The old saying that politics makes strange bedfellows is even truer when applied to international politics. Most Americans know that during the American Revolution the Continental Congress negotiated with France for military assistance against the British, and that this support was crucial to the eventual American victory. How this alliance between a band of democratic rebels and the most autocratic monarchy in Europe came to be is the fascinating story told in Joel Richard Paul’s Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution.

The hero of this true-life tale is Silas Deane, a member of the Continental Congress who was sent to France without money, standing or assistance, to convince the court of Louis XVI to aid the colonists in their rebellion. To all observers, including the British spies (who knew all about it, thanks to a double agent who was Deane’s closest confidante), it was an impossible mission—especially since Deane spoke no French. But Deane encountered an unexpected ally in Caron de Beaumarchais, a former playwright with an unusual source of leverage with the king—a relationship with a cross-dressing former spy privy to France’s greatest secret. What resulted was a bizarre mix of plots, accusations, clandestine meetings, political infighting, lies, betrayals, love affairs and even murder.

Carefully researched from Deane’s own papers and the accounts of his contemporaries (including Benjamin Franklin), Unlikely Allies is an astonishing look at the sometimes seedy side of our country’s founding—a side in which a good man doing an impossible job would be painted with the brush of “traitor,” losing his fortune, his family, his sacred honor and at last his life in service to the land he loved. Paul tells the story with the skill of a novelist, crafting a compelling tale with engaging characters, intriguing twists and a surprise ending, without having to make anything up. Now that is history!

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