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Download A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America Audiobook, by Stacy Schiff Click for printable size audiobook cover
3.48 out of 53.48 out of 53.48 out of 53.48 out of 53.48 out of 5 3.48 (25 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: March 2005 ISBN: 9781415923665
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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 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 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 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 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. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Katie | 1/24/2014

    " This book contains some interesting tidbits and is undoubtedly well researched, but it's just not at all engaging. I recently read a biography of George Washington by Joseph Ellis, which obviously covers many of the same topics, people, and events, and that one seemed much more interesting. I've decided this one just isn't worth any more of my time... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Shelli | 1/21/2014

    " Great man, slow read, but still fascinating. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Don Weidinger | 1/20/2014

    " : First Secretary of State, an opportunistic envoy from the land of opportunity, open mindedness is an ability to debate either side of an issue, mental algebra to evaluate options, Ben's son William disagreed with Ben his entire life and was not sorry or ashamed, Ben may have took mercury for boils and lost 3 teeth, Voltaire and common sense/liberty, do not send a letter when bitter--wait till better disposition, beliefs of religion--God created-worship-do good-immortal soul-vice punished & virtues rewarded, a slippery thing is retelling history given Ben's example of the use of Polly Baker character, hereditary nobility is a bain to prosperity, what good is a newborn babe, Americans were not what is he but what can he do, 23 cases of books back in 85 to America, French budget was 1/2 interest at revolution, in the world it is defiance that saves us--for eternity it is faith. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Lea | 1/18/2014

    " One of the best-written histories I've ever read. Impressive research that really gives the flavor of the time and place. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Staci | 1/15/2014

    " Dazzling. I am more convinced than ever that the destinies of France and the United States are inextricably linked, and that we all owe not a small debt of gratitude to Mr. Franklin. Schiff's book reveals him at his brilliant, witty, cunning best. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Bird | 1/1/2014

    " Enjoyable, well documented. What high jinx! Ben Franklin cheats at chess. Strange phrasing and punctuation, though. Grammatical but torturous at times. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Martha | 12/22/2013

    " If you have the time to read this in small increments, it's an amazing piece of scholarship. DO NOT try to read it for fun or for speed! Lots of unknown info on some of our founding fathers. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Jenny | 12/17/2013

    " Well-researched, but so boring. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Meribeth | 12/4/2013

    " This read almost like a novel. Actually, I listened to it as an audiobook. My only critique is that it was abridged, and felt like it as I listened. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Corrine | 11/26/2013

    " Interesting man and time. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Meridythe Kelley | 11/25/2013

    " LOVE this book! Extremely well written, and a great look at the differences in opinion and style among the founding fathers. One of the favorites I reach for when wanting a good, factual, bedtime story. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 David | 10/19/2013

    " I think I am done with Stacy Schiff books. I can't seem to get into them the way I do McCullough or others. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sue | 8/25/2013

    " I've read a lot of history books but this was a different take. I knew France was involved in the "birth" of America but I didn't know how involved it was. Very informative and easy to read. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Robin | 6/3/2013

    " Been quite a few years since I read this; entertaining and somewhat surprising. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ron | 5/1/2013

    " Good story. Well written "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chris | 4/23/2013

    " Schiff writes a bit hoity-toity, but I like her approach to Franklin. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 G. | 1/12/2013

    " Good, but could have used a bit more editting. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Darren | 1/4/2013

    " Franklin seems to have been shafted by history, but this book reasserts his greatness. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Schmerica | 11/20/2012

    " The more I read about the American Revolution, the more utterly amazing and inexplicable I find it that it actually succeeded. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Michele Thomas | 7/1/2012

    " Couldn't get very far into this. I love the time period, and really enjoyed Schiff's biography of Cleopatra, but this one just didn't do it for me! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sandra Dark | 6/22/2012

    " Outstanding look at Benjamin Franklin in Paris. But Stacy Schiff's writing lacks clarity in places, which can be confusing. "

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About the Author
Author Stacy SchiffStacy Schiff is the author of Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), which won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for biography and Saint-Exupéry: A Biography, which was a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities and was a Director's Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. Schiff lives in New York City.
About the Narrator

Susan Denaker is an actress and Earphones Award–winning narrator. Her extensive theater credits include numerous plays in the West End of London, national tours, many English rep companies, including a season with Alan Ayckbourn’s company in Scarborough. In the US, she has appeared in Our Town and Sweet Bird of Youth at the La Jolla Playhouse and Breaking Legs at the Westport Playhouse.