Brian 's Reviews > A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America

A Great Improvisation by Stacy Schiff
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's review
Jan 08, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: american-history-revolution

A Great Improvisation provides a focus on the time Benjamin Franklin spent as the American envoy to France negotiating treaties with all the European powers and providing American representation in Versailles. From the intrigues of the court, to the social life of Paris, to the intricate negotiations with not only France but peace with Great Britain and commercial treaties with almost everyother power in Europe. The drawback to this book is the heavy prose that drags on with high amounts of detail that includes superfluous words without coming to a quick point. Often times the description is so much that you have to skim just to find the point of the paragraph. The book focuses quite a bit on the relationship between Franklin and many of the French he interacted with and is based on quite a bit of speculation and accounts from those hostile to Franklin. I think this is a book with a lot in it for those willing to take the time to decipher the prose and I did find many great additions to the Franklin myth and legend while also getting a rehash of some of the tried and true Franklin stories. For those who want something only on the time in France this is a great book to take a look at if you have a reference point for what was occurring back home. It is not a great book for those just starting out on this time period in US history. If you want a great primer for Franklin use Issacsson's book for a view of his whole life. Overall though worth the time if you are willing to work through the language.
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Gene Ruyle Reading the long list of ratings and reviews (many either/or's, some both-and's, and a sliver of neither/nor's) is instructive in itself. Those craving a novelesque read, come away unhappy (at times, so acutely so they don't even finish the book); while those bringing along seemingly natural appreciation for the value and significance of fact come away more than a little enthused. What's going on here to create such an unusually wide variation? Having read two other Stacy Schiff works, something tells me the genre she's working with holds the key to the quandry. Doesn't any biography have to straddle the notorious boundary line between Fiction and Non-fiction? Having read two of Stacy Schiff's works now, something tells me she more than knows how to tell the difference between the two, and, when called upon to handle the drawing of just that line, can do so -- as any writer of a biography (or an autobiography) must certainly be able to do. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't have picked up her book in the first place. Your reasoned response tells me Schiff's considerable sensibilities haven't abandoned her and are waiting to meet me in her pages, and to benefit me here just as they did so often in the other two books. My thanks to you for taking the time and going to the trouble to write such a balanced review and rating as the one you gave the rest of us. It didn't go unnoticed, and has served to lift the whole Goodreads review process to a higher level. My sincere thanks to you for that. Happy reading -- and reviewing -- in all that lies ahead.

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