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An erratic performance,
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This review is from: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Hardcover)
This study of the profound influence of Paris on the development of American science and art is a very curious book: Frequently a series of unsatisfying vignettes, with an occasionally dazzling series of chapters sharply focused on an individual or a particular set of circumstances--not characteristic of Mr. McCullough's usual writing at all. Also uncharacteristic of this author were factual errors in the first twenty or so pages: Henri II is not buried at Rouen, as Mr. McCullough states, but at Fontevrault Abbey, and Louis Phillipe did not work in Boston as a waiter in an oyster house, although that somehow is a very pleasing idea. (He lived upstairs, and taught French downstairs to young ladies, in the building which later became Boston's Union Oyster House.) When someone errs in something I do know something about, I worry about accuracy in areas I don't know anything about.
The Greater Journey is well worth reading, however, if only for the chapters on medical education in Paris, and how the young Americans who studied medicine there brought back innovative scientific ideas to the United States; for the chapters on Augustus St. Gaudens; but most of all for the chapters on Elihu Washburne, the American minister to France at the time of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune. Mr. Washburne well deserves to be restored to our national memory for his integrity and courage, now perhaps more than ever--an inspiring tale, well told. I wish more of the book were at this level, instead of reading like a very long passenger list for a transatlantic packet or steamer. (I wish Mr. McCullough had included a time line!)
An uncharacteristically spotty job.
PS Don't get this book on Kindle if you'll miss the numerous and beautiful color plates!
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 9, 2011 8:52:14 PM PDT
Sue Orischak says:
Wow Have read most of his stuff- - with respect- -but this Boring and a very poor excuse to waste time
Posted on Nov 20, 2011 3:43:41 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 20, 2011 3:44:28 PM PST
Lawrence A.Doyle says:
I agree with the Wasburne chapters. It was the best part of the book. Readable not but not of the same caliber of his biographies of John Adams or Harry Truman
Posted on Nov 25, 2011 1:08:54 PM PST
M. M. Hauenstein says:
The interview with Mr. McCullough by Diane Rehm on NPR was beyond interesting. It made me want to rush out and buy this book. He did say that he used words from the extensive journals of the people involved. Maybe that's why some reviewers say his writing is not up to snuff? I'd go online and listen to the interview. Maybe your disappointment will be explained ...
Posted on Jun 11, 2012 2:50:15 AM PDT
charles dickens says:
Excellent review. Right on in every way.
Posted on Jul 22, 2012 10:23:52 AM PDT
Lois A. Pancoast says:
I agree completely with egreetham's review,a time line would of helped. He introduced so many names and jumped around it was hard to follow. Parts of the book were worthy. Just an avid reader
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 13, 2012 2:53:13 PM PDT
Adrienne Bolles says:
Yes Lois was right a timeline and list of who these people are. The medical parts were my favorite but it was impossible to relate to people in this book because we never got a chance to know them as in stick to one person for more than a fragment.
Posted on Aug 26, 2012 11:22:08 AM PDT
CM Ramirez says:
Good points. I did read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it for reasons mentioned. The beginning was slow because of the 'passenger list' nature of the dialogue but a quarter into the book, I became enthralled with the experiences he related as well as the history that is woven in and the US-France connections.
Posted on Sep 30, 2012 7:00:42 AM PDT
M. Smith says:
Have it on CD, and when finding it at a bookstore, and seeing all the illustrations I was missing, I was upset.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 30, 2012 7:04:30 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 30, 2012 7:12:55 AM PDT
M. Smith says:
I agree about the writing style of that era affecting enjoyment of this work. Have the audio edition, and it's been getting a bit laborious. Dawned on me yesterday perhaps it was from relating all the 19th C journals verbatim. Grew up in James Fenimore Cooper's environs, where his works were required reading, and was reminded of the days of 9th grade. ;-) Although I've had a harder time staying enthused during all the details of Mr Washburne's travails (speaking of 19th century words...). Have enjoyed the traveler's adventures.
Posted on Mar 5, 2013 10:11:07 AM PST
Barbara Martinsons says:
I agree that this book is erratic at best and sketchy at its worst. Sure, the Washburne section was one of the more interesting. But what about his wife, who dutifully entertained his guests and then scurried off with the children to set up a household elsewhere?
And at least as important: the Paris Commune was not merely a bunch of rowdy radicals who cruelly killed the clergy for no good reason. I expected a more nuanced history from McCullough here and on many other parts of this "journey" as well. [And what became of Mary Putnam?]