Monday, October 09, 2006

With Americans of Past and Present Days - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1917

With Americans of Past and Present Days
by: J.J. Jusserand
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916
New York:, 2000

With Americans of Past and Present Days is a fascinating book about American and French relationships from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War. Jusserand, a Frenchman himself, spends the main portion of the book discussing the Revolutionary War. The first section is about the French general Rochambeau. Rochambeau led the French troops who came to the aid of the Americans during the Revolution. The second section is about Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant who was chosen to plan the capitol city of the new nation. Because an existing city could not be agreed upon for the capitol of the United States, it was decided that a new city would be planned from scratch. L'Enfant, known for his grandiose plans and difficult disposition was chosen to plan the capitol city. The third section discusses George Washington and his relationship to the French. Although he never visited France himself, he remained quite close to many of the French officers who helped to fight for independence. The fourth section is a brief chapter on the French views of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. It makes clear that the French highly respected Lincoln for his desire to abolish slavery. The fifth section is an oddly placed chapter including the script of a speech where a medal was commissioned in 1906 commemorating the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and the French, to be given as a gift to France. The sixth section is an address delivered in the name of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, January 17, 1913 (given by the author?). It seemed out of place because it was about Horace Howard Furness (an American I have never heard of) who wrote much of the early commentary on Shakespeare. The only reason it is included is that he gave much credit to the French critics of Shakespeare. Apparently, up until this point, only English critics of Shakespeare had been considered credible. The final chapter is the manuscript of an address delivered before the American Society for the Judicial Settlement of International Disputes, December 17, 1910 discussing the attempts of several countries to join together to promote peace and disarmament. Included at the end of the chapter is an interesting note concerning the early stages of World War I in which Germany refused to disarm.
This book provides great insight into the United States' early relationships with France. It discusses the affect that the American Revolution had on the French Revolution and gives many interesting insights from a French point of view, something not usually mentioned in American History classes.
I think that reading the book online helped to keep it from seeming too disjointed. The last several chapters are particularly random, and it took a little while to figure out their relevance in the book. The author also assumed that the reader understands French, so many quotations are not translated into English. He also assumes that the reader knows who certain people are and mentions them without explaining their significance. I noticed that I sometimes had trouble telling where a direct quote ended and also that the author would switch between past and present tense and first and third person.
On the whole, the book was quite interesting. It brought forth some perspectives that I had never considered and was a pretty easy read. I think it would be especially helpful for someone researching French/American relationships throughout history.

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