Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

Written by Sarah Vowell
Review by Juliet Waldron

In the history-plus-humor tradition, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is another smart offering from Sarah Vowell, author of The Partly Cloudy Patriot. There are big licks of travelogue/political commentary present, too, rather like an expanded magazine essay. While Vowell discusses her subject, the impulsive, clueless 19-year-old Marquis de Lafayette, 18th-century writing style and what might be called “period sensibility” come in for their share of ribbing. It put me in mind of a certain kind of time travel, where the arch modern protagonist laughs at the “odd” manners and outmoded beliefs he encounters. Backed by solid research, the truly astonishing tale she shares is worth reading—because our Revolution did indeed boast a stellar cast of eccentrics—but the Connecticut Yankee bit eventually wears a bit thin. However, if you like your history well salted with funny asides and don’t object to sharp contemporary political observation, there is nothing at all to quibble about. And you will, even if you’re a crosspatch like me, get some laughs and say a few “amens.” A great book to take on the train.