Sarah Vowell brings history to life. She presents stories of history as though you’re her neighbor and the craziest thing just happened to her and she just has to tell you about it. It’s fun even when it’s tragic. What I really enjoyed about Lafayette in the Somewhat United States was the connection between Lafayette’s actions and our current situation. Drawing these lines from our founding fathers to policies that are still in place and the ways they affect us is a powerful tool that reminds us why learning history is so important.
I’m often struck by this idea I’ve heard tossed around that the past was better, that people were better in some way, there was less scandal and more purity. This is just not true. At all. Historical essays like those in Sarah Vowell’s collections highlight and bring that fact to the forefront. Some people are good and some people are bad and it’s always been a mix of people just trying to get ahead, really.
Lafayette seems fairly inconsequential, a fact that Vowell covers in her later essays, but in reality he had so much say in the structure of our government. He’s mostly forgotten, and perhaps only with the popularity of the musical Hamilton are people really interested again. If you are one of those interested parties, I recommend reading this book. And if you’re not really that interested, I still recommend it because it’s a joy to read and you’ll know a little more about a man who did a lot but who we sort of forgot about except for the few towns and streets named after him.