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The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris Paperback – 4 Jul 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (4 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416571779
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416571773
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.6 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 503,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


"An ambitious, wide-ranging study of how being in Paris helped spark generations of American genius. . . . A gorgeously rich, sparkling patchwork, eliciting stories from diaries and memoirs to create the human drama McCullough depicts so well."

"--Kirkus Reviews" (starred review)

"A lively and entertaining panorama. . . . By the time he shows us the triumphant Exposition Universelle in 1889, witnessed through the eyes of such characters as painters John Singer Sargent and Robert Henri, we share McCullough's enthusiasm for the city and his affection for the many Americans who improved their lives, their talent and their nation by drinking at the fountain that was Paris."

--Michael Sims, "The Washington Post"

"An epic of ideas, as well as an exhilirating book of spells . . . This is history to be savored."

--Stacy Schiff, "The New York Times Book Review


"McCullough has hit the historical jackpot. . . . A colorful parade of educated, Victorian-era American travelers and their life-changing experiences in Paris."

"--Publishers Weekly" (starred review)

"For more than 40 years, David McCullough has brought the past to life in books distinguished by vigorous storytelling and vivid characterizations. . . . . McCullough again finds a slighted subject in "The Greater Journey", which chronicles the adventures of Americans in Paris. . . . Wonderfully atmospheric."

--Wendy Smith, "Los Angeles Times


"A highly readable and entertaining travelogue of a special sort, an interdisciplinary treat from a tremendously popular Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. . . . Highly recommended."

"--Library Journal" (starred review)

"There is not an uninteresting page here as one fascinating character after another is explored at a crucial stage of his development. . . . Wonderful, engaging writing full of delighting detail."

--John Barron, "Chicago Sun-Times


"McCullough's research is staggering to perceive, and the interpretation he lends to his material is impressive to behold. . . . Expect his latest book to ascend the best-seller lists and be given a place on the year-end best lists."

"--Booklist "(starred review)

"McCullough's skill as a storyteller is on full display. . . . The idea of telling the story of the French cultural contribution to America through the eyes of a generation of aspiring artists, writers and doctors is inspired. . . a compelling and largely untold story in American history."

--Kevin J. Hamilton, "The Seattle Times


"From a dazzling beginning that captures the thrill of arriving in Paris in 1830 to the dawn of the 20th century, McCullough chronicles the generations that came, saw and were conquered by Paris. . . . "The Greater Journey "will satisfy McCullough's legion of loyal fans . . . it will entice a whole new generation of Francophiles, armchair travelers and those Americans lucky enough to go to Paris before they die."

--Bruce Watson, "The San Francisco Chronicle


About the Author

David McCullough has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback. His other acclaimed books are 1776, Brave Companions, The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, and The Greater Journey. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"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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Format: Hardcover
As many other reviewers have noted on, 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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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