Joel Paul's UnlikelyAllies is a fascinating account of a crucial episode during the Revolutionary War. It focuses on the intersection of the lives of Silas Deane, America's emissary to the French before Benjamin Franklin, Caron de Beaumarchais, better know to opera lovers than to historians, and the Cavalier d'Eon, a fascinating French aristocrat who was a cross-dressing diplomat, spy and blackmailer. It emphatically makes the point that the success of the Revolution was no sure thing, that the motives of the revolutionaries were mixed, that the politics of the day were every bit as inglorious as our own, and that the American-French connection has deep and complex roots. All this might be known already to a serious student of the American revolution, but for this lay reader the story was enlightening as well as a great entertainment. Law professors as a whole are not known for their vivid writing (I speak as a law professor as well as a friend of Joel's) but this book manages to be great fun and wonderfully written without compromising its intellectual integrity.
Joel Paul's UnlikelyAllies does what many History Prof's secretly want to do...resurrect history, inflate it with the helium of story and circumstance, and paint it with the colors of life. His characters dance across the pages, glad to be seen for their accurate person.
Be ready to miss a night of sleep.
History comes alive
Erudite, crisply written and almost impossible to put down, this is a delightful book that grips the reader from the first paragraphs. Paul tells a great story and tells it well. At the same time that he sweeps the reader into the narrative, he is careful to note when he goes beyond the evidence to speculation. Although I've read many histories that sink under the writer's efforts to be as true to the facts as possible, Paul manages it all beautifully.
I thought I knew a lot about the Founding Fathers (it is one of two specialty areas for my reading), but I was amazed at the many surprises in this book. Of course, the lead character, Silas Deane, has not been all that well portrayed previously due to the fact that only recently were his personal letters and related archives found (by the author). I do not want to give away anything about the plot, but it is definitely a PAGE-TURNER.
Very Enlightening for the Lay Historian
I, too, thoroughly enjoyned "UnlikelyAllies," by Professor Joel Paul. I agree with some of the other reviewers in that this book DOES read like a thriller yet the careful reader can confirm, by the Professor's endnotes, that this book is vigorously well-researched. Moreover, Professor Paul begins his book in a way that I truly appreciate: he devotes a beginning chapter to each of these three "unlikely allies,": the merchant, Silas Dean, the playwright, Caron de Beaumarchais, and the cross-dressing Frenchman/Frenchwoman, the Chevalier d'Eon, a captain of the dragoons. I found this technique very helpful in that it provides the reader with a backdrop against which to (begin to) understand the motivations, passions, expectancies, and internal conflicts that each of these important personages faced during his/her respective lives, especially during the ever so critical years of our country's infancy. Professor Paul's writing is crisp and to the point. Yet, at the same time, in each chapter he manages to provide the reader with the flavor, indeed a bona fide SENSATION, of the particular moment in our history that is being covered.
It is true that much of our (typically taught) American History is framed by the righteousness and virtue of our "founding fathers." I had always been taught that men like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were superior beings, almost godlike in their perfection. However, Professor Paul's book adds some perspective and depth to those history lessons that were spoon-fed to us so long ago. Professor Paul, while paying much respect to these and other important players in our commonly taught history reveals that these men were, indeed, quite human, and were just as imperfect as we all are. None of us is above reproach, nor were our founding fathers. With the possible exception of Silas Deane, none of us gives unconditionally of our time, resources, and energy. We all want or need something for ourselves in return for our efforts, even our efforts on behalf of our country or on behalf of the "greater good." I am thankful to Professor Paul for introducing me to Silas Dean, to Beaumarchais, and to the Chevalier d'Eon. His well-written account will, I believe, withstand the examinations of time, and continue to delight students of American History in the years to come. Overall, a very good read!