Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Summary: Sarah Vowell is back with her distinctive voice (real and literary) and snarky style of history telling.

I have listened to all of Sarah Vowell’s books on audio because I love her narration. But my opinion is not universal. At Audible the reviews right now are mostly either 5 or 1 star for the narration. Vowell does not have a traditional narrator’s voice. It is nasal and a bit whiney. But it fits the character of her writing. (She is voice of the daughter on the Incredibles Movie.)

You can tell she used to be in radio because they are not simply straight narration books, but she has others be the voices of recurring characters that interject their section.  Vowell used to be a regular contributor and writer for This American Life, and that character has carried through.

Sarah Vowell is not a straight historian. If that is what you are looking for you will want to skip this. She is instead a historian that loves being side tracked and putting her own discovery into the story. This is first person research oriented history. If you are familiar with Mary Roach’s approach to writing about science, Sarah Vowell is similar, although with more snark.

I also think Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is her best book since Assassination Vacation. This is the story of the french contribution to the American Revolutionary War. It is a good reminder that without French (and Dutch) help, it is likely that the United States would not have won the Revolutionary War. At the end of the book she says she was inspired by the 2003 congressional reactions against France over the invasion of Iraq. So there was a point (Vowell is clearly a liberal and an unabashed atheist.)

I do wish she had spent some more time on Lafayette after the Revolution. And the recent bio I read on John Quincy Adams spent more time on Lafayette’s return to the US 33 years after the end of the war than this book did.

But all in all, if you are looking for a snarky but well researched history of the American Revolution, this is a good place to start.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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