Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

What do authors James Feminore Cooper, and Mark Twain; artist and inventor, Samuel Morse; medical student Oliver Wendell Holmes; Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first female doctor; pianist Louis Moreau Gottshalk all have in common? The answer can be found in a new bestseller by David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. These and a great many more now famous Americans travelled to Paris, The city of Light between 1830 and 1900.

It was in Paris, that Samuel Morse first thought about the telegraph. Paris was considered the medical capital of the world, and Oliver Wendell Holmes and Elizabeth Blackwell were to use what they had learned to change the practice of medicine in the United States. Charles Sumner enrolled at the Sorbonne where he saw black students learning alongside whites and he would return home to become one of America’s most powerful voices for the abolition of slavery. This book is filled with one inspiring story after another.

A staggering amount of research has gone into this book. McCullough’s description of nineteenth century Paris provides the background for each American’s story. In this book he tries to discern what it was about Paris in the 19th century that made the Americans want to travel there. McCullough writes, “Not all pioneers went west”. The Americans used their experiences in Paris to change the course of American and world history.

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