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Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution Hardcover – October 29, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this debut, lawyer and academic Paul examines three critical but forgotten characters of the American Revolution. The merchant is American Silas Deane, a Connecticut man sent to France by Congress to broker an alliance and arms treaty for the Continental Army. The playwright is a Frenchman named Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, author of The Barber of Seville, who saw the Revolution as an opportunity for profit. The spy is the colorful Chevalier d'Eon, who worked for Louis XV, and threatened to provoke war with England after Louis XVI came to power, using old letters that outlined a plan to invade London. Beaumarchais was tasked with retrieving those letters from the Chevalier before Louis XVI would provide funds to arm the Americans. Once secured, Beaumarchais worked with Deane to import arms, and other trade goods, without raising the suspicions of the British. Paul's 18th century is highly detailed, but most striking is how little war profiteering has changed in 200-plus years, complete with Congressional infighting among honest lawmakers and those using the system for personal gain. Examining the Revolutionary War through three disparate figures, Paul reveals just how close the wealthiest colonists came to replacing one oppressive aristocracy with another.
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"[A] keen, intriguing assessment of how personal politics might play out on the international stage." ---Kirkus --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (October 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488835
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488832
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,474,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James B. Creighton on December 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I, too, thoroughly enjoyned "Unlikely Allies," by Professor Joel Paul. I agree with some of the other reviewers in that this book DOES read like a thriller yet the careful reader can confirm, by the Professor's endnotes, that this book is vigorously well-researched. Moreover, Professor Paul begins his book in a way that I truly appreciate: he devotes a beginning chapter to each of these three "unlikely allies,": the merchant, Silas Dean, the playwright, Caron de Beaumarchais, and the cross-dressing Frenchman/Frenchwoman, the Chevalier d'Eon, a captain of the dragoons. I found this technique very helpful in that it provides the reader with a backdrop against which to (begin to) understand the motivations, passions, expectancies, and internal conflicts that each of these important personages faced during his/her respective lives, especially during the ever so critical years of our country's infancy. Professor Paul's writing is crisp and to the point. Yet, at the same time, in each chapter he manages to provide the reader with the flavor, indeed a bona fide SENSATION, of the particular moment in our history that is being covered.

It is true that much of our (typically taught) American History is framed by the righteousness and virtue of our "founding fathers." I had always been taught that men like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were superior beings, almost godlike in their perfection. However, Professor Paul's book adds some perspective and depth to those history lessons that were spoon-fed to us so long ago. Professor Paul, while paying much respect to these and other important players in our commonly taught history reveals that these men were, indeed, quite human, and were just as imperfect as we all are. None of us is above reproach, nor were our founding fathers.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Joel Paul's Unlikely Allies is a fascinating account of a crucial episode during the Revolutionary War. It focuses on the intersection of the lives of Silas Deane, America's emissary to the French before Benjamin Franklin, Caron de Beaumarchais, better know to opera lovers than to historians, and the Cavalier d'Eon, a fascinating French aristocrat who was a cross-dressing diplomat, spy and blackmailer. It emphatically makes the point that the success of the Revolution was no sure thing, that the motives of the revolutionaries were mixed, that the politics of the day were every bit as inglorious as our own, and that the American-French connection has deep and complex roots. All this might be known already to a serious student of the American revolution, but for this lay reader the story was enlightening as well as a great entertainment. Law professors as a whole are not known for their vivid writing (I speak as a law professor as well as a friend of Joel's) but this book manages to be great fun and wonderfully written without compromising its intellectual integrity.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Erudite, crisply written and almost impossible to put down, this is a delightful book that grips the reader from the first paragraphs. Paul tells a great story and tells it well. At the same time that he sweeps the reader into the narrative, he is careful to note when he goes beyond the evidence to speculation. Although I've read many histories that sink under the writer's efforts to be as true to the facts as possible, Paul manages it all beautifully.
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Format: Hardcover
Many Americans are familiar with the fact that Benjamin Franklin, that wildly popular old patriot, spent years in France convincing the powers that were to support the Americans in their dispute with King George III. Most, however, are unaware that the role played by Silas Deane was even more important, and those who are, know that Deane was vilified as a embezzler of public funds, a traitor to the American cause, or both. At long last, someone has written the truth about the enormous service performed by Deane, who truly was one of the selfless men that saved the revolution from drowning in disaster.

Unlike some reviewers, I would hardly describe Unlikely Allies as rollicking or wildly entertaining. There are a few humorous elements, mainly in the expose of cross-dresser Chevalier d'Eon, but the author fails to show what d'Eon's contribution was. There are some obvious lapses in Paul's research, as when he describes the 1781 Yorktown Conference as taking place in Deane's Wethersfield, CT house (it happened next door). With respect to Deane and Beaumarchais, however, Paul has done a creditable job, plowing through obscure records that few before him have studied. Deane's mission to Paris was truly impossible, and, unsupported by his own government, what he achieved was nothing less than amazing. In the process, betrayed by his friends, he lost his family, his fortune, and ultimately his life. Perhaps now Silas Deane will be granted his rightful place among America's founding fathers.
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By VA Duck on April 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A one-in-a-hundred book. A brilliant story, based on real history, thoroughly researched and extraordinarily well written. Professor Paul says it took six years of work to write the book; the results bear out his effort. This is the story of the French effort to fund the American Revolution while risking a war of their own, right under the nose of the British, who's spys are watching every move.

The protagonist is Silas Deane, a Connecticut Yankee who's life we watch go from low to high then back to low. Along the way the story picks up the eccentric Beaumarchet a French playwright, the Chevalier d'Eton an androgynous master spy, the internationally renowned Dr. Benjamin Franklin, the obstreperous, egomaniac Arthur Lee and the hopelessly impotent U.S. Continental Congress. The mix is as fascinating as is the story - all of it TRUE and even so, still full of suspense.

Professor Paul is certainly a talented historian, but as importantly for the reader, he is a skilled writer. His back-and-forth story telling style between characters could be confusing or even tedious in the hands of the less skilled. He, however, weaves the story together so skillfully that anything else would be less.

Mr. Deane has an ambiguous legacy up to now and most historians have seemed content to leave it that way. This book provides the definitive look at the heretofore beleaguered Deane and reveals him as an American patriot who's faith waivers, but never his loyalty. Important history and a great read!

Also see an interesting and well-done paper by the CIA historian on the topic of Beaumarchais' "black" company, "Roderigue Hortalez et Compagnie", Beaumarchais and the American Revolution.
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