The French Connection: The Best Books on the Franco-American Alliance During the American Revolution

When the American Revolution began, the odds were stacked against the rebels. With just militiamen with varying degrees of training to put into the field against the best-trained military in the world, the Americans needed help. To get the aid they so desperately required, they turned to an unlikely source: the absolutist monarchy of France.

The Franco-American alliance during the American Revolution is one of my favorite topics to read about. So I thought I’d compile a list of books that I’ve enjoyed for those interested in this as well.

From Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to fascinating and little-known stories, these books have something for everyone. So, whether you’re a history nerd, a book lover, or just intrigued by this turn of historical events, these three books are sure to please.

Hero of Two Worlds

Written by best-selling author and esteemed podcaster Mike Duncan, Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution chronicles the revolutionary life of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, aka the Marquis de Lafayette.

Though the book tells the story of Lafayette’s life, Duncan focuses mainly on his roles in the Franco-American alliance during the American Revolution

Beginning with his journey to the rebelling British colonies as a plucky, cash-poor teenage nobleman, we follow Lafayette as he enlists in the American forces, serves under George Washington, and develops the ideology that would guide his decisions for the rest of his life.

While in Washington’s service, the commander of the American forces became a surrogate father to Lafayette. The young aristocrat was enthralled (as most were) by Washington’s stoicism and republican ideals. Though he was never able to gain the control over his emotions that Washington had, he now had a man he could look up to and emulate.

Following the end of the American Revolution, Lafayette returned to France. When that nation’s revolution began, Lafayette served in both political and military bodies. His ultimate aim for the French Revolution was to establish a constitutional monarchy in France, akin to the one in power in Britain (ironic as that might be).

Using his characteristic blend of deft historical storytelling and dorky humor, Duncan takes us on this thrilling ride, exploring Lafayette’s victories and defeats. By the end, you’ll feel like you’ve met the great revolutionary.

A Great Improvisation

In A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Stacy Schiff offers an in-depth look into Benjamin Franklin’s diplomatic mission to France.

The Franco-American alliance during the American RevolutionTasked with winning over King Louis XVI to the American cause, Franklin arrived in France in December 1776. Though he was far from fluent in French, Franklin proved to be a complete cult of personality. Through savvy social maneuvering, deft diplomatic skills, and sheer force of intelligence, Franklin became a crucial piece to the American war effort during his French mission.

Few stories illustrate Franklin’s uncanny ability to win hearts and minds more than that of the coiffure à la Franklin. When Franklin arrived in Paris, he began leaning into the rustic image most French aristocrats had of Americans by wearing a fur-skin cap everywhere he went. As his fame in Louis’s court grew, aristocratic women began styling their hair to look like Franklin’s famous fur cap.

Stories like this one dominate the history of Franklin’s time in Paris and his role in The Franco-American alliance during the American Revolution. There are few better authors to tell these stories than Stacy Schiff.

    How the French Saved America

From the very start of the American Revolution, the Continental Congress knew they’d need international allies to win the war. Luckily for them, France stepped up to the plate.

The Franco-American alliance during the American RevolutionThough they helped the rebelling colonies to weaken their traditional enemy rather than out of an affinity for their republican ideals, the French proved crucial to the American war effort.

In How the French Saved America: Soldiers, Sailors, Diplomats, Louis XVI, and the Success of a Revolution, we get to know the French leader and military men who fought and sometimes died, during the American Revolution.

Author Tom Shachtman does a fantastic job of not only telling the story of the French involvement in the war but also showing the extent to which the French helped. I, for one, was surprised to learn that 1-in-10 soldiers who died fighting the British were French.

But it wasn’t just manpower. The French helped pay the salaries of American soldiers, provided arms and ammunition, and, perhaps most importantly, sent a fleet of naval ships to combat Britain’s naval supremacy.

If you want to know if the Americans could have won the Revolutionary War without the French, give this book a read.

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