The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

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A Great Improvisation
A Great Improvisation:
Franklin, France, and the Birth of America

by Stacy Schiff
Published by Henry Holt & Co.
April 2005

Available in:
Hardcover (Large Print)
Audio CD (Unabridged; from Books On Tape)
Audio CD (Abridged; from Random House Audio)
Audio Cassette (Abridged; from Random House Audio)

More Information:
  • Book Review from (Originally Reviewed 7/3/05)
  • Table of Contents
  • Other Stacy Schiff Books

  • Description from Henry Holt & Company:
    "In December 1776 a small boat delivered an old man to France." So begins A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America (Henry Holt & Company; April 2005), a history that picks up where previous Franklin biographers have traditionally left off, as the seventy-year old sets sail for France. His mission was simple. He was to secure an absolute monarch's assistance in founding a republic. Drawing on newly available and little-known primary sources-diplomatic archives, family papers, spy reports, and the records of the French foreign service-Schiff tells the tale of Franklin's greatest act and brings to life 18th century Paris in all its grandeur. From her pages emerge a fresh, intimate view of Franklin, as well as a vivid sense of how fragile, improvisational, and international was America's founding.

    When America declared her independence in 1776 she was wholly without the means to achieve it. Franklin was sent to France to beg, plead, taunt, and cajole the French into underwriting our experiment in democracy. At the time he set off for his eight years abroad, he was among the most famous figures in the world. It is unlikely that any man who lived before him had seen his image reproduced so often, his movements so slavishly reported in the press. He was also without any diplomatic training, and far from fluent in French. Franklin succeeded brilliantly, despite spies who shadowed his every step, colleagues who undermined him, an ungrateful and unhelpful Congress, and his own failing health. Ninety percent of the gunpowder used in the first year of Revolution came from France, as did tens of millions of dollars in aid. Franklin's eight years in France stand as his greatest accomplishment, the most inventive chapter in a life of great inventions.

    A masterful melding of history and biography, A Great Improvisation is an essential companion to previous biographies of this Founding Father, as well as a major contribution to a crucial but little-known chapter of American history.

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