As David McCullough writes, “Not all pioneers went west.”
In The Greater Journey, he tells the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, and others who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, hungry to learn and to excel in their work. What they achieved would profoundly alter American history.
Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, whose encounters with black students at the Sorbonne inspired him to become the most powerful voice for abolition in the U.S. Senate. Friends James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Morse not only painting what would be his masterpiece, but also bringing home his momentous idea for the telegraph. Harriet Beecher Stowe traveled to Paris to escape the controversy generated by her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Three of the greatest American artists ever—sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent—flourished in Paris, inspired by French masters.
Almost forgotten today, the heroic American ambassador Elihu Washburne bravely remained at his post through the Franco-Prussian War, the long Siege of Paris, and the nightmare of the Commune. His vivid diary account of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris is published here for the first time.
Telling their stories with power and intimacy, McCullough brings us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens’ phrase, longed “to soar into the blue.”
Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011: At first glance, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris might seem to be foreign territory for David McCullough, whose other books have mostly remained in the Western Hemisphere. But The Greater Journey is still a quintessentially American history. Between 1830 and 1900, hundreds of Americans--many of them future household names like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Samuel Morse, and Harriet Beecher Stowe--migrated to Paris. McCullough shows first how the City of Light affected each of them in turn, and how they helped shape American art, medicine, writing, science, and politics in profound ways when they came back to the United States. McCullough's histories have always managed to combine meticulous research with sheer enthusiasm for his subjects, and it's hard not to come away with a sense that you've learned something new and important about whatever he's tackled. The Greater Journey is, like each of McCullough's previous histories, a dazzling and kaleidoscopic foray into American history by one of its greatest living chroniclers. --Darryl Campbell