I am hopelessly and helplessly condemned by my own lust for literature that I recklessly and depravedly buy books with remorseless abandon. My day job is the ever more practical occupation of freelance musician. I'm not rich. Which makes my licentious book purchasing all the more irresponsible.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough
has written a brilliant chronicling of Americans who traveled to Paris in the 19th
century.Before reading his book, I
never realized how many famous Americans lived in Paris and how living there impacted their
In the 1830’s
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Samuel Morse and John Fennimore Cooper kicked off the
migration.Call me ignorant, but I didn’t
know that Morse was an artist.He spent
countless hours in the Louvre painting and receiving commissions stateside for
his work.Cooper wrote many of his most
important novels there.Holmes and many
other American medical students studied medicine.
The invention that
Morse is most famous for, the telegraph and the code named after him, was
conceived in Paris.Later, P.T. Barnum and his famous Tom Thumb
toured the city to great acclaim.The
pianist and composer Gottschalk spent many years performing in Paris.
that came were John Singer Sargent, James McNeil Whistler and Augustus
Saint-Gaudens.Mary Cassatt, who became
good friends with Edgar Degas, was the only American accepted into the Impressionist
In addition to
the artists, architects, and musicians, important politicians left their
mark.Elihu Washburne was the only
international diplomat who stayed in Paris
during the political upheaval and wars during the 1870’s.He helped protect and provide for many native
and foreign people caught in the crossfire.
We don’t just
learn of the Americans’ accomplishments but of their lives:how they spent their free time, the sort of
friendships they made, their characters and personalities.
McCullough does a
meticulous job gathering notes, letters, and diaries.His bibliography takes up almost a quarter of
the book.His writing is fluid and
eloquent.This is no dry recitation of
facts but a vibrant, breathing, compilation of the different lives and events
that shaped Paris and the Americans that lived there.Reading The Greater Journey paints a vivid
picture as rich and voluptuous as an oil painting by Cezanne.One can see and experience a Paris of the past.The only way anyone will be able to do so
interested in history and how one culture is shaped by another, this book is