You can’t beat Sarah Vowell for quirky chronicles of American history’s dark side. Her previous books include Assassination Vacation, in which she road trips to places where U.S. presidents were offed while in office. Her radio stories for This American Life include a retracing of the Trail of Tears.

Now the contributor to Salon, McSweeney’s, and at one time the Reader returns to her alma mater (she has an MA in art history from SAIC) to read from her new book, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. Vowell depicts the French marquis as an awkward teenage aristocrat, one who was once literally laughed off dance floor by Marie Antoinette.

But he also traveled to America and became an officer in George Washington’s Continental Army, and Vowell tells the story of the American Revolution through Lafayette’s eyes—his paternal bond with Washington, his friendship with the founding fathers, his disillusionment with the infighting among the colonists, and his hopes for the new nation.

Lafayette returned to America in 1824 as an old man. In Vowell’s telling, he again found a nation in crisis, reeling from regional conflicts and a controversial presidential election. Makes sense, then, that the nation also revered him as one of its last remaining links to the revolution.

Thu 10/29, 6 PM, Art Institute of Chicago, Rubloff Auditorium, 111 S. Michigan, $38, $32 for CHF members, students, and teachers (includes hardcover copy of Vowell’s book).