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Lafayette: His Extraordinary Life and Legacy, by Donald Miller

Bloomington, Ill: iUniverse, 2015. Pp. xvi,426. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $27.95. ISBN:1491758473.

The Republican Marquis

A journalist and author of several books on art history and architecture, Miller has written a very readable, and quite comprehensive life of Lafayette, the first international hero. Unlike most biographers of the French hero of the American Revolution Miller does not limit his treatment to the events of 1775-1783. Miller opens by spending several chapters on a concise overview of the young man’s background, early life, marriage, and political experiences through his decision to join the American cause, at the age of 19.

Miller follows this with almost ten chapters that offer a detailed account of Lafayette’s services to the Patriot cause, with the framework of the larger war and global events. This covers the development of his very close relationship with Washington, who came to consider the young man almost as a surrogate son, and his rise to high command, his role in supressing Benedict Arnold’s treason, his battlefield prowess and diplomatic skill, and his role in the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Miller follows with several chapters on Lafayette role in the subsequent fighting in French service in the Caribbean.

The action then moves to France, which takes up two-thirds the volume, because Miller gives us a far more detailed account than is common in American books of Lafayette’s services to his homeland. We see Lafayette as a champion of reform, his services and experiences in the Revolution of 1789, during which he became the first commander of the Garde National, the citizen’s militia, and his subsequent problems with radical revolutionaries such as Saint-Just and Danton, who threw him in jail. Surviving the Terror, Lafayette continued to champion liberal institutions, and thus had a difficult time during the subsequent Bonapartist (1799-1815) regime and the Bourbon Restoration (1815-1830).

Miller covers the old hero’s 1825-1826 visit to the United States in great detail, and then follows with an account of his last years, as he helped bring about the Revolution of 1830, which installed the more liberal Orleanist regime in France, through his death in 1834, hailed as a hero on two continents.

Although marred by the absence of maps, this is a book any reasonably educated American might find of interest, and an essential one for students of the American or French revolutions.

Note: Lafayette is also available in hardcover, $37.95, ISBN 978-1-49175-998-1, and as an e-Book, $3.99, ISBN 978-1-49175-997-4

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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