Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

Length: 8 hrs and 7 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (3,026 ratings)

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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

©2015 Sarah Vowell (P)2015 Simon & Schuster Audio

Critic Reviews

"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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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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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.

51 people found this helpful

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You likely haven't heard it this way...

I'm largely conservative and the author at a minimum is not. That said, it's refreshing to hear the perspective presented here. The research was clearly thorough, and while her liberal leaning is clear, it's neither distracting nor offensive. Her wit and sarcasm are entertaining and for the most part, spot on. Her conclusions whether correct or incorrect, are at a minimum, plausible. She really drives home the point that the average American of today has no idea of the sacrifices of France to establish our country and has forgotten our huge debt to them. A good read for anyone, regardless of political persuasion so long as your comfortable listening to someone whose opinion/interpretation of events may be different than the old story of yesteryear.

90 people found this helpful

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Hilarious History

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would absolutely recommend this audiobook to a friend. I'm sure I would have enjoyed this book in Kindle or paperback, but just as I prefer to hear David Sedaris read his books aloud, Sarah Vowell and the cast of characters have voices that make the book come to life. I think I will always want to experience Sarah Vowell's books in her unusual voice.

What other book might you compare Lafayette in the Somewhat United States to and why?

This book tends to be in a class by itself. While one could make the case to compare it to other stories about history, no other history book I have read cracks wise like Vowell does. And while it could be considered a humor book, it is an in-depth, well researched biography of a great historical figure.

What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

John Slattery provides a charming, authentic voice to the main character. Nick Offerman does a believable job as George Washington. Their voices have the gravitas and warmth that you would imagine the actual people to have. The quotes that Vowell incorporates for them to say are so evocative of the characters that I want to listen again and again.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Toward the end, when the visit of Pershing to Paris in 1917 is described, his declaration, "Lafayette, we are here" brought tears to my eyes. I would love to one day visit Paris to find his grave and say the same thing. What a pivotal person in American history - I had no idea.

Any additional comments?

I felt like I was taking a chance downloading this book. Sarah Vowell's voice is not the smooth, polished voice of your typical narrator. I wasn't sure I would want to listen to her for nearly 8 hours. What happened? As soon as the book finished, I started it again. The story was so compelling, and the performances (including the author) were so textured and enjoyable that I didn't want to say goodbye. Her writing style is so whimsical and witty that it was an approach to history that was fun. Some people may say that her sometimes snarky style makes light of the events, but quite the contrary, I say that her style makes the people easier to relate to - it makes them like people and not like crusty stiffs in an old oil painting. I felt like I got to know and love Lafayette.

27 people found this helpful

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Great story and easy overview of the American Revolution

Sarah Vowell's voice takes a bit of getting used to but once accustomed to it I found her delivery strangely addictive. Her semi-sarcastic narrative supported by separate voices of the main figures in the story was highly effective and entertaining.

The voice of Parks and Rec's Ron Swanson as George Washington is an epic choice.

22 people found this helpful

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I wanted to love this

What three words best describe the narrators’s voice?

Sarah Vowell is a great author, but she really should let someone else narrate. It's hard to listen to her voice for hours at a time. What's worse about this book is that there are some other excellent performers lending their voices to this production, so you get to listen to some amazing performers and then you go back to Vowell's unique voice. It's not even just that her voice is a little grating. She's not enthusiastic about her own work. She's reading it like she's annoyed with the world. No one wants to listen to that for hours.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No.

83 people found this helpful

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Narration is this book's downfall

What did you like best about Lafayette in the Somewhat United States? What did you like least?

Though author Sarah Vowell is a solid and clever writer, narration is not her strength, despite what her radio background may say. I don't want this to sound personal at all, but her voice sounds like that of a female Peanuts character: fine for conversation, but not for the necessary faster pace of narration. Also, the voices of actors added to bolster the historicity of the book only interrupt any rhythm of the story and the narration. This is such an unpleasant listen that I didn't finish the book. I rarely bail out on books early.

Would you be willing to try another book from Sarah Vowell? Why or why not?

Not if it's marketed as a history book, only to be one filled with this much of her own opinion and numerous distracting asides. The book was well intended and had lots of funny and interesting moments, but those were far outweighed by the book's other faults.

What didn’t you like about the narrators’s performance?

Her voice is not for me and her pace is far too slow.

Was Lafayette in the Somewhat United States worth the listening time?

I did not finish it because the narration was so challenging.

16 people found this helpful

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Enjoyable history, if you can get past narrator...

The author is well informed and witty. The subject is well researched and the book is well written. With her tongue planted firmly in her cheek, the author narrates her own book. She does her written word a disservice. The author has a voice for movies - silent movies. I have a certain tolerance for voices and unfortunately for me the author's voice falls outside of my acceptable limits. She is described as droll, I read it more as nasal, flat and monotonous, there are barely perceptible glimmers of a tonal change when she is delivering a witticism. BARELY perceptible. It is a good thing she has some help here, the other narrators break up the sameness of her pitch. So, I loved the subject matter and her writing style and approach, but she should steer clear of future narrative endeavors. She should literally take her tongue out of her cheek when she talks, stop narrating her own books and keep writing in her own sardonic way. Love what she has to say on the page, I just don't enjoy having her read it to me.

38 people found this helpful

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Annoying voice and not funny

I was looking forward to more history and less of Sarah’s personal political views.she really sounds so superior to all who don’t align with her views. It got so annoying that I couldn’t quite finish listening. Stopped 2 hours short.

24 people found this helpful

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Quickly becomes an opinion piece

First mistake - narrated by the author with a poor voice and no talent with vocal arts.
Second mistake - perhaps more important, the well researched and often witty author quickly turns an amazing story of Lafayette into an opinion piece on a myriad of tppics important to the author but unrelated to the story of early America. Halfway through, it is impossible to continue. A big tease and a crying shame that the story is subjugated to the the author's soap box.

8 people found this helpful

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I love Sarah Vowell's Narration

I have listened to all of Sarah Vowell's books on audio because I love her narration. You can tell she used to be in radio because they are not simply straight narration, but have characters that interject.

Sarah Vowell is not a straight historian. If that is what you are looking for you will want to skip this. She is instead a historian that loves being side tracked and putting her own discovery into the story. This is first person research oriented history.

I also think this was the best since Assassination Vacation. Essentially this is the story of the french contribution to the American Revolutionary War. It is a good reminder that without French (and Dutch) help, it is likely that the United States would not have won the Revolutionary War.

I do wish she had spent some more time on Lafayette after the Revolution. And the recent bio I read on John Quincy Adams spent more time on Lafayette's return to the US nearly 50 years later than this did.

But all in all, if you are looking for a snarky history of the American Revolution, this is a good place to start.

42 people found this helpful