After a year of playing both seductive and coy, Franklin was able to negotiate a set of treaties with France that would, so the signers declared, bond the countries in perpetuity. One French participant expressed the hope that the Americans ''would not inherit the pretensions and the greedy and bold character of their mother country, which had made itself detested.'' As a result of the arrangements made by Franklin, the French supplied most of America's guns and nearly all of its gunpowder, and had almost as many troops at the decisive battle of Yorktown as the Americans did.
Schiff scrupulously researches the details of Franklin's mission and skillfully spices up the tale with the colorful spies, stock manipulators, war profiteers and double-dealers who swarmed around him. Most delightful are the British spy Paul Wentworth, so graceful even as he is outmaneuvered by Franklin, and the flamboyant playwright and secret agent Beaumarchais (''The Barber of Seville'' and ''The Marriage of Figaro''), so eager to capitalize on the news of the American victory at Saratoga that he was injured when his carriage overturned while speeding with a banker from Franklin's home to central Paris. Least delightful is the priggish and petulant John Adams, ''a man to whom virtue and unpopularity were synonymous'' and whom Schiff merrily tries to knock from the pedestal upon which he was placed by David McCullough.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Walter Isaacson reviews Stacy Schiff's 'A Great Improvisation': Our Man in Parisin the NYTBR: