Lafayette in the Somewhat United States Book Review
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States was an informative read for me personally because it helped me connect the dots and link all the information from my previous history classes in a relatively easy way. This was a new style of history book for me because of the different style of writing that Sarah Vowell has compared to other historical writers. Anyone can easily tell that this is a modern book because of the storytelling style. I personally like reading first hand accounts of history more, but this book gives a small relief to the normally straightforward way of learning history.
I already learned about all the background information from my American History class but I found extra information I did not know about France and Lafayette as I continued reading. I was especially shocked with France’s involvement in the revolutionary war and the impact it had on creating America. “Parliament would abolish slavery in the British Empire in 1833, thirty years before President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. A return to the British fold in 1778 might have freed American slaves three decades sooner, which is what, an entire generation and a half? Was independence for some of us more valuable than freedom for all of us? As the former slave Frederick Douglass put it in an Independence Day speech in 1852, 'This is your Fourth of July, not mine.” (pg. 178) Without France, America might have lost the revolutionary war, therefore giving the power back to Britain. This quote gives one of the examples of how our history could have changed, with Britain freeing slaves 30 years before America, this could have been a drastic, but necessary change in our history.
Lafayette was only 19 when he came to America and was spotted by George Washington himself as useful to the military because of his background and wealthy family that could help their starving soldiers. I also was surprised with America's immediate love towards Lafayette and the support they gave him when he returned to America. “A Connecticut newspaper declared that Lafayette’s pilgrimage stirred in Americans “a delirium of feeling, a tumult of the soul, from which one never wished to be awakened to the dull, sober realities of common life.”” (pg.7) This quote explains the extent of the hope and patriotism that Lafayette gave to the Americans. Lafayette was an inspiration and hero to not only America, but France as well. “In other words, every cent the French government spent on guns for the Americans was another centime it would not have to spend on butter for the starving peasants who would one day storm Versailles.” (pg.53) This quote gives reason for the lower classes in France to revolt against the hierarchy as it was giving money and supplies to allies while their own people were starving in the streets.
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States goes into great detail, not only of the wars Lafayette was in or his politics, but also his home life that really explains the bigger picture of his life and how he was more than his victories. He was also generous towards his men in their time of need. One example of this is during the famous valley forge winter, where the troops were freezing and starving, these troops were also incredibly under trained compared to Britain. Lafayette took it upon himself to donate clothing and muskets to his men in need. Even when his wife begged him to return to France and their daughter, he refused and remained loyal to his men since they relied so much on him and his skills. Lafayette always had the dream of joining America's troops when representatives like Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane traveled to Paris and enlisted more men. Despite Louis XVI banning any troops from joining the American army because of their trust between France and Britain, Lafayette still disobeyed the king to fulfil his dream.
This book was relatively easy to get into but as you kept reading, it was hard to stay on track to the point of the book and stay focused on Lafayette while she was explaining other historical events, her backstory and personal experiences. I don’t personally like her writing style and would be more interested and entertained by this book if there were no connections to her personal life. Sometimes she got off track talking about herself and other parts of the war and sometimes lost the story of Lafayette. And although she does use her own style to make history seem easier to comprehend, her jokes and witty comments just seem more immature than funny. “Considering Independence Hall was also where the founders calculated that a slave equals three-fifths of a person and cooked up an electoral college that lets Florida and Ohio pick our presidents, making an adolescent who barely spoke English a major general at the age I got hired to run the cash register at a Portland pizza joint was not the worst decision ever made there” (pg. 2) Since this quote is literally the second page of the book, you get a good look from early on what exactly the feel of the book and writing is like.
With the cons of her specific writing style there are also a lot of pros. I liked how she went back and forth to modern day and the revolutionary war and connected events and people that are relevant today. While she was talking about her travels and landmarks that were connected to Lafayette, she was able to write about what people think about Lafayette today all over the world. With all of those opinions of the modern world, Ms. Vowell was able to paint a solid picture of the early United States and incorporate different reactions and emotions within her story. A major theme I loved was how she also connected the problems with the early government back then and reflected them on the economy today and showed how it still isn’t perfect despite all these new generations trying to fix and improve it. “That was when I came to the conclusion that the takeaway from Benjamin Franklin's story about the carving on Washington’s chair was not the forecast of a sunny future but rather Franklin’s months of wondering if negotiations would collapse. That, to me, is the quintessential experience of living in the United States: constantly worrying weather or not the country is about to fall apart” (pg.14) I chose this quote since it shows how perfectly Ms. Vowell can connect history to today and how we can learn from it and evolve. It also shows how delicate and tedious governments and countries really are.
In summary, I believed this was a very informative text that was outside the box of typical history writing. The author was able to provide new opinions and ideas by comparing and contrasting our world today, and talking about her own experiences at major historical sites. The author does a great job in helping me understand the timeline of events and explains the connections between them so you are told the whole story. This book does a good job in explaining Lafayette;s involvement in our history and solidifies my idea why he is so important to learn about.