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The #1 bestseller that tells the remarkable story of the generations of American artists, writers, and doctors who traveled to Paris, the intellectual, scientific, and artistic capital of the western world, fell in love with the city and its people, and changed America through what they learned, told by America’s master historian, David McCullough.

Not all pioneers went west.

In The Greater Journey, David McCullough tells the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, and others who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, hungry to learn and to excel in their work. What they achieved would profoundly alter American history.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, whose encounters with black students at the Sorbonne inspired him to become the most powerful voice for abolition in the US Senate. Friends James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Morse not only painting what would be his masterpiece, but also bringing home his momentous idea for the telegraph. Harriet Beecher Stowe traveled to Paris to escape the controversy generated by her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Three of the greatest American artists ever—sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent—flourished in Paris, inspired by French masters.

Almost forgotten today, the heroic American ambassador Elihu Washburne bravely remained at his post through the Franco-Prussian War, the long Siege of Paris, and the nightmare of the Commune. His vivid diary account of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris is published here for the first time.

Telling their stories with power and intimacy, McCullough brings us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens’ phrase, longed “to soar into the blue.

Topics: Paris, United States of America, Gilded Age, Belle Epoque , Informative, Art & Artists, American History, French History, Architecture, Writers, Expat Life, Doctors, and Creativity

Published: Simon & Schuster on May 24, 2011
ISBN: 9781416576891
List price: $13.99
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McCullough's gimmick of gathering notables who spent time in Paris in the 18th century provides a structure for mini-biographies. The mini-biographies alone do not make the book worth reading, since the profiles are pretty dry, overly dependent on the principals' own letters, which by their very nature are of course skewed to what the letter-writers wanted the readers to know. What makes the book worthwhile, I guess, is the overall context it provides for what Paris meant to the Americans who visited, so that from now on, when I read of an American of that century visiting Paris, I will have a better idea of how to picture their experience there. Also, the history of Paris that played out as the background to the American visits provided hints to some historical references I have never understood before. Overall, however, I felt this book contained some great material that would have been more enlightening if reframed as the history of Paris through the eyes of Americans, along with additional insights into the experience of Paris, the lasting impact of Paris, to the American visitors. That would have allowed the author to retain the story of Elihu Washburne, witness to the German siege of Paris and the takevoer by the Communards. And much other material could have been retained, with a focus on the Americans' experience of Paris itself, versus a focus on what they happened to be doing while they were there. The medical chapters, for example, which provided as much description of the French physicians as of the Americans, could have been retained in their current format. Meanwhile, entire mini-biographies, which seemed to have nothing to say about the city of Paris itself, could have been dropped or greatly shortened or reframed, so that they had more to say about Paris, and less to say about whatever painting the American happened to be painting at the time. As is, the book was well-organized and well-written research material, devoid of insight and analysis.read more
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Not an easy read, but full of history!read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book starts out a bit muddy, a torrent of different experiences and personalities coursing through a common place, the city of Paris. Brief glimpses of individual stories come to the surface, and then are pulled back into the flood. Eventually the deluge branches into deeper stories of individuals. When David McCullough spends time on the individuals, slowly meandering through the eddies and backwaters, this becomes a truly remarkable book. The individuals that particularly stood out to me were Ambassador Elihu Washburne, an individual of particular character during a tumultuous time, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and the creative processes that he went through. Other's stories are interesting, like Samuel Morse and John Singer Sargent, but they pass all to quickly.I strongly recommend this book, but beware the rapids at the beginning before you reach the greater journey downstream.read more
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McCullough's gimmick of gathering notables who spent time in Paris in the 18th century provides a structure for mini-biographies. The mini-biographies alone do not make the book worth reading, since the profiles are pretty dry, overly dependent on the principals' own letters, which by their very nature are of course skewed to what the letter-writers wanted the readers to know. What makes the book worthwhile, I guess, is the overall context it provides for what Paris meant to the Americans who visited, so that from now on, when I read of an American of that century visiting Paris, I will have a better idea of how to picture their experience there. Also, the history of Paris that played out as the background to the American visits provided hints to some historical references I have never understood before. Overall, however, I felt this book contained some great material that would have been more enlightening if reframed as the history of Paris through the eyes of Americans, along with additional insights into the experience of Paris, the lasting impact of Paris, to the American visitors. That would have allowed the author to retain the story of Elihu Washburne, witness to the German siege of Paris and the takevoer by the Communards. And much other material could have been retained, with a focus on the Americans' experience of Paris itself, versus a focus on what they happened to be doing while they were there. The medical chapters, for example, which provided as much description of the French physicians as of the Americans, could have been retained in their current format. Meanwhile, entire mini-biographies, which seemed to have nothing to say about the city of Paris itself, could have been dropped or greatly shortened or reframed, so that they had more to say about Paris, and less to say about whatever painting the American happened to be painting at the time. As is, the book was well-organized and well-written research material, devoid of insight and analysis.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Not an easy read, but full of history!
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book starts out a bit muddy, a torrent of different experiences and personalities coursing through a common place, the city of Paris. Brief glimpses of individual stories come to the surface, and then are pulled back into the flood. Eventually the deluge branches into deeper stories of individuals. When David McCullough spends time on the individuals, slowly meandering through the eddies and backwaters, this becomes a truly remarkable book. The individuals that particularly stood out to me were Ambassador Elihu Washburne, an individual of particular character during a tumultuous time, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and the creative processes that he went through. Other's stories are interesting, like Samuel Morse and John Singer Sargent, but they pass all to quickly.I strongly recommend this book, but beware the rapids at the beginning before you reach the greater journey downstream.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
David McCullough is the Thomas Kinkade of non-fiction, a masterful inspirational storyteller. This time, McCullough offers his American readers an introduction to 19th century French history, made enjoyable by presenting it through Yankee eyes. The growing disconnect between Europe and the US is certainly a result of the diminishing impact of New England on the United States. McCullough's men and women who establish and keep up their European connection come mostly from New England. Seeking education and culture, they reverse the journey of their ancestors, traveling from the New World back to the Old one. McCullough's description of the journey from the ships to the gates of Paris (in oversized coaches) is simply a joy to read.Amidst a huge cast of characters, it is the life of three men that stood out for me. Firstly, Samuel Morse who turned from failed painter to successful inventor. Then, minister/ambassador Elihu Washburne whose discovery of and trust in US Grant might have saved the country acted splendidly during the Franco-Prussian War and the dreadful days of the Paris Commune. Finally, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sculptor of the Robert G. Shaw memorial in Boston, the Sherman statue in New York and the Adams Memorial in Washington, DC. Through their eyes and lives, the reader is supplied with the essentials of the turbulent French history from the 1830s to 1900. Sometimes, McCullough misses obvious connections - scolding Napoleon III for not having achieved the rank of colonel without mentioning that he attended the Swiss military academy and served as a major. (higher than US Grant's rank of captain) An obvious connection would have been his input to the so called Napoleon gun, the workhorse of the US Civil War. Overall, a worthy addition to McCullough's stable of wonderful books.
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An interesting look into a few American expats that journeyed to Paris in the 19th century. Certainly not as interesting as those Americans that went in the 20th, a good read nonetheless.
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Fascinating stories of both famous and less famous Americans who went to Paris to study. Many of these Americans who we know by name become fleshed out with their personal stories and idiosyncrasies are told so well by the author. Most interesting were the colonists who made the trip which was both a hardship financially and in physical comfort. The book ended abruptly with Mary Cassette.
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