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The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"Learn to do good;" -- Isaiah 1:17 (NKJV)

This is the most engaging history book I've read so far in 2011.

While I was in college, I focused my studies on 19th century France because almost every possible variation of human history occurred there at some point between 1789 and 1914. In the course of those studies, I became very familiar with how French people and Europeans saw Paris. But it never occurred to me to apply the special lens of how visiting and expatriate Americans experienced the City of Light. I feel extremely grateful to David McCullough for conceiving of and brilliantly executing this book.

I should mention that I have read in great detail how 18th and 20th century Americans saw Paris. How I missed reading about the 19th century is beyond me.

One of the fascinating themes is how Americans went from being humble learners, seeking to gain from greater French knowledge of the arts and medicine, to being influential innovators bringing new influences (such as Morse's telegraph, Edison's electric lights, and John Singer Sargent's portraiture). Paris itself stretched to become a bigger stage on which technical progress was shared through the various exhibitions.

To me one of the best aspects of this book was becoming a little bit familiar with fascinating Americans who I didn't know much about before such as painter George P. A. Healy, American minister to France Elihu B. Washburne, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Naturally, Paris itself is the biggest character and David McCullough treats her with proper reverence.

I was particularly charmed by the descriptions of difficult Atlantic crossings in sailing ships, riding in French stagecoaches (diligences) to Paris, and how the newly arrived reacted to seeing their first French cathedrals, especially the one at Rouen.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 April 2012
As many other reviewers have noted on Amazon.com, this book is disjointed in style and written without any underlying theme or analysis. For much of its length it reads very much like a poorly crafted catalogue or cookbook. Could this be the great David McCullough who has written this? The author seems to have no real mastery of his subject matter, and the words commercial and superficial rang in my ears as I read it.

And yet with a more knowledgeable writer the story could have been a fascinating read. The interplay of French and Americans, surely should have offered a revealing contrast between the character and culture of each group. Instead, in "The Greater Journey," the French and Paris are simply used as a backdrop for the heroic actions of Americans artists, who work hard to satisfy their insatiable ambitions, while finding themselves to be true blue, back home patriots. The book could almost have been set in Indianapolis.

As for accuracy, on page 219 McCullough claims that a Cunard line ship, the Pacific, sank in 1856 with all passengers and crew lost. However, as it is widely known, Cunard never lost a passenger's life in its long and famous history. In fact the Pacific belonged to the ill fated American Collins Line. It is this type of very basic mistake which makes one wonder about McCullough and his work on this book.

Too bad about this! It was my first David McCullough book and I was expecting something great.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2012
I thought this book was beautiful. I also thought this book was inspiring. To read about so many Americans who picked up and sailed to France to enrich their lives, advance their learning, and soak up the knowledge, the culture, the atmosphere, and the beauty of the world's centre for arts, science, and medicine, was to be transported to another era and to experience Paris as it was in the 19th century. This book made me want to take that trip myself; to walk down the Paris streets, to experience her gardens, her museums, her light, her beauty, and her mystery. "The Greater Journey" is a sweeping history of Paris in the 19th century, yet it is also the story of many Americans who came there first to learn and eventually to give over in return. For them it was truly "the greater journey," but it is also for us too, a journey through history, through art, through medicine,and through the passion of the human soul. It is such a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
purchased David McCullough's THE GREATER JOURNEY for my husband since he is an avid history buff and had enjoyed the writer's previous books JOHN ADAMS and TRUMAN. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the book lying, unread while he consumed other books. When I asked about this he said, "I just can't get into this one. It's like there's something missing. I decided to read the book myself.....can't spend all that money on a book and not at least give it a try, right?

This previously untold tale spans approximately 70 years and tells of the lives of the Americans, some you would recognize and others whose names and deeds fall into the realm of obscure. Paris in the mid to late 1800's seems to have had some magical attraction for Americans seeking further enlightenment in their chosen area of interest and this resulted in it becoming a "melting pot" of sorts for artists, politicians, writers and a plethora of others. Paris, according to McCullough was the common factor that was instrumental to each of the subjects during a crucial stage in their development.

Personally, I can relate to some of my husbands frustration with the book. While I found some of the information interesting the novel itself is nothing more than a collection of basically unrelated, loosely connected stories that sometimes lack focus and direction as they wander aimlessly through history. Admittedly, parts of the book are enjoyable, however there are instances where the writer overwhelms the reader with a mind numbing and relentless surplus of insignificant minutia. Also, while McCullough is never at a loss for words when presenting `page filling' observations, I never did receive any real clarification as to why all these people decided on Paris. Were they like sheep, just following the crowd or was there something else that drew them to this particular city?

While the author's previous works are revered for their historical relevance and attention to detail, in this case the distinguished Mr. McCullough has given us just too much of a good thing.
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A wonderful insight into a seldom told story of Paris and the Americans.Well written and researched. Another David McCullough brilliance.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 April 2012
As many other reviewers have noted, this book is disjointed in style and written without any underlying theme or analysis. For much of its length it reads very much like a poorly crafted catalogue or cookbook. Could this be the great David McCullough who has written this? The author seems to have no real mastery of his subject matter, and the words commercial and superficial rang in my ears as I read it.

And yet with a more knowledgeable writer the story could have been a fascinating read. The interplay of French and Americans, surely should have offered a revealing contrast between the character and culture of each group. Instead, in "The Greater Journey," the French and Paris are simply used as a backdrop for the heroic actions of Americans artists, who work hard to satisfy their insatiable ambitions, while finding themselves the be true blue, back home patriots. The book could almost have been set in Indianapolis.

As for accuracy, on page 219 McCullough claims that a Cunard line ship, the Pacific, sank in 1856 with all passengers and crew lost. However, as it is widely known, Cunard never lost a passenger's life in its long and famous history. In fact the Pacific belonged to the ill fated American Collins Line. It is this type of very basic mistake which makes one wonder about McCullough and his work on this book.

Too bad about this! It was my first David McCullough book and I was expecting something great.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2013
The book was delivered on time and in the state described. This alone made me a happy boy. That the book itself is an excellent read just makes this purchase a no-regrets, I-would-do-it-again experience.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 18 August 2011
The greater journey to Paris can be enjoyed in full, well documented and covering all ranges of interest. The reader gets involved the same journey not only in another time, another place but also in another way of travelling - either with the means of transport or imagination.
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