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When the United States Spoke French

Best Seller
When the United States Spoke French by Francois Furstenberg
Paperback $20.00
Jun 30, 2015 | ISBN 9780143127451

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  • Jun 30, 2015 | ISBN 9780143127451

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  • Jul 10, 2014 | ISBN 9780698163775

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The Wall Street Journal:“[A] fascinating account of French involvement in the economic and cultural life of the young American Republic…. Mr. Furstenberg has the vision to encompass a broad pageant in this splendid book, which combines erudition and great flair.”Seattle Times:“Furstenberg opens a window into a lost world of glittering Philadelphian dinner parties, rough backwoodsmen speaking French and homesick émigrés. It’s a fascinating portrait of the diplomatic intrigue between France and England for power and position, with the United States displaying a disconcertingly astute aptitude for playing them off against each other. When the United States Spoke French is essential reading for understanding the complex relationship between France and the United States that, to this day, endures.”JHU Gazette:“A fascinating examination of the United States at a pivotal moment in history that is as broadly sweeping and narratively captivating as a historical novel.”Publishers Weekly:“A lush social and cultural history of French influences…riveting.”Kirkus Reviews:“Furstenberg expands the historical outlook of the 18th century’s great upheavals and shows the global effects of the Enlightenment. The author studies five former members of the French Assemblée Constituante who became refugees in Philadelphia…Though they were here to escape and to advance their personal fortunes, along the way, they helped the young country survive…[When the United States Spoke French is] a bright, absorbing account of a short period in history that still resounds today.”

Author Essay

Dear Reader,

It’s a thrilling experience to see the publication of my book: it’s the end of a long, ten-year journey for me. Or perhaps it’s been even longer.

The book follows the adventures of five eminent Frenchmen who fled to the United States during the French Revolution, and lived in exile for a few years in the mid-1790s, during an epochal time of war and revolution through the Atlantic World. As we explore the United States through their eyes, we see familiar scenes from a different perspective. We discover a capital city awash with French people, French goods, and French manners. We see a nation buffeted by war, its sovereignty threatened by European empires and Native peoples alike. And we see the complex ways that United States was shaped by the vast global forces of the age.

My own adventures writing the book paralleled those of my characters in a strange way. In a sense, it began with my own expatriation.

The idea originally came to me when I moved to Montreal in the summer of 2003 to take up my first job as a professor of history at the Université de Montréal – a francophone institution. Although my mother is French and I grew up speaking French at home, I was born, raised, and educated in the United States. But now here I was in a part of America that really did speak French, and it gave me the inspiration to start thinking about my own field – U.S. history – from the outside.

What I thought would be a simple book about a few émigrés in Philadelphia, and about the connections between the French and American Revolutions, quickly mushroomed into something much bigger. It became clear to me that the relationship between France and the United States in the 1790s could not be understood without reference to the larger Atlantic World – to imperial conflict between France and Britain, and to the economic centrality of the Caribbean to everyone.

I gradually discovered a story whose contours I only barely perceived at the outset. My transatlantic travellers took me deep into the American continental interior, revealing a story about reckless land speculation, bitterly-contested continental expansion, international capital flows, and the consolidation of an American empire ironically founded on the liberation of Haitian slaves.

So my characters’ journeys led me on a journey of my own. I completed the book just as I moved back to the United States, coming full circle in a sense.

Thank you for your interest in the book. I certainly hope that you’ll find the ride as thrilling as I did.

Happy reading,

François Furstenberg

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