A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America by Stacy Schiff
For history buffs of the American Revolution -- and particularly Ben Franklin -- this 484-page book is a delightful romp that details a vital mission: Franklin's mission to Paris to convince the French government to support the fledgling American Revolution.
Stacy Schiff is an engaging writer who doesn't let the dusty historical distance of time weigh down her prose. Instead, she recounts the intriguing and often wry diplomatic undertaking of Franklin at the behest of the newly formed American government's Committee of Secret Correspondence.
Everything about this book makes Franklin's improbable journey (he was 70 at the time he arrived) as fresh as if it happened yesterday. Franklin is a fascinating, eccentric character, who was more respected for his inventions in Europe than in the newly formed nation of America.
His objective was an ironic one: he had to convince the French monarchy (the French Revolution was still a number of years off) to support a revolutionary war of independence against a fellow European monarchy. What's more, the French were being asked to help give birth to a distinctly non-European form of government, a democracy in which the ruler was elected by the citizenry.
Against all odds, amidst an environment of plots and spies, Franklin succeeded. It is widely believed that without the assistance of France, the American Revolution might have failed.
No doubt, France's decision to support the newly formed democracy was in large part due to the old adage: the enemy of my enemy (England) is my friend. But, clearly, without Franklin's diplomatic intervention, France's support might have never been activated.
"A Great Improvisation" is filled with a lively cast of characters. Schiff even provides background on the main "actors" in this drama, on whose outcome the future of the young nation depended.
Even if you aren't a history aficionado, you'll enjoy this tale of intrigue, in which Franklin comes alive as though he were seated across from you. And if you are a history buff, don't miss out on this extraordinary story.