I asked myself many times while reading this often boring, but occasionally suddenly gripping book, why isn't this working for me? Slowly but surely, the answer came: the title is a bait and switch. It is not a book about Lafayette. Certainly he is there as a touchstone, a framing device, but she doesn't tell us much about him. It is instead about getting at the truth of what it took to win independence from England - the body count, the humiliating losses, the French navy, the shoes. When Vowell digs in to the real history and battle tactics, the book briefly shines. When she digresses, though, in her Vowellian way, it doesn't work as well, because she just plain doesn't seem very knowledgeable or forthcoming about her title character, and that gets in the way of appreciating her insights about what she does know well. So, Vowell fans, read it for the digestible history lessons on diplomacy and supply lines, but know that you will learn little more about Lafayette than you did when you started. Non-Vowell fans: skip this, read The Partly Cloudy Patriot and Assassination Vacation if you want to try her stuff, and get your comical 21st-c Revolutionary War commentary from Hamilton and Drunk History.

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