal government shutdown, add plenty of sparkle to an old tale. The Vowell formula once again guarantees an entertaining, nontraditional look at American history and a fast, enjoyable read. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 07/27/2015
Release date: 10/20/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 325 pages - 978-1-4104-8373-7
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-399-57310-1
Prebound-Glued - 288 pages - 978-0-606-39453-6
Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-101-62401-2
Compact Disc - 978-1-4423-9108-6
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4423-9109-3
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