Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guest Review: The Greater Journey

 Summary: 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.

Two staunch friends, James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse, worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Cooper writing and Morse painting what would be his masterpiece. From something he saw in France, Morse would also bring home his momentous idea for the telegraph.

Pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk from New Orleans launched his spectacular career performing in Paris at age 15. George P. A. Healy, who had almost no money and little education, took the gamble of a lifetime and with no prospects whatsoever in Paris became one of the most celebrated portrait painters of the day. His subjects included Abraham Lincoln.

Medical student Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote home of his toil and the exhilaration in "being at the center of things" in what was then the medical capital of the world. From all they learned in Paris, Holmes and his fellow "medicals" were to exert lasting influence on the profession of medicine in the United States.

Writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Henry James were all "discovering" Paris, marveling at the treasures in the Louvre, or out with the Sunday throngs strolling the city's boulevards and gardens. "At last I have come into a dreamland," wrote Harriet Beecher Stowe, seeking escape from the notoriety Uncle Tom's Cabin had brought her. 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 even more atrocious nightmare of the Commune. His vivid account in his diary of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris (drawn on here for the first time) is one readers will never forget. The genius of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the son of an immigrant shoemaker, and of painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent, three of the greatest American artists ever, would flourish in Paris, inspired by the examples of brilliant French masters, and by Paris itself.

Nearly all of these Americans, whatever their troubles learning French, their spells of homesickness, and their suffering in the raw cold winters by the Seine, spent many of the happiest days and nights of their lives in Paris. McCullough tells this sweeping, fascinating story with power and intimacy, bringing us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens's phrase, longed "to soar into the blue." The Greater Journey is itself a masterpiece. -- Simon and Schuster

THE GREATER JOURNEY: AMERICANS IN PARIS by David McCullough is exactly the type of book that my dad, Booking Pap Pap, loves to read. He is a huge fan of Mr. McCullough's and he has been waiting for his latest book for quite some time. Here are his thoughts:

When my daughter asked me to review THE GREATER JOURNEY: AMERICANS IN PARIS by David McCullough I was pretty excited since McCullough’s THE JOHNSTOWN FLOOD, TRUMAN and JOHN ADAMS are three of my favorite books. To me, THE GREATER JOURNEY did not rise up to the level of these three novels, but was still an excellent book.

The novel covers the period from 1930 until the turn of the century when many Americans in art, education, literature, music, medicine and science traveled to Paris seeking experiences and inspiration not available in the United States. As a perspective, during this period the United States was dealing with the Indian Wars and later the Civil War.

McCullough pieces together a collection of stories and characters that brings Paris to life during this 70 year period. The author shares with the reader stories about many Americans who came to Paris but the main character of the story is the city of Paris. McCullough tells of the beauty of Paris in the spring and how Paris was transformed politically, economically and socially during that 70 year period. The reader gets to learn of the difficulty of the survival of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and the destruction of the Paris Commune which politically controlled Paris for a brief period in 1871. The reader is entertained with the stories of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty and gets a feel of the importance of Paris as a world city.

The first American travelers to Paris were young ambitious men but in time many women followed. McCullough tells great stories about Mary Cassatt, a great impressionist painter; Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American female doctor; Margaret Fuller, a feminist and the first American professional writer to visit Paris; Emma Willard, a schoolmaster; and Harriet Beecher Stowe, trying to escape from her fame in the United States. Some of the more interesting stories of men in the book include Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. who brought to the U.S. techniques from Paris that revolutionized medicine; Samuel Morse, a painter turned inventor; August Saint-GaudensWashburne, U.S. Ambassador to France whose diary provided significant details about the suffering in Paris during the Prussian siege. There were also interesting accounts of visits to Paris by Mark Twain, P.T. Barnum and Tom Thumb, and Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.

Although the book is about Americans in Paris, McCullough includes famous French characters like Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution; King Louis-Philippe, who traveled the United States extensively during his exile and Prince Louis Bonaparte, ruler of the Second Republic.

In THE GREATER JOURNEY McCullough does a brilliant job of piecing together various unconnected stories of famous Americans in Paris by placing the characters within the history of Paris. Through his detailed research and entertaining writing style McCullough helps the reader understand the influence of Paris science, medicine, music, literature, education and art on the United States.

If you are interested in understanding the influence Paris had on America and in learning about the struggles and achievements of several Americans who traveled to Paris in the nineteenth century to fulfill their dreams, then you should read THE GREATER JOURNEY.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of THE GREATER JOURNEY and for Booking Pap Pap for his insightful review.


bermudaonion said...

The subject of this book sounds very interesting to me, but I have to admit to being somewhat intimidated by McCullough's work.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This does sound good. I have not liked the two McCullough books I read previously, but this one sounds better!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I have not read anything by this author before