Lafayette, We Are Here

The Paris attacks and an argument to assign / read Sarah Vowell’s new book, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.

November 16, 2015

What have the conversations about the Paris attacks been like on your campus?

How are your classes incorporating this horror into your discussions?

A modest suggestion that I’d like to make is that we find a way on our campuses to read and discuss Sarah Vowell’s wonderful new book, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.

Why read and discuss Sarah Vowell’s brilliantly irreverent take on the Lafayette and the role of France in the American Revolution? Surely there must be more serious academic books on the U.S.’s first and oldest ally that should be assigned in our classes, or discussed in informal campus book clubs.

The point is that the people in our community would actually read a Sarah Vowell book. Why? Because Sarah Vowell books are equal parts incisive and laugh-out-loud funny. We could use a little bit of both this week.

Books like Lafayette in the Somewhat United States are almost never assigned in college classes. Vowell is not a real historian. There is too much serious scholarship to read. Too many serious scholars to assign. Too many primary documents to incorporate.

When we read Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States we understand that without France the American Revolution would have most likely failed. Lafayette is certainly a compelling character, but it is the money and matériel that France provided to Washington and his army that was the difference maker.

Lafayette is the embodiment of a very old and very deep friendship, a friendship that should be first in our minds as we stand with the people of France.

Lafayette was here for us in 1777, and we are here for France today.

Are you also a Sarah Vowell fan?

Can you help me make an argument (or argue with me) as to why funny non-historian books about history should be assigned in college level history classes?

Who would you say is in the same category of near historian / satirist with Sarah Vowell?

What books would you recommend for those of us wanting to understand modern France and French history?   (This summer I read Fenby’s excellent France on the Brink  - a book that will need to be revised after the events of this month).

What are you reading?



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