Book Review: “Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution” by Mike Duncan

History podcaster Mike Duncan offers a warm, appreciative look at the life of the Marquis de Lafayette with “Hero of Two Worlds.” Lafayette’s life had many acts, including:

  • an orphan of obscure nobility
  • a rich and awkward teenage member of the court at Versailles
  • a general in the American Revolution
  • an advocate for French liberty
  • an enemy of Robespierre
  • a prisoner and penniless exile
  • an uneasy adversary to Napoleon
  • and finally, a revolutionary once more, outmaneuvered politically in the new French society he helped to establish.

Above all, he was a man of passion and principles, and Duncan does a great job capturing the Marquis’ enthusiasms, errors, and oversights. It’s hard to believe the range of historic moments in which he played a demonstrative part.

Even applying the judgment of our later times, Lafayette shows an admirable depth of character, generally hewing the right path in treacherous times (and calling out the Founding Fathers on owning slaves.) The book is propulsive and readable, but it doesn’t feel slick or shorn of context.


Mauroy replied the Americans were not some novel species, they were simply transplanted Europeans “who brought to a savage land the views and prejudices of their respective homelands.” He proceeded to give Lafayette a brief moral history of European colonization: “Fanaticism, the insatiable desire to get rich, and misery–those are, unfortunately, the three sources from which flow that nearly uninterrupted stream of immigrants who, sword in hand, go to cut down, under an alien sky, forests more ancient than the world, watering a still virgin land with the blood of its savage inhabitants, and fertilizing with thousands of scattered cadavers the fields they conquered through crime.” This, Mauroy informed Lafayette, was the reality of the “new world” toward which they sailed.