Norman Desmarais, professor emeritus at Providence College, is one of America’s most important scholars of French involvement in the American Revolution. Desmarais has long researched and written extensively on the topic. His translation of the Gazette Françoise, the French-language newspaper published in Rhode Island by the French fleet that brought Rochambeau and his troops to America in 1780, brought one of most interesting primary documents of that time period to life.
America’s First Ally, Norm’s newest book, is a useful reference tool showing just how important French aid was to the American colonies. Information about French aid coming as early as 1775, long before their official entry into the war, is a crucial part of the book. Details about the French outfitters, merchants and naval assistance bring forward some new information.
Casemate is a leading publisher in the fields of military history, defense studies, and military science, and Norm’s careful research for this book forms an important resource for present and future generations. As such, fans of Norm’s lively and well-written articles for JAR may be surprised by my suggestion to read his new book backwards.
I would have opened America’s First Ally with the current Epilogue which is beautifully written and captures the essence of what the book really is about, and then presented Chapter 5. As it is currently laid out, the book has no “hook.” The current introduction focuses on the contributions of the French Enlightenment thinkers to the American and French revolutions, and Chapters 1 and 2 function as lists and inventories, featuring detailed scholarly accounts of what each ship carrying goods from France contained. This is useful information for scholars and researchers, but better suited for an appendix.
America’s First Ally focuses on details of French aid in the Revolutionary War, contributing greatly to our understanding of the war as an international conflict, and strengthening our appreciation of that country’s role in America’s independence. If you need a reference book detailing what French investors, the French navy and soldiers did for the American Revolution, this is a good place to begin.
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