Friday, September 2, 2011

The Greater Journey

I have just finished David McCullough's new book, "The Greater Journey, Americans in  Paris".  I am a big David McCullough fan, having read his books on Truman and John Adams, both of which I loved.   I did not care quite as much for this one, although it is an excellent book.  It deals with the influence that living and working in France, (mainly Paris) had on several generations of Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is a time when our country was quite new and finding it's way toward a national identity and character.  Since we had no history or background to draw on, many artists and writers looked to the Old World for guidance and inspiration and the superior instruction available in the ateliers and workshops there, as well as the advanced medical practices and facilities.

The list is quite amazing:  James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel F.B. Morse,  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Mary Cassatt, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Singer Sargent, Charles Sumner, and on and on.  I was struck by the common feeling they all seemed to share of the magic of Paris.  It had a profound influence on all of them and despite the hardships of ocean travel in the early days, homesickness, money problems and other obstacles, many of them made several trips to visit and study.

One gets a feel for the turbulent political climate of France in those days....the Franco-Prussian War, the  Siege of Paris and the awful days of the Commune. I learned of our heroic American ambassador, Elihu Washburne, who refused to abandon his post throughout this trying period despite the  terrible conditions and his own ill health. There are accounts of the exciting Universal Expositions, where all the wonders of modern technology, art and science were on display.  This book was a kind of eye-opener for me.  I knew that many Americans had traveled and studied in France, but I had never before realized the extent to which their experiences had shaped and influenced them.

I can recommend this book.  It is well researched and full of interesting anecdotes as David McCullough's books always are.  Four-and-a-half stars, I think.

The Greater Journey          David McCullough    Simon & Schuster

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm, maybe a book that Jack should read before he leaves for Paris this fall, Jeannie.