25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Some interest, but pretty bland,
This review is from: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Hardcover)
David McCullough has written his share of interesting and informative history that is historically solid but also appeals to a mass market. This isn't one of his better works.
It covers "Americans in Paris" during the early and middle years of the 19th century. It includes people such as James Fenimore Cooper, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Samuel Morse (while he was still a painter, prior to the telegraph), and architect Richard Morris Hunt. We also meet some French characters including Lafayette, de Toqueville, and Louis Philippe, last king of France.
There are some interesting details, but there's really no theme. One problem is the strictly chronological treatment. Each chapter involves a new group of people arriving and settling in, discovering Paris, doing their thing, and then, often, leaving. So many chapters read "A attended medical school lectures every day and meanwhile B was painting at the Louvre." Then the next chapter, "A was checking out the paintings at the Louvre while his friend B attended medical lectures."
The story here doesn't resemble the extensive literature about the early 20th century artists or the "Lost Generation," where the characters' interactions with each other form a large part of the story. Some of the characters in McCullough's book knew each other, while others never met. But there's no real theme holding the book together and many of the chapters get somewhat repetitious.
Clearly, McCullough (or, more likely, his research team and ghost writers) assembled a formidable amount of research. But the book reads like the McCullough team assembled a file of 3x5 cards with all the characters, events, and quotes they found, put them all in chronological order, then went through the 3x5 cards and wrote connecting sentences.
"Paris" might be a unifying theme for such a book, but even the city comes across as pretty bland. There are good descriptions of the Louvre and some of the leading citizens of the city. And a number of times McCullough says "so-and-so enjoyed walking all over the city" or "such and such was really enchanted by the city" or "for the rest of his life, hem and haw remembered his years in Paris." But even the city fails to come to life. There's a real peril for history writers (and other writers) who become a successful industry and must meet a continuing demand for timely, interesting stories. Just poor Lucille Ball in the candy factory, sometimes the production line just demands too much. This book appears to be an example of this peril.
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Initial post: Feb 27, 2013 9:54:39 AM PST
David A. Wend says:
The theme of the book is how Paris was a mecca for Americans who, from the 1830's got aneducation that they took home and put to use changing the newly created United States. I would add that the book also shows how Paris inspired many Americans, particularly inthe arts, to train and produce masterpieces. The book also shows a French fascination with things American early on and how closely the two countries were. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France, or have we forgotten that.
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