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A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America
"In December, 1776 a small boat delivered an old man to France." So begins a dazzling narrative account of Benjamin Franklin's French mission, the most exacting — revealing, and momentous — eight years of his life.
Seventy years old, without any diplomatic training, and possessed of the most rudimentary French—Franklin 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, Franklin outmaneuvered British spies, French informers, and hostile colleagues; engineered the Franco-American alliance of l778; and helped to negotiate the peace of l783. The eight-year French mission stands not only as Franklin's most vital service to his country but as the most revealing of the man.
Listen to a sample from the audio edition of A Great Improvisation, as read by Susan Denaker.
Reviews and Praise
"What a brilliant book. A Great Improvisation pays tribute to the extraordinary love affair between monarchist France and the republican Benjamin Franklin. Their child was America, conceived at home and nurtured into maturity by France. It is a story full of intrigue, jealousy and passion. But ultimately it is a celebration of one American's love for his country. Stacy Schiff has written a masterpiece, capturing a fleeting moment when the stars aligned between Congress and Versailles." Amanda Foreman
"Stacy Schiff's extensive scholarship, her eye for the colorful detail, and her lively wit combine to bring alive—in full dress and in an absorbing narrative—the cast of statesmen, adventurers, spies, courtiers, patriots and con men who have a part in the story of Benjamin Franklin's negotiations for American independence, and to fix among them America's greatest diplomat, winning his way (and America's) in a style of calculated disarray. An extraordinary book." Edmund S. Morgan
"This is a book to savor. Every page has some new nugget of insight, or some graceful turn of phrase that generates a verbal airburst over the most psychologically agile American of his time, perhaps of all time. Schiff has given a genuine jolt to the recent surge of interest in Franklin, along the way demonstrating why she is generally regarded as one of the most gifted storytellers writing today." Joseph J. Ellis
"A stunning book...Lively, witty, and extremely readable...It is hard to put the book down....A remarkably subtle and penetrating portrait of Franklin and his diplomacy." Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books
"In sparkling prose, burnished to a high gloss, Stacy Schiff tells the tale of Benjamin Franklin in Paris with piquant humor, outrageous anecdotes worthy of the finest French farce, and a wealth of lapidary observations. Her Paris unfolds as a glittering carnival of spies, rogues, frauds, and flawed reformers, eccentric nobility and perpetually squabbling American diplomats. Towering above all is the protean figure of Franklin, an improbable compound of wit, cunning, hypocrisy, courage, and tireless devotion to his country. C'est magnifique!" Ron Chernow
"An impressively researched, fine-grained account of Franklin's Paris years, and his critically important mission to secure French support and French money. The French adventure, as Ms. Schiff convincingly argues, should be remembered as Franklin's finest hour." The New York Times
"[A] fine new biography...Ebullient." The Economist
"Magnificent....Schiff has such command of tempo that she sends shivers down a reader's spine." The Los Angeles Times