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A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America Paperback – January 10, 2006
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Franklin recognized and accepted the fact that French aid was crucial to American independence, but some Founding Fathers resented him for making America dependent on a foreign power and severely attacked him for securing the very aid that saved the cause. Schiff offers fascinating coverage of this American infighting, along with the complex political intrigue in France, complete with British spies and French double agents, secret negotiations and backroom deals. A Great Improvisation is an entertaining and illuminating portrait of Franklin's seven-year adventure in France that "stands not only as his greatest service to his country but the most revealing of the man." --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Happily, Schiff's breezy, cosmopolitan, but never superficial style is excellently suited to the open-minded satirist and scientist, and a tale that reads like a cruel farce. _A Great Improvisation_ focuses on just eight years of Franklin's 84-year life, starting in 1776 when he was sent to Paris by the Continental Congress at the age of 70 to get France into the war. Fortunately, France regarded Franklin as a celebrity genius, which was more than many of his colleagues back home in Congress thought of him.
Franklin was "honest, but not too honest, which qualifies in France as a failure of imagination." He could "indulge in the ingenious and wholly specious argument, a staple of French conversation." His defense of French admiral d'Estaing was "a shining tribute to benevolent ignorance. (And one that happened accidentally to be accurate.)" Surrounded by spies, he had papers and money stolen. The other Americans in Paris squabbled endlessly with one another, accusing the French of deceit and intrigue even more than the British. Franklin's co-commissioner, Arthur Lee, "was ideally suited for the mission in every way save for his personality, which was rancid."
Poor trans-Atlantic communications enabled the Paris delegation's enemies to poison Congress against them, especially Franklin, who risked censure several times.Read more ›
But Stacy Schiff's extremely readable and obviously well-researched book that covers the period of Dr. Franklin's life when he was an envoy of the second Continental Congress to the Court of King Louis XVI of France also covers the controversy that surrounded this amateur ambassador, stirred most particularly by the brothers Arthur Lee and William Lee of Virginia and John Adams of Massachusetts, later to be the second President of The United States. The former seem to have been motivated by Southern superciliousness and arrogance, 'qualities' battered out of their kind in the later 'War for Southern Independence' by the descendants of the likes of the latter, possessors of their own special sort of sanctimonious superiority complexes.
I can forgive the Lee family for almost anything, for one of my all-time American heroes is General Robert Edward Lee, but it is clear that his older relatives, Arthur and William, disgraced themselves, Virginia and their infant nation by their constant sniping at the one man who was winning over French opinion and, more importantly, attracting French cash and much, much more, for General Washington's army. As to Adams, his distaste for the venerable Dr. Franklin is sufficiently well-documented not to be doubted. The motive for this distaste can reasonably be attributed in part to his narrow and God-fearing New England background, especially when contrasted with Franklin's leading and learned role in enlightening America.Read more ›
others--and through previously unmined sources--into Franklin's years as Revolutionary America's representative in France. It was there that he established his most significant historic legacy, by securing French support in manpower and money which was both critical to the success of the American Revolution and an unintended catalyst for the subsequent French Revolution.
But I come away from the book rather disappointed, because while the writer has done her homework and obviously knows her source material, all that learning has been imperfectly translated into written form. And the reason appears to be that Ms. Schiff is more a literary stylist (and a good one) than a historian, and she is so intent on producing a witty book with turns of irony and serendipity on almost every page, that it gets in the way of a clear history. The language of the book itself often resembles the convoluted baroque aesthetic characteristic of the France Franklin experienced--meaning it is often a slow and less than transparent read, even if eventually entertaining.
But too entertaining. The effort to offer up humorous anecdotes sometimes takes the author down irrelevant byways and, above all, interferes with a clear and analytical exposition of the history. There is too much of pure daily narrative (occasionally trivial)--this happened, then that, then the other thing--without an overarching analytical framework. When that framework does sporadically appear, in particular as regards French attitudes and motives in supporting the American Revolution, it is not always internally consistent at different points of the book. Maybe French attitudes/motives evolved over time.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Outstanding work by a Pulitzer Prize author. How Franklin persuaded the King of France to help the colonies rebel against the King of England makes an engrossing and entertaining... Read morePublished 1 month ago by JAL III
Benjamin Franklin is one of the most remarkable Americans to have had a hand in our birth as a nation. This is a side of our American Revolution that was unknown to me. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Aaron B. Krosnick
Stacy Shiff authored what I consider to be a very expansive tome on Cleopatra and much that touched her life, and those that she in turn, touched. Read morePublished 9 months ago by W. Michael King, Ph.D.
I adore Stacy Schiff -- and getting her books, "pre-loved", from special booksellers, makes it possible to read her books in faraway Philippines, without breaking the bank. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Lisa, Manila.
I tried reading the book to no avail- too much fluff and constant smug verbose personal pseudo intellectual phrases with French adjectives thrown in everywhere- it was too hard to... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Star Trekker