I love history and travel and feel the two go hand in hand. I really enjoy reading about the history of places I have lived or visited, especially Paris. David McCullough’s The Greater Journey Americans in Paris, not only gives us a feeling of what Paris was like between 1830 and 1900, but tells various stories of the many Americans who in the early 1830’s braved the rough seas on sailing ships to live in a country whose language and culture they knew nothing about, with ambitions to learn and excel in their field of work, and in some cases profoundly impact American history itself.
Many traveled to further their medial careers, since Paris was considered at that time the most advanced in medicine in the entire world. He tells the story of Elizabeth Maxwell, the first female physician in the United States, and Oliver Wendell Holmes and his colleagues who had a lasting effect on how medicine was practiced upon their return home.
He tells of writers, James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mark Twain, and the influence their visits to Paris had on their work.
He covers extensively the artist’s journey of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, born to a French father and Irish mother, who immigrated to the United States at 6 months old. He was trained at the École des Beaux-Arts, and is probably best known for, among many of his sculptures, a monument to Civil War Admiral David Farragut, in New York’s Madison Square and his Diane created as a weathervane for the second Madison Square Garden Building in New York City. We learn of Samuel F.B. Morse’s journey and his ambitious works, of painting vistas of the Louvre Museum. In the late 1800’s we became familiar with the journeys of John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt.
Probably the most mind boggling is the heroic account of American ambassador Elihu Washburne, who remained at his post during the Franco-Prussian War, the Siege of Paris and the horrific Commune. His accounts of the suffering of the people of Paris in this moment of history are haunting.
David McCullough is a treasure. His extensive research and propensity to weave together historical accounts in the manner of a storyteller makes this work a joy to read. I hope it’s on your Christmas list! :-)