Lafayette In The Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell, review by Todd Robins
Two features working in tandem distinguish Sarah Vowell's history of the American Revolution from a crowded field: the selection of compelling Enlightenment figures rendered in the author's witty contemporary prose.
This book takes a look at the Marquis de Lafayette and a few other scheming Frenchmen, such as the playwright Beaumarchais, author of "The Barber of Seville." In that play, the character Figaro utters a line that captures Beaumarchais's approach to aiding America in the war: "When there's a call for my services I am a man of initiative who goes to work with a will." Beaumarchais put his creative vision to good use by working behind-the-scenes to run guns and supplies to the revolutionaries.
It should be mentioned that an independent bookseller figured significantly in the outcome as well. That would be the Bostoner Henry Knox, who parlayed his status as a bookshop owner into researching weaponry for the coming conflict. Knox and Co. surprised the British by turning up with cannon at a strategic time and place. We in the book trade would expect no less of Knox.
It's similarly in keeping with tradition that Vowell has written an intelligent, informative and entertaining book. Look for it on our "Staff Recommends" shelf, where it belongs.