Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lafayette and the American Revolution

by Russell Freedman
Holiday House, 2010. 88 pgs. Nonfiction.

Many of us have the vaguest of impressions of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette: that he came from France to America to help during the Revolutionary War, that he hung around with George Washington and that they really liked each other. But who knew, as Russell Freedman tells us in his usual masterful way, that Lafayette was the youngest ever Major General in the United States army and that he was commissioned without ever having had any previous military experience. Or that he performed bravely--and brilliantly--on the battlefield, and that Washington considered him to be the son of his heart if not of his blood. Lafayette provided not only monetary and military support to the patriots' cause, but was highly instrumental in bringing France into the conflict on the side of the Americans. Most surprising to me was what happened to Lafayette when he returned to Revolutionary France after the war where he was viewed with suspicion by the aristocrats because of his ideas about freedom and equality and with like suspicions by the revolutionaries because he was an aristocrat, with deeply unhappy results for him and his family. Lafayette and the American Revolution is a thorough but accessible, beautifully well-written exposition on one of the true heroes of the beginnings of our country. Don't miss it.

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