Wed 4 Jan 2012
I need to say at the outset of this post that I am a big fan of the work of author/historian David McCullough. Mr. McCullough’s biographies of Presidents Harry Truman and John Adams are among my all time favorite books. So you can imagine how excited I was to read Mr. McCullough’s latest book, The Greater Journey – Americans in Paris.
At nearly 600 pages this was not a quick read – I started reading this book back in October and carried it around on my Kindle reading it here and there, but was very happy to have found enough time over the holidays to finish it. I must say that I enjoyed it very much and learned a lot about people and our collective history which I did not know much if anything about before.
The Greater Journey – Americans in Paris focuses on Americans who went to Paris to broaden themselves in the 19th century and returned to our young country to help America become a true heir to the culture of the old world and the great innovative leader of the new.
About The Greater Journey – Americans in Paris: “The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work. After risking the hazardous journey across the Atlantic, these Americans embarked on a greater journey in the City of Light. Most had never left home, never experienced a different culture. None had any guarantee of success. That they achieved so much for themselves and their country profoundly altered American history. As David McCullough writes, ‘Not all pioneers went west.’ Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, who enrolled at the Sorbonne because of a burning desire to know more about everything. There he saw black students with the same ambition he had, and when he returned home, he would become the most powerful, unyielding voice for abolition in the U.S. Senate, almost at the cost of his life.”
The stories of these individuals are compelling, as is the backdrop of the amazing city of Paris and the ups and downs of the French leaders and governments (something I confess I knew very little about in this time period).
Among the great Americans whose stories are told here are James Fennimore Cooper and Samuel Morse. The former arguably the first great American novelists, the later a great inventor (as in the telegraph and his Morse Code) and surprisingly – as recounted here – a great artist.
There are large passages in this book that read like a novel and the stories Mr. McCullough chooses are a worthy and interesting.
The Greater Journey is a must for any McCullough fan; anyone interested in American history; and just about anyone who likes a well-researched and well-written book about interesting people making a difference during a fascinating era in history.