Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Americans Abroad

The Greater Journey by David McCullough
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book made me wish I could travel back in time to Paris in the 1830s. The collection of artists and writers there was remarkable.

In "The Greater Journey," David McCullough tells stories of a varied group of Americans who went to Paris in the 19th century, and then returned home with new ideas, new art, new writings and even new inventions. The group included James Fenimore Cooper, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mary Cassatt, among others. One of my favorite chapters was about Samuel Morse, who studied to be a painter, but also ended up inventing the telegraph and Morse Code. 

I also liked the story of Charles Sumner, who studied at the Sorbonne. When Sumner saw black students in the class with the same desire for knowledge as white students, it profoundly changed how he thought of African-Americans. After he returned home to the States, he became a powerful spokesman for abolition.

"It would be a while before Sumner's revelation -- that attitudes about race in America were taught, not part of 'the nature of things' -- would take effect in his career, but when it did, the consequences would be profound. Indeed, of all that Americans were to 'bring home' from their time in Paris in the form of newly acquired professional skills, new ideas, and new ways of seeing things, this insight was to be as important as any."

This is the third McCullough book I've read, the others being "Truman" and "1776," and I really like his writing style. He is a gifted storyteller and weaves in interesting details from history. I listened to this on audio (read by Edward Hermann), but I was glad I had a print copy to review because it includes some great photographs and pictures, especially of the artwork that was created in Paris. 

There were so many fascinating people and great stories in this book, and I would highly recommend it to fans of history.

No comments:

Post a Comment