Standing on a Volcano: The Life and Times of David Rowland Francis

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Missouri Historical Society Press, 2001 - 478 pages
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David R. Francis was a brash, plain-spoken man whose political savvy guided him to positions of prominence at all levels of American government. He served as both mayor of St. Louis and governor of Missouri, and later entered national and international politics as ambassador to Russia from 1916 to 1918.

Appointed to that post by President Woodrow Wilson, Francis possessed a background in agricultural trade and banking and also impressed Wilson with his experience wooing heads of state as president of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. As U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Francis went on to confront the impossible task of hammering out a trade treaty with the country while revolutions and World War I raged.

This challenge and others are recounted in the biography, Standing on a Volcano: The Life and Times of David R. Francis, by accomplished St. Louis journalist Harper Barnes. In this fascinating book, Barnes discusses how Russia’s internal volatility frustrated the diplomatic efforts of Francis, a maverick statesman who sympathized with Russia’s poor and sought to stall the Bolshevik uprising. Though criticized by some historians for bold, unthinking calls for American intervention—advice President Wilson dismissed—Francis showed an unflagging commitment to Russia and to the hope of ushering in a democratic government.

Despite his mixed legacy, that Francis remains a figure of great historical significance locally, nationally, and internationally is evidenced at the Museum of the Diplomatic Corps in Vologda, Russia, where he is the primary subject. St. Louisans and U.S. history buffs alike will marvel at the man and his story.

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About the author (2001)

Harper Barnes is a longtime editor and cultural critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He edited the Boston Phoenix, has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, and other publications, and served in the U.S. Army as a Russian linguist.

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