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Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  278 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
The gripping true story of how three men used espionage, betrayal, and sexual deception to help win the American Revolution.
Unlikely Allies is the story of three remarkable historical figures. Silas Deane was a Connecticut merchant and delegate to the Continental Congress as the American colonies struggled to break with England. Caron de Beaumarchais was a successful pla
ebook, 416 pages
Published October 29th 2009 by Riverhead Books (first published 2009)
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Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredible tale of espionage, intrigue, hypocrisy, deception, and betrayal. Still, the characters never really seemed to come alive. You get to know facts, but they remain enigmatic and remote. With that aside, this is quite an interesting story. The story is so wacky that I actually had to fact-check some of this stuff to make sure it wasn’t some big joke. An insane story that is all the more insane because it actually happened.

To fight the British, America needed supplies. Incredibly, at th
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved every minute of reading this book. Paul notes that "human frailty is part of our heritage" and virtuous men were capable of despicable behavior while hypocrites could do good. History, he points out, is often as not the child of chance and good behavior the result of noble and ignoble impulses, service to the greater common good and service to self.

The three protagonists of this fascinating story were eminently human, emotionally febrile, variable in their virtue and fascinating by all m
Feb 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-history, politics
"It is left to history to correct the popular judgment. Reading history teaches us to doubt, to question, and, if we're lucky, to discover new heroes." Thus read the last two sentences of Paul's book. It shows that greed and vengeance nearly derailed the American Revolution. The Founding Fathers were factious and class driven. However, that is only part of the story. Self interest drove others to help the American colonies and their actions, both before and during the Revolution provided assista ...more
Tim Schaffer
Hmmmm... On one hand, the book offers wonderful biography of figures usually overlooked by history. It's very much worth reading for the sake of their stories. However, the book doesn't deliver on what the subtitle promises. The spy, although pivotal in the life of the playwright's political career and arguably the best story of the three, is never allied with the other two in any way. In fact (unless I missed something) the spy never even met the merchant or expressed any interest in the Americ ...more
Jan 09, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book and would have given it a higher rating (in reality I think it deserves a 3.5 :) if Dr. Paul's personal bias hadn't shown up so much. While the bias towards Deane was a bit thick at times, I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in the American Revolution. I think eveyone should read this book if only for the parts about Beaumarchis and D'Eon. It was a quick read, which I appreciated, and I think overall it was well-researched and cohesive. The parts abo ...more
Annie Oosterwyk
This book was a wonderful way to learn some unorthodox and hidden American history. I am now a big Silas Deane fan whereas before I knew nothing about him. It makes me think about how we teach history in our schools with such a limited perspective. I look forward to reading more unbiased stories and hearing what was happening in the rest of the world as the US was created.
It also reminds me that there are endless untold and not yet investigated stories in the world. It is an exciting impetus to
Nathan Albright
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: challenge2017
It is difficult to know what to make of this book. There are clearly some aspects of this book I was already familiar with given my fondness for reading about spycraft and its role in history [1] as well as my familiarity with the writings of Beaumarchais [2]. For the most part this familiarity made the story easier to appreciate in some aspects. I had a rather unpleasant feeling, though, as I worked through this book, and it gave me a rather sour view of the author and his own morality as a pop ...more
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an enjoyable book which brought to light one of the seedier, more morally questionable (and yet deeply significant) subplots of the American Revolution. This is not the story of Washington leading a daring escape across the Delaware; or Adams debating with the Continental Congress; or Jefferson penning the Declaration of Independence. "Unlikely Allies" is a story of backdoor deals, light treason, conspiracy, money laundering, spycraft, deception, and intrigue. There's even a dose of tra ...more
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting story from the American revolution. Even the author seems to have stumbled into it and it is certainly characters and actions that I was unaware of. It is also interesting to find how different diplomacy and war was when the frequency of communications between continents was measured in months or years instead of minutes.
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, I see politicians have always been, well.....politicians. :(
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, for-work
I read this book to conduct research on Silas Deane, the first envoy from the United States to France. There are few books about Deane out there even though his tale is filled with intrigue, jealousy, cunning, and patriotism.

Joel Richard Paul's book tells the story of Silas Deane, Beaumarchais, and the Chavalier D'Eon. His title, Unlikely Allies, comes from the fact that these 3 men all played pivotal roles in forwarding the Continental Army much needed supplies and coaxing King Louis XVI to ent
Dan Rheingans
Apr 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was hard for me to rate. Paul does a good job of shedding light on the actions of people that were responsible behind the scenes of getting French aid to America during the American Revolution and brokering a French-American alliance. In that strain he does a good job. Paul also paints the picture of the "humanness" of politicians in the Revolutionary Age showing them to be petty, self centered, vindictive, and short-sighted. He argues that we should be careful not to place the foundin ...more
This is a vindication of Silas Deane, a man who--if he's mentioned at all--is reported as a proto-Franco-American diplomat who came under some sort of scandalous cloud. It's about the dirty politicking that went on during the Revolution. (It's less about Beaumarchais and d'Eon, although they figure in the story as the playwright and the spy. They are necessary characters, but more sideshow.)

As an attorney, I like to read histories by attorneys. There are some gems about Lord Mansfield that may
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For seven years, my office was on the "Silas Deane Highway," but I never thought much about Silas Deane was. Years ago, I did the tour of his Wethersfield home, and I knew that he was a colonial era merchant. I knew he played some minor role. This book makes a strong case that his role was much greater than history credits him.

What I really like best about this book is the way that it makes me rethink the whole subject of history. In the Acknowledgements, the author states that he was researchi
May 31, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
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 pe ...more
Ann Canann
Jul 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
It was the subtitle, “How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution,”
(especially the playwright part) that drew me to this history about some very human people who were very much involved in the founding of our country..

