If I were a superintendent of schools I would be inclined to advise publishers of history texts to invite Sarah Vowell to author my high school books. I suspect rather than turning away from a dry text of dates and events, students might flock to the class to learn history from a contemporary author and storyteller who “gets it!”
Vowell’s LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES is extraordinary in its snarky telling of the story of the Marquis de Lafayette, adopted son of George Washington, and profound contributor to the successful outcome of the Revolutionary War. Vowell’s history is contemporary, humorous, relatable, and in your face.
Let me tempt you.
” I would like to see the calamity at Valley Forge as just the growing pains of a new nation. It has been a long time since the men and women serving in the armed forces of the world’s only superpower went naked because some crooked townies in upstate New York filched their uniforms. But there’s still this combination of governmental ineptitude, shortsightedness, stinginess, corruption and neglect that affected the Continental Army before, during and after Valley Forge that 21st Century Americans are not entirely unfamiliar with.”
” Whatever the actual root of our centuries- old, all-American inability to get out shit together, no one can deny that the flinty survivors of Valley Forge embodied another national trait that every man, woman and child in this republic is supposed to have: backbone, self-reliance, grit. An attribute that comes in handy in this less-than-public-spirited republic the Continentals were fighting to bring about.”
Yes, Vowell offers some fine upbraiding and stern lectures, but she does not miss a molecule of the history of Lafayette, the French, Washington, Yorktown, Saratoga, Franklin, Adams, Cornwallis, Gage, the Palace at Versailles, Von Stuben, Hamilton, Jefferson, Knox and Howe.
Even the ” Boss “ makes the cut, the battle at Monmouth having been fought on his home turf. Vowell writes, ” It’s a different kind of independence, personal, not political, but one of the many things we won in that war fought over two centuries ago turned out to be the freedom of expression that let a dude from New Jersey write a song like Thunder Road.
The American Revolution, bare bones, readable, relatable and memorable. If only Mr. Stevens at South High School had a copy of LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES. I would have known so much more, so much earlier!
Also by Sarah Vowell, Unfamiliar Fishes, The Wordy Pilgrims, Assassination Vacation, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Take the Cannoli, Radio On.