• Henry Holt and Co.
Reading Group Gold
A Great Improvisation - Stacy SchiffSee larger image
See Hi-Res Jpeg image


email/print EmailPrint

A Great Improvisation



Book Buy
Ebook Ebook 
    
Share this book with friends through your favorite social networking site. Share:           Bookmark and Share
Add this title to your virtual bookshelves at any of these book community sites. Shelve:             
sign up to get updates about this author
add this book's widget
to your site or blog

About The Author

Stacy SchiffStacy Schiff

Stacy Schiff is the author of Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2000, and Saint-Exupery, which was a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize. Schiff's work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington... More

photo: © Stacy Schiff

Stay In Touch

Sign up to recieve information about new releases, author appearances, special offers, all related to you favorite authors and books.

Other Books You Might Like

cover Buy
Saint-Exupery
A Biography

Holt Paperbacks
From a master biographer, the life story of the daring French aviator who became one of the twentieth century’s most beloved authors Antoine de Saint-Exupéry...
cover Buy

More formats
eBook
Disaster
Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security

Holt Paperbacks
“[A] tightly crafted, very readable book . . . the best in-depth contemporary analysis we are going to get.” —Stephen Flynn, The Washington Post When...
  
cover Buy
The First World War, Second Edition
A Complete History

Holt Paperbacks
The acclaimed British historian offers a majestic, single-volume work incorporating all major fronts-domestic, diplomatic, military-for "a stunning achievement...
cover Buy
Promises Betrayed
Waking Up from the American Dream

Times Books
The award-winning New York Times op-ed columnist probes the widening gap between American ideals and American realities, and urges us to do something about...
  
cover Buy

More formats
eBook
W.E.B. Du Bois
A Biography

A John Macrae/Holt Paperbacks Book
The two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of W. E. B. Du Bois from renowned scholar David Levering Lewis, now in one condensed and updated volume William...
cover Buy

More formats
eBook
George H. W. Bush
The American Presidents Series: The 41st President, 1989-1993

Times Books
The judicious statesman who won victories abroad but suffered defeat at home, whose wisdom and demeanor served America well at a critical time George Bush...
  
cover Buy

More formats
eBook
Grover Cleveland
The American Presidents Series: The 22nd and 24th President, 1885-1889 and 1893-1897

Times Books
A fresh look at the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms. Though often overlooked, Grover Cleveland was a significant figure in American...
  Bonus
cover Buy

More formats
eBook
The Lions of Iwo Jima

A John Macrae/Holt Paperbacks Book
“In 1945 my father, John Bradley, and other members of Combat Team 28 raised a flag on Iwo Jima. Now with The Lions of Iwo Jima, [Haynes] helps America...
  
cover Buy

More formats
Audio eBook
Words of Radiance

Tor Books
Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive sequence began in 2010 with the New York Times bestseller The Way of Kings. Now, the eagerly anticipated Words of...
  
cover Buy
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Slide and Find

Priddy Books
Eric Carle’s familiar illustrations of brown bear, red bird, yellow duck and the other endearing animals from his classic creation parade across the pages of...
  Bonus
cover Buy
Numbers Colors Shapes

Priddy Books
Your little one will soon learn their first numbers, shapse and colors with this bright board book. There are 100 color pictures which they will love to look...

Reading Group Gold

Discussion Questions

1. How would you answer the question raised in the Crèvecoeur quote that opens the introduction? How would a colonist answer the question? How would a European?

2. What set Benjamin Franklin apart from other founding fathers? Did he personify “this new man” more accurately than the other founding fathers did?

3. Though charged with similar duties, Franklin and Silas Deane garnered fairly different results. Compare their diplomacy styles, and other factors affecting their mission in France. Did the fact that Franklin made the pivotal trip to France in his seventies give him an upper hand?

4. Did the negotiation tactics of John Adams enhance or undermine Franklin’s successes? Do you think Franklin is to blame for his difficulties with his colleagues, or was he simply unlucky in the company Congress sent him?

5. Many of the fascinating details culled by Stacy Schiff include the vagaries of transatlantic travel and correspondence in the eighteenth century. Vital letters ended up on the ocean floor; spies intercepted hand-delivered missives; supply ships were captured; and passengers (even Franklin, en route to the French coast in 1776) often had to endure horrifically rough voyages to cross the ocean. How has modern technology transformed diplomacy? Were there any benefits to the laborious protocol of Franklin’s era?

6. Discuss Vergennes’s motivations in negotiating with Franklin. In Vergennes’s mind, what were the political and financial ramifications of supporting the Americans? What events caused his point of view to shift? How did his motivations compare to those of private suppliers, such as Chaumont?

7. How did Benny fare as a schoolboy in Europe? In what way was his identity influenced by living there at such a formative age? Did he and Temple share their grandfather’s perception of French culture? Do you believe that Temple’s father, William, had good reason to be a Loyalist, Did he do the right thing? Did Franklin?

8. Franklin’s numerous inventions contributed to his fame throughout France, where his likeness appeared on assorted kitschy objects. Why was he more celebrated (and more properly eulogized) in France than in the colonies?

9. Discuss the women in Franklin’s life. What do you conclude about his marriage? Did American culture permit women like Madame Brillon and Madame Helvétius to exist in Franklin’s homeland? How did you react to the generations of illegitimate children marking Franklin’s lineage?

10. The title A Great Improvisation reminds us of the unscripted, uncharted territory in which Franklin and the patriots gambled with high stakes. How did Franklin put uncertainty to work for him? Was he a better improviser than the kings of France, Spain, and England?

11. What defenses did Franklin possess for undermining British propaganda efforts? Why do you think he—America’s greatest writer and prominent publisher—wrote so little while in France?

12. The year prior to Franklin’s death, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison and set in motion Napoleon’s rise to power. What might Franklin have thought of those events? What did he seem to think about the general concept of monarchies?

13. Did Franklin feel at home once he returned to Philadelphia? Why was he not given compensation equal to other American diplomats? Do you have sympathy for him?

14. This chapter of American history raises several provocative what-ifs: What if Franklin had not been dispatched to France? What if George Washington’s wish had been fulfilled and the revolution had been fought without French troops?

15. What could the world’s current political leaders learn from the aphorisms that comprise the chapter titles – All drawn from Poor Richard’s Almanac--in A Great Improvisation?

16. Did this chapter of Franklin’s life color your sense of the other, better-known adventures? Why do you think the author chose to focus on it? How does Schiff’s Franklin tally with your image of him before your read A Great Improvisation?

17. Among the supporting cast, did you develop a fondness for any particular character?

18. Did the author approach the subject of Ben Franklin in the same way she approached the subjects of her previous biographies, Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) and Saint-Exupéry?

You May Also Be Interested In

cover Buy
The Worst Loss
How Families Heal from the Death of a Child

Holt Paperbacks
The death of a child is like no other loss. The Worst Loss will help families who have experienced this to know what they are facing, understand what they are...
cover Buy

More formats
eBook
The Breathing Book
Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work

Holt Paperbacks
A groundbreaking approach to improving the quality of your life through the most readily accessible resource: your breath. These safe and easy-to-learn...
  
cover Buy

More formats
eBook
The Day of Battle
The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

Holt Paperbacks
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "Majestic... Atkinson’s achievement is to marry prodigious research with a superbly organized narrative and then to overlay the...