... a gripping narrative that offers a revelatory perspective on the combined origins of two nations ... Mr. Chaffin establishes the contrast between his two subjects, implicitly and effectively, by describing their wartime service to the American cause. The parallel portraits make for both compelling drama and instructive history ... The subtitle of Mr. Chaffin’s book refers to 'the friendship that helped forge two nations.' That claim is a bit misleading in the case of America, since, as Mr. Chaffin acknowledges, the two men barely qualified as acquaintances until Lafayette returned to Paris in 1785, more than a year after the end of the Revolutionary War. But over the next four years their paths converged.
Chaffin occasionally loses sight of the ostensible focus of his book, the friendship that developed between its two principals, Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette, who played significant roles in both revolutions, but the book is, nonetheless, an insightful dual biography of the wealthy but idealistic French aristocrat and the flawed intellectual giant on the American side. Chaffin is strong on the international aspects, but he is less certain on the personal, including Jefferson’s romantic (or semiromantic) relationships. Lafayette’s reunion with the elderly Jefferson in 1824 is the book’s emotional high point.