cover image A GREAT IMPROVISATION: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America

A GREAT IMPROVISATION: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America

Stacy Schiff, Author . Holt $27.50 (512p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6633

Numerous bestselling volumes have been written recently on the man one biography called "the first American." Pulitzer Prize–winner Schiff (for Véra [Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov] ) eloquently adds to our understanding of Benjamin Franklin with a graceful, sly and smart look at his seven-year sojourn in France in his quasi-secret quest to secure American independence by procuring an alliance with the French. Drawing on newly available sources, Schiff brilliantly chronicles the international intrigues and the political backbiting that surrounded Franklin during his mission. "A master of the oblique approach, a dabbler in shades of gray," she writes, "Franklin was a natural diplomat, genial and ruthless." She deftly recreates the glittering and gossipy late 18th-century Paris in which Franklin moved, and she brings to life such enigmatic French leaders as Jacques-Donatien Chaumont, Franklin's closest adviser and chief supplier of American aid, and Charles Vergennes, the French minister of foreign affairs, who helped Franklin write the French-American Alliance of 1778. Franklin also negotiated the peace of 1783 that led not only to the independence of the colonies from Britain but also to a bond between France and America that, Schiff says, lasted until WWII. Schiff's sure-handed historical research and her majestic prose offer glimpses into a little-explored chapter of Franklin's life and American history. Agent, Lois Wallace. (Apr. 2)

Forecast: This should receive excellent review coverage, which will boost sales, and perhaps the blurb from Joseph Ellis will help.