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Publisher's Summary

"In December 1776, a small boat delivered an old man to France." So begins a dazzling narrative account of Benjamin Franklin's French mission, the most exacting, and momentous, eight years of his life.

When Franklin embarked, the colonies were without money, munitions, gunpowder, or common cause; like all adolescents, they were to discover that there was a difference between declaring independence and achieving it. To close that gap Franklin was dispatched to Paris, amid great secrecy, across a winter sea thick with enemy cruisers. He was 70 years old, without any diplomatic training, and possessed of the most rudimentary French. He was also among the most famous men in the world.

Franklin well understood that he was off on the greatest gamble of his career. But despite minimal direction from Congress he was soon outwitting the British secret service and stirring passion for a republic in an absolute monarchy.

In A Great Improvisation Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff offers an utterly fresh and thrilling account of Franklin's Parisian adventure and of America's debut on the world stage. Schiff weaves her tale of international intrigue from new and little-known primary sources, working from a host of diplomatic archives, family papers, and intelligence reports. From her pages emerges a particularly human Founding Father, as well as a vivid sense of how fragile, improvisational, and international was our country's bid for independence.

©2005 Stacy Schiff; (P)2005 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a divison of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • George Washington Book Prize Winner, 2006

"An impressively researched, fine-grained account of Franklin's Paris years." (The New York Times)

What members say

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  • Overall

Why abridged history

This is an important book. It is extrordinarily well researched and a departure from the boiler plate Franklin observations. Am I alone, as a fan of history, in wanting to hear the whole story? Don't people who take the time to listen to such a work want to hear it all? I find myself searching for an unabridged version on Amazon or Apple every time one of these abridgements is put up alone, with no sign there will be a full version to come.
This work deserves to be heard in its entirity.

19 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Excellent companion to the print version

For Christmas I recieved the print version, over 460 pages plus a huge bibliography, index, notes etc. The audio version is an excellent abridgment, providing plenty of the story without bogging down in details.

This is my second Benjamin Franklin bio (listen to his Autobiography as well). AGI relied upon lots of letters, even some which were un-sent, to re-construct Franklin's life in France.

I've already started listening a second time, as I usually do with books I feel are important and enlightening.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Robert
  • Whittier, CA, USA
  • 07-02-05

America's Greatest Personality

This book is a first hand account of the colonial period. Franklin describes in detail the sights and sonds of the time. Get into the mind of one of America's greatest personalities. Learn from Franklin himself how his discipline and frugality in his youth paved the way for his later success. From working as an apprentice for his older brother, to serving the King, to finally becoming one of the leaders of America's revolution, his biography is laced with humor, self-defacing stories and commentary on the times. I highly recommend this book.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Narration

I did not like this narrator. He mispronounced several words. When narrating history, he should have learned historical pronunciations to sound correct.

  • Overall

A Great Improvisation

This was one of the most tedious books I have listened to...I love biographies but this one put the listener (reader) to the test...the text was unnecessarily complex. The reader's accents were unrealistic and not in the intended language accents. By the end, the author convinced me from my former impression that Franklin was a great American hero! Intelligent and inventive yes, but otherwise ....

1 of 4 people found this review helpful