Review: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

I love to read history and I love to read Sarah Vowell.  I expected to love reading Lafayette. And I enjoyed it a great deal, but I didn’t love it.

Probably the aspect of Vowell’s writing that I love the most is her enthusiasm for her topics – especially when it’s America and history. Her first book that wasn’t a collection of columns, Assassination Vacation was full of excitement and gleeful asides. I had the impression that finding out everything she did was so exciting and so much fun that she couldn’t control the desire to tell everyone.

Better than that, she clearly could control that desire and turn that excitement into a wide-ranging, beautifully written book. It includes delightful historical facts, a sincere paean to the National Parks Service, and a dozen other merits. One of those merits is an ability to connect history and modern times with a brilliant turn of phrase.

All of these are present in Lafayette as well, but not to the same extent. There is a lot of the book that reads like a well-researched, well-written popular treatment of Lafayette’s time in America and its effect on our nation. That’s a great accomplishment, and we need more books like it. And yet, I miss the sparks that fly from every sentence in Vacation.


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