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Improbable Patriot: The Secret History of Monsieur de Beaumarchais, the French Playwright Who Saved the American Revolution

de Harlow Giles Unger

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6814376,674 (4.11)9
The outrageous true story of the French plot to supply arms and ammunition to Washington's Continental Army, and the bold French spy, inventor, playwright, and rogue behind it all
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Biography of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, the son of a clockmaker and a gifted inventor, playwright, spy, and supporter of the American Revolution. He led an interesting life and suffered more than his share of calamities, including death of his first wife, imprisonment, others taking credit for his creations, seizure of his assets, censorship, and exile. This book covers his full life – invention of the wristwatch, writing of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, and involvement in both the American and French Revolutions. The bulk of this narrative non-fiction covers his life in France. Toward the end it covers his role as a champion of revolution. It is a sensitive and compassionate view of his life. Many viewed him as a target, much of which was due to the classism of the time. Even though he played such a key role in the American Revolution, at his own expense, the American Congress never reimbursed him or offered any significant recognition. It is too bad his contributions are not better known in America. It seems fitting that he is finally getting the credit he deserves. ( )
  Castlelass | Feb 9, 2023 |
Ressenya escrita per a Crítics Matiners de LibraryThing .
Interesting account of the French role in bankrolling the American Revolution. The chief contributor being the playwrite Monsieur de Beaumarchais. I had only a vague knowledge of Beaumarchais prior to reading this account. I knew of him as a playwrite who influenced French public attitudes during the revolutionary period. I found the book well conceived, fast paced and informative. In the end I was left feeling the US government treated Beaumarchais shabilly at best and certainly has not adequately honored his contribution to the revolutionaries war effort. ( )
  Dmoorela | Jul 3, 2012 |
Ressenya escrita per a Crítics Matiners de LibraryThing .
This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

This book is, in essense, a short biography of Beaumarchais, and on that level, it succeeds relatively well. Beaumarchais was an interesting character who lived an extraordinary life, and the book left me wanting to know more about him, which would be a flaw if the book were trying to do more and be a thorough treatment of his life. The book dwells a little longer on his financial dealings (i.e., arms trading) that played a role in the American Revolution (hence the subtitle) and also tries, albeit sometimes a little too hard, to connect his personal tragedies and philosophies with the motivations behind the fight for American independence. But the book covers the life of Beaumarchais from birth to death, and only during a fairly brief timeframe did the American Revolution play a role. Because of the cursory treatment of most topics, the book is a quick and enjoyable read.

I would also echo a few of the flaws with the book that others have mentioned. The parallels drawn between Beaumarchais and Figaro and the repeated use of this motif grew tiresome for me and seemed somewhat strained at times. On a lesser, but still noticeable, level, there were repeated phrases and descriptions that any moderately alert reader likely will find annoying. In at least one instance, there was a French phrase cited to the same source that was translated in two different ways; a minor hiccup, but one would expect a bit more attention to detail in a non-fiction work. Finally, on the topic of sources, the notes and citations were woefully inadequate. Since this book is more or less a short biography, I would have particularly appreciated, at a minimum, a "Further Reading" section discussing longer, more detailed biographies for those interested in a more exhaustive biography. Although other biographies are cited, it is limited to a citation; there is no indication of which one(s) Mr. Unger found more helpful, dated, biased, or comprehensive.

In sum, if you want a detailed treatment of of the life of Beaumarchais, you won't get it here, but it does serve as a decent and entertaining introduction to the man and the times in which he lived. ( )
  CharlemangeOKeeffe | Mar 6, 2012 |
Ressenya escrita per a Crítics Matiners de LibraryThing .
Visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia, I was surprised to see, hung in the side Chambers room two royal portraits. Turning to the Park Service Ranger in her ‘Smokey the Bear’ hat I asked why there were royals portrayed in this hallowed Revolutionary spot!? Smiling at my British accent she explained that they were of the French King Louis, and his Queen, not English royals at all. I recalled the history of the French support against the English in that particular affair, often forgotten or perhaps not even known of by many Americans, and punned back to her – ”Ah yes, the Funding Founders!”

