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A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and…

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

by Stacy Schiff

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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An engrossing and informative account that goes far beyond common knowledge of the French involvement in the American Revolution and shows additonal sides of important founding fathers. ( )
  Unreachableshelf | Jun 18, 2011 |
Interesting what different positions my previous LT reviewers took on this book. It is of course hardly a full blown biography of Franklin, but one that focuses on his French experience. I would judge it competent. ( )
  carterchristian1 | Sep 3, 2010 |
- In support of the American Revolution, Franklin most significant contribution came as ambassador to France and this book concentrates on Franklins 9 years in France (1776 - 1785)
- Franklin was 70 year old and spoke little French when he arrived, yet his diplomatic efforts were often brilliant…the American Colonies needed money, munitions, gunpowder and recognition/support from France and Franklin was able to deliver
- Joseph Ellis is spot on when he stated “she (Schiff) is generally regarded as one of the most gifted storytellers writing today” and what makes this book so outstanding is this book reads like a novel with swindles, vendettas, a cast of colorful characters, and humor”
- Stacy Schiff is author of Vera (Mrs Vladimir Nabokov) which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2000 ( )
  CritEER | Aug 23, 2007 |
Only because I have the utmost respect for and interest in what Franklin did in Paris did I finish this book.
The prose in this book is so contorted, and the actual information content so weak, that I had to work to finish it. Had I known how little reward would be forthcoming for the effort, I'd never have started.
I'm an avid reader of history, and I bought this book because I'd seen some good reviews for it, but I doubt that I'll ever buy another of Ms. Schiff's works again. ( )
  tburghart | Dec 4, 2006 |
What can I say? Stacy Schiff's sparkling prose is a joy. This book covers Benjamin Franklin's time in France, or in her own words:"The outline of his unfinished autobiography ends: 'To France. Treaty, etc.' This is the story of those four words, with emphasis on the last."

Schiff's book is not written for someone looking for a concise Franklin biography. Her oblique references to Franco-American relations and misunderstandings, to Franklin's position in the founding father pantheon (she shrinks Adams, who had recently seen a revival, back to size) require from the reader a good working knowledge of history. Franklin's life serves as a theme for countless improvisations and insights about the man, his time and our world. ( )
  jcbrunner | Aug 16, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stacy Schiffprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Denaker, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805066330, Hardcover)

Benjamin Franklin began the "the most taxing assignment of his life" at the age of 70: to secure the aid of the French monarchy in helping the fledgling United States establish their republic. The job required tremendous skill, finesse, and discretion, and as Stacy Schiff makes clear in this brilliant book, Franklin was the ideal American, perhaps the only one, to take on the task, due in large part to his considerable personal prestige. One of the most famous men in the world when he landed in France in December 1776, his arrival caused a sensation--he was celebrated as a man of genius, a successor to Newton and Galileo, and treated as a great dignitary, even though the nation he represented was less than a year old and there were many doubts as to whether it would see its second birthday. Though he had no formal diplomatic training and spoke only rudimentary French, Franklin managed to engineer the Franco-American alliance of 1778 and the peace treaty of 1783, effectively inventing American foreign policy as he went along, in addition to serving as chief diplomat, banker, and director of American naval affairs.

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:16 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Schiff tells how Benjamin Franklin--seventy years old, without any diplomatic training, and possessed of the most rudimentary French--convinced France, an absolute monarchy, to underwrite America's experiment in democracy. When Franklin stepped onto French soil, he well understood he was embarking on the greatest gamble of his career. By virtue of fame, charisma, and ingenuity, he outmaneuvered British spies, French informers, and hostile colleagues; engineered the Franco-American alliance of 1778; and helped to negotiate the peace of 1783. From these pages emerge a particularly human and yet fiercely determined Founding Father, as well as a profound sense of how fragile, improvisational, and international was our country's bid for independence.… (more)

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