Friday, December 14, 2012

The Greater Journey Americans in Paris by David McCullough

The Greater Journey  Americans in Paris  by David McCullough    published 2011,  
460 pages,  +76 pages source notes, +19 pages Index      ***** 
The front  jacket

This was one of my last  reads in 2011 and appeared on my other blog last  December.  If I selected one book to be my very top nonfiction read of the year this marvelous, wondrous book must be it.  I enjoy everything that McCullough writes with his intense research, reminiscent of James Michener.  This book details  the stories  of the prominent and aspiring American artists, writers, doctors, pre-med students, politicians, architects and other professionals who go to Paris between 1830 and 1900 to study, learn and fine tune their skills while experiencing the broadening they believe can only come from Europe.  The go to experience the "prestige of age"  and they do so in a different way,  Pg 20.."Even without the impertinence, the whole requirement of passports--the cost, the vexatious ceremony of it all was repugnant to the Americans.  ....no one carried a passport in America, not even foreign visitors. " There is such a difference between the Europeans and the Americans and many of these travelers had never been away from home before, never experienced  the older cultures, there was no guarantee of success.   On pg 67 Nathaniel Willis describes his fascination with faces and how one could "always recognize an American.There was something distinctive about the American face, something he had never noticed until coming to Paris....the distinctive feature ...,the independent self possessed bearing of a man unused to look p to anyone as his superior in rank, united to the inquisitive, sensitive, communicative expression which is the index to our national character."

Inside  the book cover

I learned so much reading this book that covers history of the time, the arts, artists and more about authors, for example James Fenimore Cooper was an advocate for Polish freedom. The famous pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk launched his career in Paris at age 15. The experiences of  George PA Healy, Samuel FB Morse, Elizabeth Blackwell, Oliver Wendel Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and Henry James  are only a few of whom  we read about in this volume.  It is interesting to follow lives through the popular rise of the automobile.  
I wondered why McCullough emphasized Augustus Saint Gaudens, the sculptor and on pg 455 in the Epilogue I learned that Homer St. Gaudens  was  the director of arts at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, PA.  Likely more data was available through that resource and McCullough is from Pittsburgh.  I could not pick one favorite tale in this book, the world's fair, the Eiffel tower, the revolutionaries. I shuddered  reading about  the early days of medical practice and how poor it was, even in Paris, where they went to learn.  I wonder how much worse it was here in the states, lack of sanitation and so on at that time.  This is a book I will keep and read again sometime, there is so much here. It is McCullough's latest contribution to we lovers of  history and art.  
5 *****   Not one my local book club is willing to tackle.