How the French Saved America

Give credit to France for the forming of our nation because without their help we might still be, as stereotypes go, eating crumpets, drinking tea and speaking with British accents.

That’s the focus of a new book by noted author Tom Shachtman in his latest book How the French Saved America: Soldiers, Sailors, Diplomats, Louis Xvi, and The Success of a Revolution (St. Martin’s Press 2017; $27.99).

While many of us know about the Marquis de Lafayette whose help during the Revolutionary War was so vital that we’ve named cities after him–Lafayette, Indiana and Louisiana come quickly to mind. But the Marquis wasn’t the only Frenchman who risked his life to help America achieve its independence. Indeed, according to Shachtman in his extensively researched and wonderfully written book, almost ten percent of those who perished fighting for our cause were from France.

Those surviving include not only Lafayette but also Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse, commander of the French fleet during the Battle of the Chesapeake.  He and his men created a naval blockade of Yorktown thus allowing General George Washington and yet another Frenchman, Comte de Rochambeau, to defeat British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis in what was a decisive battle. Another, Louis Duportail founded the Army Corps of Engineers.

Even Shachtman, who has written or co-authored more than thirty books as well as documentaries for ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and BBC, taught at New York University and lectured at Harvard, Stanford and the Library of Congress, at first didn’t realize how much the French impacted America’s victory. He first became aware of France’s significance when writing another book Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries: The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment and decided to pursue the subject. The assistance the French provided included, among a long list, money to pay our troops, weapons, safe harbor for privateers, troops, battlefield leadership and engineering expertise.

So why is France’s contribution not better known?

“We are too invested in our own myths to acknowledge how much we owe our freedom to France,” says Shachtman, noting our belief in our rugged individualism and self-sufficiency could also play a big part. “The war might not have been won at all, or not been won by 1783 if not for the French.”

Ifyougo:

What: Tom Shachtman has three talks and book signings in the Chicago area.

When: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 6 pm

Where: The Newberry, 60 W. Walton St., Chicago, IL

FYI: 312-255-3610; publicprograms@newberry.org

What: Learn & Lunch with Tom Shachtman

When: Wednesday, October 18 at noon

Where: University Club of Chicago, 76 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL

FYI: 847-446-8880 to make a reservation

What: Tom Shachtman Reading & Signing

When: Thu. October 19 at 7pm

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL

FYI: (773) 293-2665

 

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Sportscaster pens book about the winning Cubs ‘plan’

With his team unable to win a World Series in over a century, the new owner and president of the Chicago Cubs came up with a radical way of transforming the most lovable losers into a powerhouse of a team.

His audacious plan was to tear down and rebuild the team. Many in the sports industry as well as avid fans were skeptical, but not Chicago sportscaster David Kaplan, a true believer from the very start.

In his recently released book, “The Plan: Epstein, Maddon, and the Audacious Blueprint for a Cubs Dynasty” (Triumph 2017; $24.95), Kaplan shows how the Cubbies went from perennial losers to the ultimate champs.

“I have been doing pre- and post-games since 1996 and I saw the real problems with the infrastructure of the Cub,” says Kaplan, a three-time Emmy winner, current host of “Kap and Co.” on ESPN Radio 1000 and co-host of “Sports Talk Live” and the Chicago Cubs pre- and post-game shows on Comcast SportsNet.

The plan began when the Ricketts family bought the Cubs and then were willing to spend the megabucks it would take to build the team into what at the time seemed unachievable — winners of the World Series.

The first step was hiring Theo Epstein, credited with turning around the Red Sox when he was their general manager, as the new Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations. Along with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, the two added new players such as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, creating a powerhouse team.

But it wasn’t without pain — a whole lot of pain.

“They needed to do it,” Kaplan says. “It would have been like taking a really nasty house and just doing cosmetic changes instead of taking it down to the studs. It was a rare thing to have an owner like Tom Ricketts who bought into what the two wanted to do.”

Kaplan, who played football and baseball in college and then worked for years as a basketball coach and then scout f

or the NBA, says he grew up going to Cubs games with his father.

 

“I grew up a Cubs fan, I am a Cubs fan, and I’ll die a Cubs fan,” says Kaplan, who believes that unlike most teams, Cubs’ love is intergenerational.

When Kaplan got a call from his agent saying a publisher wanted him to write a book on the 2016 Cubs, he turned down the offer.

“My agent said, ‘You’ve got to do this; you have the access,’ ” recalls Kaplan, who didn’t want to write a typical fan book. “So I said, ‘Get the publisher on the phone.’ ”

But the publisher wasn’t sure about Kaplan writing a book about “The Plan.”

“He said no one will want to read about ‘The Plan,’ if the it doesn’t work,” Kaplan says.

But Kaplan saw similarities with other teams who had turned around and won a championship and so convinced the publisher they should go for it.

Did Kaplan, while writing the book and watching the 2016 series unfold, ever have doubts? Not for a moment, he says.

The day after the final game, Kaplan went out to the cemetery to tell his father the Cubs had finally won the World Series — a happening he says was an end to “108 years of insanity.” While standing at his father’s grave he noticed something amazing.

“There had to be 300 graves with “W” flags or Cubs pennants on them,” he says. Driving back to work he spotted other cemeteries as well filled with homages to the team’s victory.

“It was unbelievable,” he says.

But then, in ways, so was the Cubs finally winning the World Series.

If you go

What: Reading and book-signing with David Kaplan

When: 7 p.m. July 12

Where: The Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago

Cost: Free

FYI: 773-293-2665