Benjamin Franklin’s dramatic role in American history

Rachel Cohen reviews, as part of History Week at Slate, A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America by Stacy Schiff:

FranklinThe avid reader of biographies has of late plunged into so many studies that begin, like certain realist novels, with the subject’s grandparents and their immigration, followed inevitably by chapters on “initial obstacles” and “first successes,” and then by wearying passages on “maturity” and “flaws,” that Schiff’s choice to present her biography not as if it were a novel, but with a sense of theater, comes as a welcome change. Schiff has thought through the form carefully and creatively, deciding on a version of the Aristotelian dramatic principle that there should be a unity of time and place in the unfolding of her story. The setting, then, is Paris in the years between 1776 and 1785, and each chapter of the book traces a year or 18 months of that period.

More here.