Through books on George Washington and the Revolutionary War I had learned to admire the Marquis de La Fayette, who became almost a son to General George Washington. But I was not aware there was a further French hero who helped the Americans win their revolution – here is the story of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, better known to us from his works Figaro and the Barber of Seville than for his amazing effort in the funding and arms-supplying to the newly-born America! The son of a clock-maker who hauled himself up as high as royalty by his own bootstraps Pierre is the ultimate republican, as American as apple-pie – yet French. An artistic arriviste, manipulating his way through fortunes, revolutions and marriages but almost personally funding an entire nation in its revolutionary war against a common enemy.

As for our Founding Fathers ….while the Continental Army slowly rotted away by desertion and near starvation in nearby Valley Forge, the snow covered with trails of their bloody foot-prints as only about a third of the army had any shoes, Congress, the author says, indulged in … “the incessant, often infantile backbiting that they euphemistically called congressional debate.” But for the funding of King Louis and the arms supply organized by Ben Franklin and Beaumarchais, the war might well have been lost and American independence never achieved.

Harlow Giles Unger supplies the reader with an easy entry into the complex issue of the war of American independence while detailing the incredible rise and many falls of this talented playwright, a model for his own most famous creation, Figaro.

Never even repaid by Congress for supplying fleet-loads of supplies to the impoverished Army, let alone recognized and honored, Beaumarchais sacrificed not just his own personal fortune (one of several he amazing made and lost) the playwright also lost all civil and citizenship rights through political intrigue in Paris and was at one stage sentenced to face death if he returned to France, his own country – no, not an Improbable Patriot at all, but a courageous one!
1 vota John_Vaughan | Feb 20, 2012 |
Ressenya escrita per a Crítics Matiners de LibraryThing .
This is an often-lively narration of a little-known (at least to the general public) aspect of the American Revolution: just how the military aid from France was financed and put into effect.

However, this is a deeply flawed book. The flaws range from the merely annoying (the near word-for-word repetition of some depictions of events during the War) to the questionable (the close association of Beaumarchais with his most famous creation: Figaro) to the highly suspect (the insufficient evidence for the motivations behind the actions of Beaumarchais). Unger also deals in a fairly cursory fashion with one of the central problems of this entire episode in American history--that is, the controversy of how and whether the US government should pay for the arms and materiel. It would have been better if Unger had focused more on the connection of Beaumarchais to the Revolutionary War and its aftermath and devoted less space and energy to telling us, repeatedly and simplistically, that Beaumarchais was Figaro and Figaro was Beaumarchais.

Despite it's many flaws--or perhaps because of them--it makes a decent point of entry for this aspect of the Revolutionary War. That is, you'll definitely want to know more about Beaumarchais and the circumstances surrounding his rich and varied life. ( )
  cornerhouse | Feb 14, 2012 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 14 (següent | mostra-les totes)
In almost any other age, you might have called Pierre-Augustin Caron an arriviste. He even gave himself the title by which we know him best, when at twenty-four he married the widow of his former boss Pierre-Augustin Franquet and, in the process, picked up an estate twenty-five miles south of Paris formerly belonging to a man named Beaumarchet. It did not take long for a young man on the rise to parley this into the officially recognized moniker “de Beaumarchais.” So began the steep ascent to fame and wealth, although by the time of his death in 1799 his fortunes had plummeted in the wake of the Revolution.
afegit per John_Vaughan | editaNew Criterion, Pat Rogers (Web de pagament) (Dec 28, 2011)
Though best known for his comic operas, like The Barber of Seville, Pierre de Beaumarchais delivered critical support to American rebels, writes historian Unger (American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution), and he makes a convincing case. Though always musically inclined, Beaumarchais, the gifted son of a clockmaker, as a young man invented the small mechanism that made the first wristwatch possible. This, plus charm and musical talent, won him royal favor, wealth, and enemies. Harassed and often imprisoned by powerful aristocrats, he responded with satirical writings, which made him famous. After Britain's North American colonies rebelled in 1775, Beaumarchais convinced reluctant royal officials to support them. With a large government loan, he set up a private company that made no profits (because the Continental Congress never paid), but which shipped arms that may have turned the tide at critical moments such as at Saratoga in 1777. Beaumarchais's literary wit translates poorly here, but readers will probably agree that he was the "most underrated French hero of the American Revolution." 38 illus. (Sept.)
afegit per libri_amor | editaPublishers Weekly (Jun 20, 2011)
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The outrageous true story of the French plot to supply arms and ammunition to Washington's Continental Army, and the bold French spy, inventor, playwright, and rogue behind it all

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