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"Learn to do good;" -- Isaiah 1:17 (NKJV)

This is the most engaging history book I've read so far in 2011.

While I was in college, I focused my studies on 19th century France because almost every possible variation of human history occurred there at some point between 1789 and 1914. In the course of those studies, I became very familiar with how French people and Europeans saw Paris. But it never occurred to me to apply the special lens of how visiting and expatriate Americans experienced the City of Light. I feel extremely grateful to David McCullough for conceiving of and brilliantly executing this book.

I should mention that I have read in great detail how 18th and 20th century Americans saw Paris. How I missed reading about the 19th century is beyond me.

One of the fascinating themes is how Americans went from being humble learners, seeking to gain from greater French knowledge of the arts and medicine, to being influential innovators bringing new influences (such as Morse's telegraph, Edison's electric lights, and John Singer Sargent's portraiture). Paris itself stretched to become a bigger stage on which technical progress was shared through the various exhibitions.

To me one of the best aspects of this book was becoming a little bit familiar with fascinating Americans who I didn't know much about before such as painter George P. A. Healy, American minister to France Elihu B. Washburne, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Naturally, Paris itself is the biggest character and David McCullough treats her with proper reverence.

I was particularly charmed by the descriptions of difficult Atlantic crossings in sailing ships, riding in French stagecoaches (diligences) to Paris, and how the newly arrived reacted to seeing their first French cathedrals, especially the one at Rouen.
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on November 6, 2013
Initially, I became familiar with McCullough’s work through the HBO series “John Adams”. I was amazed at his thorough style and attention to every detail in respect to a lesser known founding father.

With “The Greater Journey” David McCullough has brought us another great century of American history. This time he follows the journey of ex-pats living in Paris, the center of civilization. They were there on a mission to learn and better themselves in order to help their new nation advance. There are so many stories and characters that when I picked up the book it was a bit intimidating. However, this book turned out to be a page turner, as the author masterfully intertwines all these stories into a beautiful work of art and history.

And David McCullough knows about art. The book has a quite a few pictures of art works produced in this era by masters such as Morse, Healy, St. Gaudens, Sargant, and Cassat. The descriptions of these works and the creative process they went through is simply excellent. The bibliography alone is over one hundred pages.
Furthermore, this book beyond the individual stories of its characters also brings to light the history of Paris in the 19th century. From revolutions, and violence, and war, to an age of enlightenment, and prosperity, finishing with the Belle Époque.

I would highly recommend this book as good reading to be savored and cherished. The sacrifices that these generations of Americans went through in pursuit of knowledge and artistic growth are truly inspirational.
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on November 1, 2015
I thought this book was beautiful. I also thought this book was inspiring. To read about so many Americans who picked up and sailed to France to enrich their lives, advance their learning, and soak up the knowledge, the culture, the atmosphere, and the beauty of the world's centre for arts, science, and medicine, was to be transported to another era and to experience Paris as it was in the 19th century. This book made me want to take that trip myself; to walk down the Paris streets, to experience her gardens, her museums, her light, her beauty, and her mystery. "The Greater Journey" is a sweeping history of Paris in the 19th century, yet it is also the story of many Americans who came there first to learn and eventually to give over in return. For them it was truly "the greater journey," but it is also for us too, a journey through history, through art, through medicine,and through the passion of the human soul. It is such a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.
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on September 18, 2011
for anyone who has had a life-long love affair with France, this is the perfect present. I am taking it to Paris with me,next week!!
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on July 16, 2015
I am never disappointed when I read David McCullough. He takes history and makes you feel you are there at the time.
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on July 21, 2012
A marvellous book. Historical facts are revealed about the life of Americans in music,art and medicine in the 1800's in Paris. It shows the importance of these cultural and medical experiences for Americans in the development of life in America.There are details of American artists in Paris their successes and failures.If you enjoy history and culture this book is for you.
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on January 20, 2013
My husband finished the book and liked it , however, I lost interest in it at the moment at the height of the war. I might resume reading it at a later time.
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on July 29, 2011
While there were several interesting sections, for instance the sea voyage in sailing ships, the Parisian medical school, the account of the American ambasssador's stay in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, the seige of Paris and the Commune, too lengthy attention was given to people who possibly would interest Americans, but not other readers. Who cares that Emma Willard "approved entirely of the French regard for fashion" and feasted her eyes on the jewels worn by the Parisian women? Oh for a good editor who should have trimmed this lengthy book.
Avril Warren, Victoria Britiish Columbia
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on September 10, 2011
there are some interesting sections ( Franco-Prussian War and the Commune period) - if I had known this was about art and artists I never would have bought it. I find art and artists both boring and boorish. I bought this on the strength of DM's past books which are some of the best ever written. I feel ripped off after buying this book. My advice to readers is don't waste your money or wait til you can get it for $2.00 used which will be very soon believe me. I should have read the New York Times review before buying this "book".
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