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Extended Audio Sample A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, by Stacy Schiff Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (313 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Stacy Schiff Narrator: Susan Denaker Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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In this dazzling work of history, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author follows Benjamin Franklin to France for the crowning achievement of his career

In December of 1776 a small boat delivered an old man to France." So begins an enthralling narrative account of 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, 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.

In A Great Improvisation, Stacy Schiff draws from new and little-known sources to illuminate the least-explored part of Franklin's life. Here is an unfamiliar, unforgettable chapter of the Revolution, a rousing tale of American infighting, and the treacherous backroom dealings at Versailles that would propel George Washington from near decimation at Valley Forge to victory at Yorktown. 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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Franklin was an ideal choice for the mission, as Stacy Schiff shows in this meticulously researched and judicious account of his eight years as a diplomatic dazzler and charmer in Paris.”

    New York Times

  • “Despite the undeniable impact on U.S.-French relations of two tumultuous centuries, A Great Improvisation reminds us that profound cultural differences between the two societies have not changed all that much—and thus remain at the root of their conflicting visions of the world. Plus ça change.”

    Washington Post

  • “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, New York Times author of Alexander Hamilton

  • Winner of the 2006 Ambassador Book Award for American Studies
  • A 2005 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Nick | 2/18/2014

    " Taking a little break from Fiction with this great story of Franklin's time in France "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Judywhaase | 2/4/2014

    " A most readable biography of Ben Franklin. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Kendra | 2/4/2014

    " A gossipy, fun book to read about America's diplomatic outreach to France during the American Revolution. The author reveals the appealing aspects of Benjamin Franklin's character, but also provides evidence of the contradictions in his life and personality. John Adams doesn't appear to be a very appealing man, but you get a sense of his frustration in playing second fiddle to Franklin. You won't learn much about the battles of the Revolution, but will be treated to the development of the U.S. relationship with France's monarchy, the lifestyle of the French upper class, a bit of the scientifc discoveries of the time (including ballooning) and the immediate ramifications for France and Louis XVI in extending help to the former British colonies in their quest to become independent. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by David | 1/27/2014

    " An excellent history of Franklin's time in France securing that country's support for America's independence from Great Britain. Very well written and sophisticated in its portrayal of the complicated personalities involved. "

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