Mr. Paul is a professor in international and constitutional law and associate Dean at U.C. Hastings Law School. Yes, he writes here of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Tom Paine, and other luminaries of the war, but he focuses on three impor
Jan 27, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy reading history and history often focuses on the central figures. For the American Revolution this is usually Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington... among others. This is a book about the American Revolution that focuses on more minor characters and their pivotal roles in making possible the heroic achievements of the better known. This book is about the ambassador to France who preceded Franklin, Adams and Jefferson. It is about a playwright who engineered the aid from France to Amer ...more
Tiffany Day
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was gifted a copy of this one and I am so very glad for it. What a lovely little piece of hidden Revolutionary history. While its title and presentation are a bit misleading (view spoiler) it nevertheless presents us with 3 very interesting historical characters - along with several others, including the Lees of Virginia, King Louis XVI, and THE Benjamin Franklin.

"Much is made of the fact that the revolutionary
Jan 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
What fun this book was! I had read in another book this year about Caron de Beaumarchais and the Chevalier d'Eon and their roles in the American revolution, but the treatment had been short and I was left wondering about the details. Well, no more. This well-researched book answered (nearly!) all my questions about the matter, except for the pesky "why?" questions. :-) In addition, this book makes a very solid case for a re-appraisal of Silas Deane and his contributions to the Revolution. The au ...more
Marie Carmean
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is so much we aren't taught in school...things one may not even come across in extensive reading on the subject of our country's history. There are some surprises in store for the reader of this fascinating book. Well researched and well-written, this look at the "behind the scenes" actions that created the atmosphere necessary for the United States of America to become the fledgling country it so wanted to be, is a must-read for anyone who cares about our country and its history! There is ...more
David R.
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Paul investigates a lost corner of the American Revolution: the story of Silas Deane and the birth of the Franco-American Alliance of 1778. Silas Deane is the centerpiece of the book, although several other figures (Beaumarchais, A.Lee, Franklin, Vergennes, etc.) receive handsome coverage. Paul doesn't hesitate to take sides and excoriates the so-called Adams-Lee Junto in Congress while giving Deane every consideration, but this generally aligns with most scholarship and can be forgiven. The boo ...more
Oct 05, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This wasn't an easy read. What with the cross-dressing angle, you'd think it'd be racier, but not so much.

I'm glad to have read it; there were such large personalities in the American Revolution, and such huge dramas, it's not strange that some stories don't get told. And yet this was such an important piece of the story and the sequel so affecting; it bothers me that it's been forgotten.

On the other hand, it makes me feel pretty bad that hard on the heels of possibly its finest moment, our new
Dec 02, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very entertaining read about some lesser known but very important events of the American Revolution. The part about the spy and the look at gender issues was one of the most interesting parts of the book but did not really need to be included, as the chevalier had no real direct dealings with the revolution.
As in most things, our revolution fares up better in the abstract than under close scrutiny. It just goes to show that there never was a golden age of politics where everyone worked togethe
Jul 05, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer by: KQED's Forum
Shelves: 2010
The book was very slow to start. I'm amused that the book jacket describes the book as an "edge of your seat story", as I found myself struggling to stay with it for the first half. About halfway through, things finally started to come together. I'm glad I finished it.

The historical story is fascinating, and has quite a bit of information about the American revolution that I was never taught about in school. Unfortunately, the writing style wavers between historical fiction ("he gingerly eased
Sep 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting story about the American Revolution, and some behind the scene stuff that happened to help with the end result of America gaining our independence from Britain. I know God's hand was in that war and that the outcome was no chance, but listening to this story you certainly have to wonder at the people used for His purpose. Good story, flowed easily enough, and was interesting enough to not be bored, maybe a little depressing. History is not one of my favorite subjects unle ...more
Sue Myers
I cannot help thinking that the politics of the Rev. War is so similar to the politics of today. The same backbiting, character assassination and lies that are spread today took place back then according to this book. In my eyes Silas Deane was a true American hero who lost his fortune and the respect of the Revolutionary leaders due to money hungry jealous "patriots." Beaumarchais lost his fortune as well, saving the American cause by funneling guns, ammunition and supplies. Chevalier d'Eon see ...more
Mar 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Almost done with this book and am quite impressed!
I remember years ago listening to a radio program called "The Rest of the Story" where Paul Harvey would tell a familiar story from a new or unique perspective. Inevitably, the result was a story that felt completely new and that left the listener feeling that he/she really hadn’t known the story to begin with! This book gave me that same feeling about a story I thought I knew…the American Revolution!
While there are brief moments where it reads
Michael Drum
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well told story about the complications and tragedies of some of the heroes of the American Revolution. This further documents how our revolution, though creating something new and wonderful, had a traumatic birth, even for some of the most patriotic rebels.

My only complaint is that the "spy" in the title, had nothing to do with the American Revolution. D'Eon's only role was in helping to renew the King's faith in Beaumarchais. However, d'Eon's story is most intriguing. Someone should make a m
Oct 21, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The title of the book makes a promise that the content just doesn't live up to, and in that respect the book was a disappointment. There were also tangents I found unnecessary--an entire chapter of background information when a paragraph would be sufficient. The last chapter also bothered me because it often expressed opinions and personal judgments, rather than sound conclusions based on the evidence in the text. As a work of entertainment, this story had some enjoyable moments. As a work of hi ...more
Stephanie Fox
Jan 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fun way to learn some truths about American, French, and British history - including political, military, and espionage history!

This book is full of detail and is an entertaining and fascinating way to learn about three people who made the regime change possible, with many unanticipated results. The motives of these three, as well as those of the people they interacted with, are explored in detail. A murder still unsolved is examined, complete with motive, opportunity, and a little forens
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