Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

  • by Sarah Vowell
  • Narrated by Sarah Vowell, John Slattery, Nick Offerman, Fred Armisen, Bobby Cannavale, John Hodgman, Stephanie March, Alexis Denisof
  • 8 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the best-selling author of Assassination Vacation and Unfamiliar Fishes, a humorous account of the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette - the one Frenchman we could all agree on - and an insightful portrait of a nation's idealism and its reality.
On August 16, 1824, an elderly French gentlemen sailed into New York Harbor, and giddy Americans were there to welcome him. Or, rather, to welcome him back. It had been 30 years since he had last set foot in the United States, and he was so beloved that 80,000 people showed up to cheer for him. The entire population of New York at the time was 120,000.
Lafayette's arrival in 1824 coincided with one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history. Congress had just fought its first epic battle over slavery, and the threat of a Civil War loomed. But Lafayette, belonging to neither North nor South, to no political party or faction, was a walking, talking reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the revolutionary generation and what they wanted this country to be. His return was not just a reunion with his beloved Americans; it was a reunion for Americans with their own astonishing, singular past.
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is a humorous and insightful portrait of the famed Frenchman, the impact he had on our young country, and his ongoing relationship with instrumental Americans of the time, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and many more.
John Slattery as the Marquis de Lafayette
Nick Offerman as George Washington
Fred Armisen as Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben
Bobby Cannavale as Benjamin Franklin
John Hodgman as John Adams
Stephanie March as Evelyn Wotherspoon Wainwight and Linda Williams
Alexis Denisof as The British Leadership
Patton Oswalt as Thomas Jefferson and Sherm

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What the Critics Say

"An A-list of recognizable voices, including those of John Hodgman reading John Adams and Nick Offerman portraying George Washington, delivers dozens of quotes from our forefathers. Vowell deftly stirs together tones of satire, superlative research, and, yes, patriotism to make American history irresistible. If she isn't a national treasure, she should be." (AudioFile)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Already waiting for Sarah Vowell's next adventure

America is a fascinating place and Sara Vowell takes us along with her as she explores our founding generations and their impact on our life today. Lots of authors do that as well but Ms. Vowell also brings humor, irony and a little spark to the journey that makes me listen to and/or read her books again and again.
Having read Chernow's extensive biography of George Washington, I couldn't help but be interested in the life of one of his closest friends, Lafayette. Lafayette pricked Washington's conscious about one of Washington's most difficult conundrums - slavery. All the while, being a true friend to Washington, the Revolution and the country that became the United States. I'm happy I got the chance to know him better.
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- Michael

A mix of oddly informative, oddly funny, and odd

I like Sarah Vowell's style. And, before you buy this audiobook, you should make sure that you like Sarah Vowell's style too- her storytelling approach and voice are very distinctive, and even a short sample of the audiobook should be enough to tell you whether it could work for you, or whether it will drive you crazy. So, listen before you go any further.

Even assuming that you are okay with The Voice, this book is a bit odd. Sarah writes with humor, but has an obvious non-ironic love for American history. At the same time, she has gotten a variety of her famous friends to provide voices for the frequent (and frequently jarring) quotes, and many of them seem to read their lines dramatically or with such terrible fake accents that it seems counter to the story being told (though, unsurprisingly, Nick Offerman is an awesome George Washington). So there are some weird tonal choices as a result.

Sarah Vowell picks unusual stories to tell, and I really appreciated the tale of Lafayette. I had come to the book fresh off an American Revolutionary history kick (inspired by the musical Hamilton, and the book John Adams), but still learned a lot. At the same time, the focus of the story is weirdly elusive. For most of the book, it is focused on Lafayette, framed by his triumphal return to the US at the end of his life. However, that frame is never explored, and, instead, we mostly get an interesting story of the trials and tribulations of George Washington (with Lafayette as sidekick) from 1777-1778 and 1781-82. It is a bit weird that Lafayette's role in the French Revolution, or his entire later life, gets short shrift. Similarly, the end of the book switches from history to essay on freedom, which is again interesting, but it seems like an abrupt transition, as does a long digression about Quakers.

I really enjoyed the book overall, however, but it is an odd hybrid of memoir, history book, travelogue, and essay. I am used to this from Vowell, but be prepared for something different if it is your first experience.

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- Ethan M.

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-20-2015
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio