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Showing 1-10 of 700 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 843 reviews
on May 24, 2011
Every time David McCullough puts his fingers to the typewriter that he uses to write with, he seems to transform our understanding of the topic he is studying. Whether it was President Harry Truman or for me Mornings on Horseback, I have walked away from his books with an enlightened feel for the topic that I have only been able to achieve with very few authors. James Michener is one who comes to mind immediately.

With this book, The Greater Journey, the author has now thoroughly engaged the reader with a topic seldom written about but very deserving of study. It is only natural that we as Americans feel we live in a self centered world; after all we have 2 vast oceans that have protected our shores from invasion for several centuries, and probably will for several more. It simply does not occur to us that since our beginnings, many Americans have chosen to spend considerable time abroad, and in some cases decades of their lives.

During the 1800's and specifically from 1830 until 1900, there was a wave of intellectual migration that headed not west to America, but east to Paris, France from America. Keep in mind that we now sit in a country that is preeminent in the world, financially, intellectually, and probably culturally as well. Back then, we were just forming as a nation. The Indian wars were still in process, and the Civil War would also take place, which became the second re-creation of the United States. McCullough is totally aware of this comparison and makes wise use of it throughout this 456 page book composed of 14 distinct chapters separated into 3 parts, followed by a wonderful epilogue, and a very useful bibliography. The author understands history, and is always mindful of the relative positions of different nations. During this period we were not yet the top dog that we were to become after World War I. Europe still controlled the world's greatest universities and they were already centuries old.

If you are going to read this book in a physical format as opposed to the Kindle digital version, you are in for a treat because the paper chosen is exquisite, and the font selection is superb. If you are an older reader as I am, you will appreciate the time that was taken to design the book appropriately for readers that still relish a physically well made book, and that's what we have here.

This is the story of a 70 year period in the history of Paris, and the scores of Americans who occupied it, lived there, and helped participate in the transformation of what is called the city of light. It is also the story of scores of for want of a better word can be called expatriate Americans, although many of them did return to their native United States at different times.

McCullough is one of the few authors who truly captures the essence of an environment and then proceeds to envelop it with a reality that absorbs and perhaps even demands our attention as readers. His description of the relationship between James Fennimore Cooper and Samuel F.B. Morse and their joy in living in this magnificent city and the effects it had on their work will remain in the reader's soul for many years after the book is put back on the shelf. When Morse painted his masterpiece, it was done in Paris, and perhaps after reading this book, one realizes it could only have been done in Paris.

The city of lights already had vast boulevards, and extraordinary parks decades before the United States designed them. Indeed, New York City's Central Park which would be created later in the century would take much from Paris, and other European cities. The Americans who would go to Paris and spend years there would recall later after returning to the United States the joy of the parks, the energy of the city itself and the sheer unequalled cultural delights that embodied Paris. Visually we can still see much of this in the work of the Impressionist School of painting.

I found the author's handling of Mary Cassatt, who was a Philadelphia born daughter of American socialites who went on to be an illustrious painter as a principal part of the Impressionist school, to be particularly well done. Her relationship to Edgar Degas the renowned painter of the ballet and horses, as well as landscaping is thoroughly chronicled in the book. McCullough's ability to weave life into life, with Paris as the focal point constantly holding the book together in such a way that the reader feels compelled to continue to read, not pausing to eat is what in the end keeps the author at the pinnacle of his profession today.

It is obvious that this book was a labor of love for the author. It comes shining through with the admiration that McCullough holds for both Oliver Wendell Homes the American medical student in Paris, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, a name we all recognize. He even takes the time to take us through the time that Mark Twain spent in this wonderful city.

Not only was Paris transformed by the Americans that occupied it during this century, but Paris itself went through extraordinary changes and development. Kings re-invented the city several times during this century. Vast numbers of poor were displaced and sent to the country. It was invaded during this period as well. Later vast tree lined streets and boulevards would be created that became the envy of Europe. The Louvre would be increased in size enormously in an attempt to make it the most important museum on the entire continent, and France would succeed in this effort.

McCullough intertwines the story of Paris, its growth, its impact on the Americans and what the Americans brought back to America as a result, into a book in such an imaginative way that the reader will find himself revisiting this book from time to time. In the end the book is riveting, and this is a phrase I find myself continuing to use every time I pick up a book written by this author.

Many lives are captured in this masterpiece. They include George Healy the portrait painter, Nathaniel Hawthorne whose writings still continue to occupy many a college freshman's late nights, and future American Senator Charles Sumner who would have his views on slavery refined while living in Paris. Indeed he became an abolitionist as a result of his Parisian experience.


Prior to reading The Greater Journey, I believed I had a good understanding of 19th century Paris. Having studied the art of that period, going to the Louvre, and sitting in on lectures dealing with Paris in the 1800's, I looked forward to seeing what this author could add to the story. I did not expect what I got, which was to have him blow away my understanding and replace it with something that came alive and stood on many different legs of understanding, but isn't that what great writing can do. It can simply make things come alive again. You feel as though you are there, and McCullough puts us right there in the thick of the action.

Although it is not the whole story, if you have any interest at all in understanding the transformative art period that was the Impressionist movement it is vividly captured here in the lives of Augustus Saint-Gaudens with John Singer Sargent, and Mary Cassatt. David McCullough is already an acclaimed author with two Pulitzers and two national Book Awards, and it looks like with this book, he's got another Pulitzer coming down the pike. Thank you for reading this review.

Richard C. Stoyeck
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on June 8, 2015
Fabulous book. McCullough did a wonderful job of telling engaging stories of intertwining lives of Americans in Paris at the same time, their challenges, creativity, and what they contributed to American life from their time in Paris. I learned so many interesting facts and gained insight into the spirit of these adventurers. I hadn't realized that Paris was the most advanced in medicine during this period, while our doctors had primitive training by comparison. So many important figures had talent in more than one area, and it was a time of creativity, passion and commitment to learning in arts, architecture, letters, medicine, law, invention and politics. You feel you are a part of their lives as you read and understand some of what makes Paris so special. Highly recommended.
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on June 11, 2016
I've never been disappointed by a David McCullough book, and I've always come away wiser and more interested in the time period of that book. The Greater Journey was extraordinary. One can really visualize Paris of the 1800s, and McCullough deals with almost the entire century. Readers will recognize many of the names of the artists, writers, and doctors who went to Paris to perfect their crafts. McCullough gives us more, however. His reader becomes embroiled in the political struggles and the birth of the French Republic. Additionally, one of the pleasant revelations is the exposure of the American character. Considering that the first visitors he deals with arrived in the 1830s while our country was still very young. It did not take long for us to develop our American traits, characteristics inherent in an American and recognizable by others. Still, the Americans are individuals. The Americans abroad are never cookie cutter stereotypes. We also see the idea of American Exceptionalism come to life although McCullough never uses a term like that. Once again, McCullough has delighted and enlightened.
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on June 10, 2017
I almost missed out on this wonderful book of history when I put it aside after a brief first glance several years ago. Rediscovering this treasure enabled not only a deepened appreciation of 18th century history but a powerful reconnection with Paris and a personal wish to revisit its marvels after an absence of a quarter century.
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on December 16, 2016
A fascinating tour de force- McCullough tells a story in HIS OWN VOICE, hear it in inside your head? as on many PBS/Ken Burns specials. His style is from anecdote to the general, lets you evaluate the consequence as much as the feats, from across the Atlantic by sailing ship, 4-6-8 weeks! to the life-arts-science of Paris. Highly recommend a youtube /google search for McCullough interviewing, speaking about, on pub. relations tour for the book. He gives a modest survey of the theme and particulars. I did a library loan for the first 50 pages, then sprung for the tome.
For this reader it's a dessert to be savored, in small bites over weeks. Take it as you will, It's a set of stories, all smaller than Roebling's Broolyn Bridge, but no less marvelous.
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on June 11, 2015
A real history book! It is an extraordinary reporting of how our founders return to Paris to better learn their trades. Many dockors went to Paris to learn more on their various fields of doctoring. I just went to the acclaimed art schools to advance their trades. The information in each & every sentence had so much research it was unbelievable! A treasure to have if Anerican 19th Century history is of any interest to you.
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on October 5, 2015
David McCullough has delighted American, and readers all over the world, with yet another masterpiece. There is no doubt, in my view, that David McCullough is the United State's leading historian. In "The Greater Journey," McCullough intertwines American and French History. In the pages of this book David McCullough paints a portrait of how "the City of Lights," Paris, shaped so many great people in American History. Be it great American inventors, painters, writers, poets, medical professionals. In this book McCullough shows how not only did Paris, France shape the lives of these famous Americans, it is the fact that several great Americans carved out their own niche in Paris. So, David McCullough has given us a lesson in how despite the history of the United States is not as long as the history of France, but at the same time through this book the histories of the United States and France became intertwined through several of the most well known people in American History. Thank you, David McCullough for this book and I invite people all across the world to read this book. It will be an enlightening learning experience for all.
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on January 4, 2015
David McCullough at his very best is reflected in his recent novel The Greater Journey. This author is known for his research and devotion to details. His writing style is fluid and most enjoyable. Then he has the ability to take a subject and turn it into a work of prose. At the time this book reflects ( circa 1825 to 1890's) this book portrays Paris. The new nation known as the United States was less than 25 years old from declaring its independence. There were 24 states and New York had an estimated population of 80,000 compared to Paris's 800,000. The City of Lights was many centuries old and its culture and politics were well established and always in a state of flux.. America was greatly limited in terms of libraries, art collections, politics, education, and literary accomplishments just to name a few of its under accomplishments. Our educational system was in its embryonic stages when compared to the great universities found in Europe. And yet some of our more notable Americans sailed to Paris and became part of a foreign society and world renown.

McCullough describes the American's first impressions, how and where they initially lived while in Paris and where they spent the majority of their time either writing, painting or visiting art museums, partaking of the Universities, enjoying the stage, and in general Paris life styles. McCullough describes the views, the smell and the noises that emanated from the city. He writes of the wealthy and privileged life styles as well as the dregs of society. The time expanse covers between 1825 and 1890. From the sailing ships to the steam driven ships. A period of great progress and innovation. And McCullough takes his time in describing these advancements and how it effected both sides of the Atlantic.

Compared to Paris, America was literally a wilderness. If you wanted to know how the other half lived and get a feeling for the times, Paris was a city to spend your time in. This is a novel that is time travel at its best. Every page is a new adventure and revelation. It's a wonder that disease didn't wipe us all out from European transferred diseases, and yet we survived. You learn of our artists, sculptures, political figures, the Great Fire, the Revolution, the Prussian War, and most importantly in my mind, where and how America lived in Paris, what they did for entertainment, and where they traveled across Europe. You are entertained by all the great artists who went abroad during this period and the work they created as well as reviewed.

This is a historic travelog by very interesting people. You will thoroughly enjoy the breath and the scope that McCullough documents in such an enjoyable writing style. In closing, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the many photographs of famous men and women of America and Paris and even more importantly the many paintings of the Masters of this time period. Looking at these photos and portraits and knowing a little of their history as McCullough amply supplies, brings these works to life and of greater interest. Owning and reading this book is a "must."
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on October 23, 2012
I agree with all of the 5 star reviews of this book. I am a Francophile and a historian by avocation so this book was right up my alley. The individual biographies of the Americans during their times in Paris were terrific and meticulously researched as others have said. The most important contribution of the book in my opinion was the unbiased first-hand reporting of Americans in the a very tumultuous century of French history. The first-hand descriptions of Louis Philippe (who was once a waiter in Boston!) and Napoleon III are unique. The on-hand descriptions of the deprivations of the siege of Paris in 1870 gave a new depth to my understanding of that experience. The disgust of Ambassador Washburne at the antics of the Communards and the brutal response of the government troops to their take over of Paris completely changed my understanding of those brief weeks. It added a base of facts to events that have been romanticized by the French and others in the histories written since. Even if you care little for multiple stories of starving artists, the history alone is worth the read. Read it on a trip to Paris, it will give you goosebumps. One of the best books I've ever read.
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on July 17, 2011
Did you know a bicycle maker named Armand Peugeot introduced a French-built automobile in 1891 and by 1895 more than 200 Peugeots and some Renaults were being driven around Paris! Who designed and built the Eiffel Tower? (amazing read). Oh yes, and we are reminded often that "springtime in Paris" was a wonderful experience for Americans during the 1800's. Read why!

A lengthy book - 456 pages, gorgeous pictures, source notes and a generous bibliography. Why did several talented American men and women brave the long treacherous ocean voyage to live and study in Paris? Depending on your age, education, and interests you will either find this book magnificent or...a bit disappointed. There are so many facts and long descriptions of various writers, poets, sculptors, artists, doctors, etc. destined to become famous back in America after years of study in Paris...the reader needs time to process. Well, I did.

Divided in three parts covering 70 decades and best read in several sittings, I used an underline pencil, enjoyed the third part best, and learned quite a bit about World's Fair's in Paris, the inventions, the revolutions, the epidemics, the medical research, family life, language barriers and so much more. I enjoyed learning about the artists painting in the Louvre and the sculptures, architecture and the French government during that time.

I pre-ordered this book because the author is one of my favorites - he clearly enjoyed writing this "different" kind of book and re-acquainting Americans with James Fennimore Cooper, Elizbeth Blackwell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and many others in detail, as they made a "French connection". There are lots of surprises. Enjoy!
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